Kawa: What you learn in wrestling will greatly help later in life

Updated: November 5, 2021

Photos: Dustin Kawa was a four-time NCAA qualifier and two-time ACC champ at NC State. Today, he is the owner of Takedown Sportswear.

By Dustin Kawa

My personal pursuit for excellence is rooted in wrestling and the lessons learned on the mat really helped to shape my vision and entrepreneurial journey. 

Here are my top takeaways of how my career as a wrestler set me up for success:

Mindset of a Champion

It all starts with confidence in yourself! Confidence developed at an early age, on the mat, in the practice room and in competition, I developed the mindset of a champion. 

Wrestling is an individual sport versus a team sport, the first thing I learned is that “you” have to solely rely on “you.” If I got beat, it was my fault, which taught me to take ownership over my success. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.

The ability to step on the mat, match after match, win or lose, strengthens your mental preparation. Failure is not an option but don’t let fear or anxiety hold you back from doing the impossible. I hope you’re inspired to take chances in this short life — shoot to score, score points, and go for the WIN! 

My success in business comes from confidence in myself and a winning mindset:  WIN, WIN, WIN. Walk into any room with anyone with confidence and go after your dream school or job.

Facing Adversity

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Wrestling teaches you things that you may never learn anywhere else in life. While you strive for goals, you will have setbacks.

In 2004, I walked off the mat at the NCAA tournament, after being disqualified, never being able to compete again. Everything I had worked for in 16 years ended abruptly, my dream was over, and the most difficult fact was it was out of my control. No person, no book, no prayer, no schooling, could relieve the pain and nightmares that followed.

In this time of suffering, I searched for my “what’s next” and made the decision to put all my energy into training and supporting the next generation of wrestlers. The next 15 years, I coached 24 high school national champions, placed over 125 wrestlers into collegiate programs, including five NCAA All-Americans, and built the global apparel brand Takedown.

I tell you this because every loss, injury, and/or setback along your journey may appear to be the most difficult time in your life. But, when you look back at that moment of adversity, you will be able to sum it up in one short sentence. I challenge you when faced with adversity to always remember that God always has a bigger plan in store and go all-in on your “what’s next”.

Do the Hard Work

Be willing to do whatever else someone else isn’t willing to do!

When you have a relentless approach to winning, nothing will get in your way. Being in wrestling at a young age kept my attention and became a guiding force in my life to stay on track throughout my schooling. Training and competing kept me out of trouble, grounded and forced me to “dig in” to my talents and with every win, I felt I accomplished something. 

Wrestling is one of the few sports that teaches you can outwork your opponents and you get greater results the harder you work. Same in business — clients and customers look to partner and support organizations with a mission and goal to be the best!

Being a company that will work hard with their community is crucial to being differentiated in the marketplace. Remember, at the end of the day, nothing replaces hard work!

In closing, I challenge you to enjoy the good times and the wins, but also embrace the losses, the “ugly” times and the unimaginable outcomes. 

It’s never going to be a straight path to success, you are always going to have obstacles in life that you must overcome. But, with a mindset of a champion, the ability to face adversities and the willingness to do the hard work, you will be set up for success on and off the mat. 

So, I challenge you to dream big. Anything in this life is possible!

(As a former Division I wrestler turned ambitious apparel entrepreneur, Dustin Kawa started Takedown Sportswear Inc. over a decade ago with a few hundred dollars and a vision. Today, Takedown Sportswear, Inc. is a leading brand manufacturer and one of the top wrestling singlet providers in the sport with 100 employees. Find out more about their company at TakedownShop.com.)