Note: This post is more for coaches, athletic directors, and those who are in charge of designing competition schedules.
We all know that winning and losing can affect a wrestler mentally. For proof just look this famous photo of my buddy Troy-Boy after he pinned Mike Sees from Bloomsburg in the Quarterfinals of the 2006 NCAA Championships.
And ultimately that mental response may have a huge impact on future matches.
To help shed some light on this, I just reviewed a study from 2011. In it, the researchers reveal there is quite a different release in testosterone in winning and losing wrestlers.
How can this be useful in designing a schedule to help peak wrestlers at the end of the year?
Well, I’ll tell you in just a second. First, I’ll introduce the study.
About The Study
12 NCAA Division 1 wrestlers from the team that finished 3rd at the NCAA tournament that year (Iowa).
The subject pool spanned across all of the Olympic weight classes except heavyweight. All of the wrestlers were preparing for Freestyle competitions at the national and international level.
Blood samples were taken both before and after matches over the course of a two day tournament. This tournament was held 3-4 weeks after Nationals. Essentially it was a 5 match wrestle-off.
Testosterone was significantly higher post-match regardless of the outcome.
Testosterone concentrations were significantly higher post-match for winners compared to losers.
Cortisol was not significantly different between the winners and losers. However, it was higher post-match compared to pre-match. This indicates there wasn’t a significant difference in stress/exertion between winning and losing wrestlers. Cortisol is a stress hormone associated with fat storage and muscle breakdown, among other physiological responses.
“Undoubtedly, success in the sport of wrestling is highly dependent on factors such as physical mastery of wrestling skills, physiological preparation, and mental skills training. What has not been fully appreciated is the critical role of establishing social dominance in this sport. These data clearly indicate that winning and losing wrestlers use different physiological mechanisms for the acute endocrine response to competition. Based on data from the animal kingdom, winning wrestlers appear to establish a mechanism conducive to future success and long-term survival as a wrestler. In summary, the ability to foster an aggressive demeanor and a social dominance on the wrestling mat may be highly dependent on previous success and the accompanying physiological responses and adaptations. As such, scheduling of appropriate opponents may be critical for establishing an enhanced wrestling social dominance to facilitate future success.”
How To Use
The researchers sum it up pretty well in the quote above. In a nutshell- in order to boost testosterone in wrestlers, put together a schedule that allows them to string together some wins going into major end-of-the-year competitions.
I’ve always heard that the saying in the Iowa room is this that no starter is allowed to have a bad day of practice starting at about a month out from conferences. I’ve never been there and therefore cannot comment on it directly. But, if it’s true, it’s a strategy that’s supported by this research.
Adjustments are made to practice partners, intensity of the workout, etc. as needed. This helps to best ensure the starters leave the room with more confidence each day.
Based on the historical performances of Iowa at Nationals, if this strategy is being used, I think it’s safe to say it’s a contributing factor to their success.
Fry, A., B. Schilling, S. Fleck, W. Kraemer. Relationships between competitive wrestling success and neuroendocrine responses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25(1), 40-45. 2011.