Warner: Postseason wins may come down to critical ‘little things’

Updated: February 20, 2024

Photo: WIN columnist Tristan Warner (right) qualified for three NCAA Championships for Old Dominion. 

By Tristan Warner

As the postseason tournaments get underway across the nation, I started thinking about ways wrestlers can gain even the slightest competitive edge on their opponents this late in the season. 

Let me start by stating this: Now is not the time to start changing your approach or routines. The “if-it-ain’t-broke, don’t-fix-it” expression can certainly apply here. 

This column first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

At this point in the season, everyone is preparing their minds and bodies for peak performance, so gaining a competitive edge can be difficult.

Additionally, the regular season is a grind. Demanding the best out of your body when it is beaten down is not for the faint of heart, but that is why we wrestle. 

If there are any athletes or coaches out there looking for suggestions that might allow for some positive change late in the season, I have compiled some nuanced recommendations that I learned over the course of my career that made an impact for me.

Improve your warm-up

Blowing your lungs out before you step on the mat is crucial, especially before the first match of the day. Whether it is sprints in the hallway, a hard hand fight with a teammate or even burpees or squat jumps, any activity that stimulates aerobic and anaerobic activity just before a match will help. Too many wrestlers walk out cold and the first scramble takes the wind out of them. Simulate that first flurry of action during your warm-up. 

Consider your pre-match music and timing

The credit for this goes to nationally-renowned sports psychologist Dr. Jarrod Spencer and his Mind of the Athlete program. Too many athletes listen to hype music too long before their match, which can have an emotionally-draining effect. Listen to calm, relaxing music up until about 15 minutes before your match or when you are “in the hole” on a mat. Then flip the switch and get yourself amped up, just not too soon. 

Workout before weigh-ins

From my experience, most kids try to wake up under weight and wait to eat or drink until after weigh-ins. Then they get their warm-up in after weigh-ins and try to work out the food and fluid that is sloshing around in their stomachs. 

If possible, emulate the college method of waking up a little earlier and perhaps even a pound or two overweight. Maybe get a little bite to eat, so you have some calories in your body for energy later on. Then use that 45 minutes-to-an-hour period in the gym before skin checks and weigh-ins to jog, sprint, shadow drill or drill to get that last remaining pound or two off. 

You will not only have more energy throughout the day, but you will also have already gotten a good warm-up in and blown the lungs out nice and early. 

Bring an extra pair of wrestling shoes to warm up in

I might lose some people here. I always warmed up in a pair of “practice shoes” first. Then, when it was “game time” and I felt it was symbolic to flip the switch, I laced up and taped my “match shoes” and prepared for battle. 

Don’t cut final pounds in a hot tub/sauna/steam room

It is the lazy way. A lot of us have done it. Not all of us have done it (in a hotel hot tub) the night before our first NCAA tournament when we should have known better. 

Even if it is only for a short duration, hot tubs can have a dehydrating, depleting effect that doesn’t bode well for peak performance the next day. It is hard for the body to make up those lost electrolytes with such a quick turnaround. 

Shower between matches

From a physical standpoint, it is not only good hygiene but also gives a little bit of that “look-good, feel-good” effect. But more importantly, there is something symbolic about “washing away” that previous match, even if it was a good one. Turn the page mentally toward your next match and feel good doing it. 

Consider your post weigh-in/pre-match meal

This was a career-long battle for me that I, admittedly, never perfected. However, I did learn over the course of my collegiate career that carbohydrates (i.e., bagels, bread, oats, etc.) and natural sugars (oranges, bananas, kiwis, honey, etc.) served me better than proteins (i.e., protein bars, peanut butter, shakes, etc.), which had a slowing, more slug-inducing effect. 

Bring a blow-up mattress and stay out of the gym

At Old Dominion, we developed a sort of unselfishly selfish team agreement to stay out of the gym and not watch each other’s matches. I know how that sounds, but there is such an emotionally draining effect on an athlete when you watch your brothers go out and wrestle before you have to take the mat yourself. 

When you’re invested in the outcomes of other matches, it is exhausting, regardless of victory or defeat. It is like wrestling a match in your mind before going out and doing it physically. 

So, we would bring blow-up mattresses and relax outside the gym in a dark hallway somewhere and chill out until it was close to our individual bout times. Sometimes, we only found out how our teammates did later in the day after we competed. It was unique, but it saved a lot of mental torment. 

Don’t look at your bracket

This one I’ve harped on in previous columns. Spending time worrying about who you have to wrestle is not conducive to my personal belief of “focusing only on the things you can control.” 

Rely on your coaches to make sure you are where you need to be when you need to be there. 

Approach every foe the same

Approach every nameless, faceless opponent the exact same way … with tenacity and relentlessness. Too many athletes wrestle differently when they know their opponent is good. Avoid that mistake by being as ignorant as possible to your opponents. Rely on your coaches for scouting tips, if necessary. 

(Tristan Warner is a former Pennsylvania state finalist and three-time NCAA qualifier for Old Dominion. He can be reached at Tristan@WIN-Magazine.com.)