Klessinger: Here are ways to keep the ‘fire’ and loving wrestling

Updated: October 17, 2023

Photo: John Klessinger (right) is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.

By John Klessinger

Let’s look at wrestling differently as we approach the 2023-24 season. Below are points about wrestling, mindset, and character I learned from forty years in the sport. I bet (more like a guarantee) that you will be a better wrestler if you adopt some, if not all, of these beliefs/values/ideas.  

Before we get to the points, I want to emphasize how and why some changes in our beliefs can make you a better wrestler.

First, it will make the sport more enjoyable. Wrestling is a grind. A lot of times, we measure ourselves based solely on wins and losses. Quickly, we lose the “fire” because of the length of the season, commitment, and unnecessary expectations we place on ourselves. A different perspective will change how you look at the sport and take some pressure off you. 

Secondly, if you enjoy the sport more, you will work harder, be more disciplined and do all those things required to be successful. I don’t know about you, but the work seems more manageable when I enjoy something. I do the work because I want to … instead of having to. I want to get better because I like what I am doing. I want to push myself because my improvements make it even more fun. 

And this is what I know: when you go out on the mat because competing is fun, you perform much better anyway.

This column appeared in the October issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

I spent many years in the sport as a competitor and a coach, viewing it from a place of “having to.” I lost a lot of joy from the sport. Why? Because wrestling became about “having to do this.” It was a chore. For what? To get your hand raised at the end of the match? It had to be more than that. 

Yes, winning is important. I am not downplaying that. It justifies the time, effort and dedication. However, far from ever getting my hand raised, wrestling taught me almost everything I know as a coach, teacher, parent, husband and father. I took those things for granted. I put the focus on only results and the “work” that was required to win. And not surprisingly, the sport wasn’t much fun. Really, I kind of got to the point that I didn’t like it at all. I dreaded it and continuously wondered, “why am I doing this?”

Then, there was a change, both consciously and unconsciously. I started paying attention to all those things we take for granted. The tough workouts, the sacrifices, and the reasons I invested so much into wrestling. And I came to a conclusion: I liked how it made me feel.

The secret (if there is one) is always doing things that make you feel good. Challenging myself makes me feel good. Getting better makes me feel good. Winning makes me feel good. Being lazy doesn’t. Not doing my best doesn’t. Making excuses doesn’t. It is pretty simple. 

A challenging practice might be painful, but afterward, the feelings of accomplishment surpass the minutes of discomfort. Skipping a workout or not pushing yourself in practice might provide temporary comfort or avoidance of pain, but you certainly won’t feel good about it. How you feel is your barometer. You are on the right track if you feel good (accomplished, satisfied, content or proud). If you don’t, you may need an honest conversation with yourself. 

Here are those bullet points in three different areas on how you can make wrestling more enjoyable:


• All outstanding achievement comes from structure, discipline, and accountability.

• Consistency and perseverance are more essential to your success than talent. 

• You will never regret giving your best effort. Giving your best effort feels good regardless of whether you win or lose.

• Help your teammates get better. Doing that makes you better. Life has a strange way of rewarding people who help others and it feels good to help people

• Focus on improvement over results. You will like the sport much more. 

• Winning is a by-product of doing the right things day after day. 

• The little things- weight management, doing technique correctly, how you treat others, etc., will take care of the big things (i.e. win wrestling matches)


  Look at everything difficult as a gift. We are the sum of the adversity we’ve experienced.

• The more you smile, the better you feel. Smile during tough practices and workouts. Smile even when you are hurting.

• Drop from your everyday conversation the words blaming, complaining or comparing. It provides zero benefit to you.

• Instead of comparing yourself to someone, model the behavior and habits of successful people. 

• Close your eyes, be quiet and recognize the chatter in your head. 90 percent of it is nonsense, including the negative thoughts we have. The reason negative thoughts bother us is not because they are true. It is because we pay attention to them more. A thought is a thought. Your attention makes one more important than another.

• Be grateful … for wrestling, school, family and friends. Gratitude is powerful.

• Your mind will quit long before your body. Remember that. Ignore it. Keep going. You can.


• Be a good person. “Everyone you meet is fighting their own battle.” I love this quote. It is a reminder to be kind even when I don’t want to be. Be less judgmental and more kind.

• Work ethic is a reflection of your character and values. A lazy person does not value sacrifice and struggle. A person who cheats reps or workouts does not value discipline and accountability. 

• Beat to your own drum. Societal and peer pressure has made us more concerned with popularity than being better. But here is the thing- being better, improving, and giving our best effort feels so much better than following what’s cool or popular. 

• Honesty is hard, but something makes it feel right compared to lying or deception. Be honest with yourself. I call it the mirror test. If you can look in the mirror each day and know without hesitation that you are doing your best, you feel peace. You will sleep well. It is a good feeling.

• Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. When there are 30 seconds left in a match, and you are down by one, integrity will decide whether or not you fight it out to the finish. If you aren’t willing to do it when no one is looking, you won’t do it when others are watching. 

• Don’t judge or criticize. It is redundant. I know. It is like complaining or blaming. It only does a little for you. Instead, pick people up. Be someone’s anchor. That will take you much farther in wrestling and life. And it feels good!