When it comes to competing, it is said that the preparation for battle is 10 % physical and 90 % mental. Many practitioners enter the gym putting 100 % effort into the physical aspect of training for a fight. However once one enters the arena negative thoughts of doubt and fear plagues the persons mind jeopardizing their performance making their hard work in the gym meaningless. In this interview former Olympian and three time NCAA all American freestyle wrestler Andy Hrovat discuses the mental aspect of wrestling and how it has helped him in his career.
Andy: for me the mental aspect of wrestling has two different categories. The first being how confident are you in your preparation. This is huge because preparation plays a big outcome in how you perform. Too much preparation and you might be slow and tired. Too little preparation and you will be out of shape. This takes many years to learn and you have to go through trials of wins and losses to figure out what is best for you. I have been pretty confident in my preparation for big tournaments and now having trained in Russia I have even more confidence in how to prepare. The second aspect is strategy. I feel like strategy is over looked in American wrestling. There is a devotion in our country to score as many points as possible and score early. This is great but when you are wrestling at a high level you need to be smart. For instance if I wrestled someone and beat him once but I shot off the first whistle and was very aggressive with my shots, maybe the next time I will ease into the match working my front head locks. If I can score the front head locks great but most of the time the guy gets sick of being pulled down so he stands up taller and there goes my double leg right in front of me. There are many ways to out smart your opponent just play with different moves that compliment each other.
How important is having confidence when going into battle?
Andy: Confidence is just as big as any other aspect. You can train all you want but if you don't believe in yourself you will have a hard time winning. I have a unique attitude because I just naturally don't think many people are good wrestlers so I never psych myself out.
Does visualization play any role in the mental aspect of competing?
Andy: Some visualize more then other and for a year after losing at the world team trials in 2007 I saw myself making the Olympic team. Training in Russia I have to walk a lot. I walk to practice everyday for a half an hour and everyday as I am walking to practice I can see myself winning the world and Olympic finals. I think I have beat every top wrestler in the world already in my mind and on top of that my confidence is high because I am in the best training environment in the world.
Can having an ego be an assets or hindrance when going into battle?
Andy: I think it depends how you respond to difficulties. If you lose and have an ego where you don't listen to coaches and are stubborn then yes it will hurt you. If you have an ego and believe you are the best there ever was because it helps get you ready to compete that is great as long as if you lose or things don't go as planned you are willing take advise from your coaches and most of the time training partners.
How does doubt play a role in the mental game?
Andy: You should never doubt yourself. It doesn't matter who you are wrestling you should just go out and perform. When I was younger with in one month I wrestled the world champ and silver medalist from the previous years world championships. I was winning both matches and with about 10 seconds left in each of the matches. I ended up getting pinned in one match and lost by a point in the other. I had never been in that type of match and I didn't doubt I could win before the match but then in the heat of battle I panicked and maybe I second guessed myself. I should have won both matches and it is a lesson learned. Always believe in yourself.
When dealing with an injury, how does one overcome that hurdle?
Andy: It depends on the injury and where you are in your season. I never missed a match in high school or college or even internationally except for getting the flu and not wanting to go to Cuba because it is not the best place to be when you are sick. If the injury is sever be smart and take your time to come back. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself again and do permanent damage. I had my knee scoped in high school my sophomore year and with the holes in my knees still open I wrestled in the sectional tournament and won. This might not have been the smartest thing but my doctor said I was fine and back then I never really heard about staph infection. These days with holes going right to a joint I can't see many doctors clearing you to wrestle. Just be smart sometimes injuries are a blessing. In 2005 I wrestled in the Canada Cup and I dislocated my ac joint. It is a small joint but it is the only place where your shoulder is attached to the body. It was painful and I could barely walk without wanting to cry. I took a lot of time off and eased back into training. When I came back from the injury I won the Sunkist tournament, the NYAC tournament, and a big international tournament in France all in less then a month after returning to competition.
When competing in high levels events such as the Olympics or NCCA championships was there any pressure and how did you deal with that?
Andy: Yes there is a lot of pressure, but that is why you train and compete. At the 2008 US Open I was so nervous being it was an Olympic year I threw up before the tournament started and before the finals. I lost a close one in the finals that year but I was preparing myself for the trials. At the trials I there up before every match, I had never done this till this year nor have I done it since. I was so nervous that everything I was working towards was happening right now. I never second guessed my training or preparation I was just nervous. I threw up and felt normal but if I had not wrestled all over the world for the previous 6 years wrestling the best in the world every chance I had I would not have been ready. Another thing that helped me at the trials was a coach who was not my day to day personal coach but a man I respected and every time I looked across the warm up area he was looking at me with no expression on his face pointing his finger to his head showing me I was smart enough to win, and to his heart showing me how much work I have put in over the years. You need comfort when you are in big matches and this coach gave it to me. I am not sure how much he knows what a big role he played in getting me on the Olympic team but I am sure he knows a little, he is a great coach.
What were some of the mental battles you had to overcome during you time in the sport?
Andy: It is hard to overcome minor injuries. My senior year of college I was battling a bad back all year and there was times I would cry in practice because I couldn't make it through the workouts. You begin to doubt yourself and it turns into a downward spiral. Then as I got older there were financial problems I was going through and that was hard on me mentally. I was in a two year funk because of it but it wasn't until I just said screw it this shouldn't effect the way you train and compete that I was able to get over it and back to my former self.
Obviously as athletes we have our bad days, how does an athlete deal with a lose?
Andy: You have to learn from the losses. If you ask my high school coach he will tell you stories how at the catholic city tournament I didn't place my 8th grade year and he saw me crying. He has seen me cry a lot of times. I am not always emotional but I train hard and I have given my life to this sport and when you lose, when you 100% believe in yourself, and know you are going to win it hurts. It is not a good feeling but when you finally get the next win it will always feel that much better. Nobody can win every match their entire career so loses just have to be dealt with to make you a better wrestler.
Finally do you have any advice for all the athletes out there?
Andy: Keep wrestling and training with a focus. You can train as hard as you want, but unless you train with the sole intention to improve and work on what you are weak at it will do you no good. If you go back to my childhood there would be no indication to tell you I would have achieved all things I have. This is a great sport and if you can make the best of what have then the limit to your greatness is never ending.
Before we wrap up do you any shout outs?
Andy: I have been wrestling 26 years and there have been so many people to help me along the way. My family is always there for me and I have great friends and coaches who care for me as a person first and then as an athlete. They all know I couldn't do it without them.