WRESTling with Self-Awareness, a Group Process

Updated: February 1, 2012

By Lis McGovern

WREST or Wrestling Reflection Education Skills Training is a mat / life integration process which, among other things, empowers wrestlers with a greater sense of self-awareness. Self-awareness is an essential character-development skill which when translated into wrestling aids the wrestler’s performance dramatically on and off the mat.

Lis McGovern

Self-awareness is not self-consciousness. Adapting the definitions in Your to wrestling, self-awareness describes the characteristic of knowing yourself, understanding your decisions and being conscious of how you wrestle. A wrestler who knows how he wrestles in different circumstances is an example of self-awareness.  Whereas self-consciousness describes a wrestler who is overly concerned about his own wrestling and performance and what others think of him.

Left to right are Brian Travis, Cole Engeldinger, Marcus Rivera-Ingalls and Nathan Cristion

An example of a self-conscious wrestler is a one who is continually checking his performance to make sure he looks OK and doesn’t make a move that could embarrass him. As WREST grad Brian Travis states, “Self-awareness is knowing your weaknesses but still being able to attack your strong points; whereas self-consciousness is being too focused on your weaknesses and shutting down.”

Wrestling without self-awareness is like wrestling blind. Wrestling with self-awareness is like wrestling with eyes, even in the back of your head. 

The process of self-awareness develops well in a trusted peer group-reflection process, more than in solo reflection alone, although admittedly both are necessary. Unlike a classroom or seminar setting where much leadership material is fed to the listener, one who merely sits, nods, writes and raises one’s hand to inquire further, wrestlers in WREST discover the leadership material within themselves and each other by discovering what is working and what is not (on and off the mat).

Case Study

Last semester, WREST was in full swing on the campus of the University of Dubuque (NCAA Division III) with five groups consisting of three to six wrestlers per group. Being that WREST is new and so unfamiliar, it wasn’t at all surprising to me that buy-in would take awhile.

Freshman Marcus Rivera-Ingalls came into his group as a constant source of fun and distraction, always loud, always moving us off topic. In-short, Marcus, like his peers, thought WREST was a waste of time. But he kept coming, I suspect because his coach (who himself went through a one-week WREST Retreat Intensive) thought it would be good for his wrestlers and they believed in him.

So every week Marcus and three other freshmen kept coming to their group. And I kept supervising, facilitating discussion nearly two hours a week … week after week. One day, just like a switch, it all clicked for Marcus.  Once Marcus saw his own mat / life integration he never lost sight of it, so much so that his group couldn’t deny the dramatic change in his focus and improvement on and off the mat.

Using the strategies of the WREST process he dramatically outperformed his team at their first open tournament, winning one match while down with only two seconds left (underneath his opponent). Just as he shot up for the reversal, so did his grades. He ended the semester with a 3.7.

It was his on and off-the-mat performance that his group could not deny.  Freshmen peers Brian Travis, Cole Engeldinger, and Nathan Cristion decided to buy-in and their mat / life performances improved.

“WREST really helps us to become self-motivated,” said Engeldinger, who appreciates the accountability of WREST, “We had to really open up. We couldn’t hold anything back because we knew so much about each other. We were like, ‘C’mon dude! Tell the truth.’”

By telling the truth, Travis realized just how much his admitted “shyness” actually translated into a “holding-back” pattern on the mat. This semester, Travis voluntarily signed up for speech class in order to practice mentally opening up. Not surprisingly, he continues to open-up more on the mat which has vastly improved his wrestling performance.

Each wrestler through the process of self-awareness discovers unique areas of strengths and needed growth within themselves. Holding back wasn’t Cristion’s issue. He admittedly struggled with time management on and off the mat. He regularly stayed up too late to do the homework he could have finished during the day, and therefore didn’t do it very well.

Of course, Cristion would regularly procrastinate on the mat, missing the perfect opportunity to execute his skill and power. During one match analysis, the group discovered this issue but Cristion was skeptical. By the second and third match analysis, he could no longer deny his issue and the group was not interested in pretending to not see what they all saw so clearly. Result:  accountability and improvement. What is Cristion’s new motto? “The time is now!”  Not surprisingly, his grades and mat performances have improved significantly.

Head coach Jon McGovern admits just how effective the WREST process has been for his team.

“The wrestlers on my team who were involved in WREST ended up becoming more coachable throughout the pre-season/season. I noticed they were improving in open communication not only to me but with their teammates, which in terms made them not only better leaders for themselves but to their teammates. They held each other to higher standards in terms of accountability and thus lead to higher results for themselves personally on the mat and off the mat.”

For further information and testimonials on WREST visit NOTE: A WREST booth will be available during the WIN Magazine Memorabilia Show at the NCAA Division I Championships, March 15-17. Feel free stop by and inquire how WREST can help your team improve their results on and off the mat.

This is the second in a six-part series on the WREST process. Look for future articles released through WIN’s weekly eNews and in the printed edition of WIN.


(Lis McGovern, M.Div., is the wife of Coach Jon McGovern and serves as Executive Director of the National Wrestling Advancement Association, a new non-profit whose mission is to advance wrestlers on and off the mat. The NWAA hosted the 2012 NWCA National Duals.)