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Steve Cooper, Contributor

Forbes.com Entrepreneurs 7/31/2012 @ 4:04AM

Why Wrestlers Make the Best Employees

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“More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride. Some have wrestled without great skill—none have wrestled without pride.” ~ Dan Gable

Today’s workforce is extremely competitive. When comparing resumes it’s easy to get lost in all the bullet points of software literacy and past responsibilities. If you really want to separate two seemingly qualified employees, bring them in for an interview and ask a simple question, “Have you ever participated in sports at an elite level?”

“Current research indicates that individuals who have competed in elite level athletics, i.e., collegiate, international, or professional level competition possess higher levels of emotional intelligence than their non-athlete counterparts,” says Richard Mendelson, I.O. psychologist and founder of Dynamic IO Consultants, a consulting firm specializing in human capital management and other services.

In 1996, Dr. William Brad McGonagle, associate vice president for administration at Texas A&M University wrote his dissertation studying how former athletes transfer the skill set they developed through athletics to the workplace. He found that an employee with prior athletic experience was able to transfer the lessons of being a team player and also noticed strengths in accomplishment-based skills, discipline, and communication.

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In 2002, professors Daniel Gould and Kristen Dieffenbach published a study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology which noted that Olympic champions display higher levels of specific attributes directly linked to success, in particular emotional intelligence. Their research showed that these elite athletes displayed high levels of stress management, interpersonal skills, and self regard.

The conclusion of all this research could be seen during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, when American wrestler, Dan Gable, won the gold medal without giving up a single point! This is perhaps one of the greatest Olympic performances of all time. And while this level of performance would be hard to duplicate on any stage, can you imagine this same type of focus and determination on display in your office?

While I acknowledge that nearly all athletes at an elite level have a tremendous amount of drive, wrestlers in particular seem to operate at a higher level of fortitude. Not that my athletic history is anything to write about, but I wrestled in college and have been surrounded by amazing athletes of all sports. I’ve known Olympians, world champions, college champions and everything in between. The one constant observation is that wrestlers have a capacity to push themselves harder than most and display an unrivaled mental toughness—that and a deep desire to eat.

Socrates once said, “I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.”

Wise words considering being fleet of foot is how a wrestler starts his day. In the business arena, being fast or strong doesn’t necessarily rank as a top priority in our service economy. So why should you care?

“Wrestling, in particular, is thought to require more individual commitment than most other sports due to the nature of the training and competing itself. The logical inference, then, is that with other sports, an athlete can go to practice or a game, and then go home to relax. Wrestlers, due to the weight class requirements, have to maintain their focus and drive around the clock for years at a time,” says Mendelson, a former college wrestler.

“In addition, wrestling is an individual sport and the athlete experiences both failure and success as an individual. As a result, the wrestler endures more physical, emotional, and psychological stress, both positive and negative, than an athlete in another sport.”

I can tell you that the biggest lesson I learned during my wrestling career was humility. Even the great Dan Gable lost a match. Over the years I learned that getting knocked down was just part of the process to work even harder and to improve. I now encourage the success of others because I enjoy the challenge of meeting those higher expectations. Even during the all-night programming sessions to launch new features on Hitched, it has never felt difficult since I know 100 of those nights will never be as hard as a single wrestling practice.

The competitive spirit in other athletes might argue that they too exude these same qualities at the same level. They might be right, which is why the question you should pose during an interview is asking about their entire athletic background. Saying that, when the bullet points begin to once again merge as you stare down two athletes, I recommend you go with the wrestler.

“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” ~ Dan Gable


Reasbeck writes Near Fall book series to encourage kids to wrestle
Joe Reasbeck of Lago Vista, Texas has been rolling around on mats since he was only two years old. Reasbeck, who grew up in Wisconsin, followed in the footsteps of his father, also named Joe, who coached the sport for several decades. As a competitor, the elder Joe won many National Titles, and recently wrestled in the Veterans Nationals. It was only natural that Joe, the son, follow in his fathers footsteps.

The younger Joe wrestled for the University of Minnesota, competed on the Senior level in Greco-Roman and trained for the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games in Greco-Roman wrestling. He is now a published author, with the subject of his writing his favorite sport.

Standel Publishing published and released the first of the four-book series in 2007 by Reasbeck called Near Fall: Book One-- The Adventures of Matt and Mike.

Joe was inspired to write this series to try to raise awareness of the sport as well as promote wrestling by weaving a compelling story about life and grappling. He would love to make this fictional novel, Near Fall, an entertainment channel to reach kids, parents and coaches around the world.

I have the deepest respect for this sport. I participated in every sport I could get my hands on. However, there is something very different about going out on a mat in front of family, friends, girlfriends, teammates, coaches and even strangers--all by yourself and facing an opponent that is equally matched to you and looking to dismantle you. The combination of the mastery of technique, athleticism, strategy, toughness and extreme endurance puts wrestling on top of the podium of athletic endeavor. Wrestlers truly are warriors, Reasbeck said.

The biggest thing wrestling has taught me is persistence. I had been knocked down so many times from opponents, injuries, and internal struggles that I came to realize that wrestling teaches you whatever life throws at you, you can handle. You learn to roll with the punches and discover that certain perseverance wrestling teaches you. I dont think that is unique to me, I think it is symptomatic of wrestling. Wrestlers are a mentally tough bunch. There is a bond amongst wrestlers, an instant respect.

He notes that wrestlers also tend to become quite confident because of the work it has taken them to become successful. Whether one is skilled or just beginning, Reasbeck feels as though one can always learn from his or her wrestling experiences.

As a coach, you talk a lot about the elite athletes, but the courage and faith that a kid demonstrates when he knows he’s outclassed, and walks out to the center of the mat anyhow--thats really intriguing to me. I have a lot of respect for those kids, even more so at times than I have for the elite athletes, said Reasbeck.


I really applaud them for taking that step into the arena and doing their absolute best. Those who stick with it improve and eventually wind up being the person with their hand raised but more importantly, they know how they got there. They understand the price that had to be paid. I think that translates well for the rest of their life.

Near Falls appeal is the winning combination of the underdog and sport. In this book, whatever problems are encountered, wrestling is always part of the solution.