Six Attributes of Success

Five lessons in success from an Olympic Champ and one bonus.

In my last post, I passed on a blog article about 9 Ways a Theater Degree Trumps a Business Degree. Next in line is five Characteristics of a Successful Wrestling Mindset from Gene Zannetti, a sports psychology expert.

I have always said that the lessons learned in wrestling [or whatever sport or pursuit one chooses] translate to success in life. If a person learns to translate the lessons learned in childhood play to adulthood endeavors, and indeed “life” itself, that person will be successful. If that transition is not made, the richness of those experiences is lost and the experiences become only faded memories.

Wrestling is a particularly lesson rich sport. I learned two of the most profound lessons of my life through wrestling: 1) once you start something, you should finish it; and 2) don’t be afraid to fail. I think I have somewhat successfully instilled those attributes in my children. The memories of past triumphs (and unfortunately past failures) really fade in comparison with the life lessons that were learned through blood, sweat and fears I experienced through wrestling, and I carry them with me, as part of who I am, today.

Just two days ago, Jordan Borroughs won his 65th senior (Olympic) level match and with it his third consequetive world or Olympic title. He has never lost in senior level competition. Unknown to anyone but his coaches, Jordan severely injured his ankle in practice on August 22nd. He had surgery the next day. Two plates and five screws were implanted into his ankle, and he could not wrestle until the day he stopped out on the mat for the World Tournament on September 18th. The traits that make Jordan Burroughs a success come shining through in the interview with Flowrestling right after he came off the mat.

Jordan Burroughs describes in that Flowrestling interview the “five characteristics of a successful wrestler mindset”. These five things translate to a successful person mindset in whatever you do. They are:

Passion for what you do. To be successful at anything, you must be passionate about what you are doing! If you are not passionate about what you are doing, find something you can be passionate about and do that. We all have done mindless, menial work in our lives, and sometimes (or perhaps, most of the time) the work we do is mindless and menial, even the work that goes into our passions. Passion needs to be the undercurrent, the driver, the sustainer, even in the middle of the mindless, menial movement toward our goals.

Courage to “lay it all out there”. No person ever failed for trying. The failure comes in not trying or not trying hard enough, not giving all you have. Failure to begin often begins with the fear of failure. That was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I was a good wrestler, but I became afraid to fail. It ate me up. Fear brings pressure. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the freedom to pursue success relentlessly and fearlessly in spite of the possibility of failure. Don’t be afraid to fail. Give it your all because there is no failure in trying.

Vision. Vision creates perspective. It spurs on hope. It helps you keeps your head up when trudging in the trenches. Modern athletes spend time visualizing themselves succeeding (actually seeing their own success in their minds). When you visualize something you begin to believe it. Without a vision the people perish (to paraphrase Proverbs). If you can’t see yourself succeeding, no one else will, and you probably won’t succeed at whatever you are doing.

Resilience. This is maybe the most common place where more people fall down. No person succeeds 100% of the time. There are set backs. There will be set backs. Some of them, like a broken ankle less than a month away from the World Wrestling Tournament, are more difficult than others. Sometimes, it is not the big setbacks, but the little nagging ones that take the biggest toll. A successful person is someone who gets back up, and gets back up, and keeps getting back up and pushing forward. Successful people will say that the failures only made them stronger. That well-worn statement is no platitude. Resilience is a must-have characteristic of success and can only be learned by the resistance that gets in the way. Like lifting weights, the resistance of those setbacks makes us stronger.

Confidence, All successful people have confidence. Confidence comes from working hard and doing things right; and working hard and doing things right leads to success; and success breeds success, as they say – because it builds confidence. When you are working hard and doing things right, confidence can even come from failures because we learn from mistakes. When the reasons for failure are known, steps can be taken to avoid those mistakes, and confidence results from knowing that you can avoid those mistakes in the future. Confidence, alone, is not sufficient; and false confidence is just delusional; but no success is possible without confidence. Here is a little story to illustrate.

My son was a small 103 pounder his sophomore year in high school. He would weigh in holding his lunch (just a little friendly dig at his starving  teammates). At the Sectional tournament to qualify for the State tournament, his weight class was filled with a who’s who of good wrestlers, including the undefeated phenom who was favored to win the State tournament. This guy was probably dropping about 20 pounds to make weight!

Nicholas wins againMy son told me he was going to wrestle him and beat him. I admired his confidence, and I didn’t want to say anything to weaken his confidence, but I didn’t give him much chance. No one thought he could beat the phenom, including me.

When we saw the brackets for the tournament, we learned that he would wrestle the phenom in his second match, if he won his first match. My son won his first match and stepped out on the mat to face down the phenom – the guy he had been saying all week he could beat. After the first period ended, the match wasn’t even close, but my son was a gamer. Those two points were only scored because the other wrestler let him to take him down again. He stepped out for the second period losing 9-2. At one point during that first period, my son had to fight off his back to keep from being pinned. Still, I could see that same confidence determination in his eyes when he stepped out on the mat for the second period. He was still in the match.

Not long into the second period the tide turned. I happen to have it on video. At about the 3:30 mark, the unthinkable happened. You will have to watch it here if you want to know the rest of the story. A picture (or a video) is worth a thousand words. This is the type of thing that is possible when we have passion, courage, vision, resilience and confidence…. and let me add one more.

Faith. I would add that faith in God is a key ingredient. That is not to say that people who do not believe in God can’t be confident and can’t be successful. There is often, however, little separation between successful people and other people with similar abilities. The differences can be intangible. I believe that one of those intangibles is faith and a relationship with the Creator who gives us those abilities.

There are many parallels between wrestling and life, theater and life, or whatever it is that you gave yourself to as a child or adult. Not everyone stands on top of the podium or gets the lead part, but the takeaways are there. If you apply them to your life, you will be successful. If you don’t apply those lessons to be learned, you are missing out on the greatest treasure of those experiences. Trophies will fade, but the lessons we learn are for life.


Postscript: my son made it to the finals of the Sectional tournament where he got pinned. He qualified for the State tournament , but he fell just short (one match) from placing. The phenom? He was the State Champ that year.

3 thoughts on “Six Attributes of Success

  1. Great. Wrestling’s greatest lesson to me is what you called number 1. Once you start you have to see it through to the end win or lose but always fighting. – Hans Hauptmann


    1. That was the first lesson for me and maybe tho most significant one; though fear of failure may have prevented me from venturing forth. Success is not won in holding back; success requires some abandonment and daring. Then there is no turning back.


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