Princeton Associate Head Coach Joe Dubuque (Photo courtesy of Tony DiMarco)
Peaking is a word used in every sport, typically to describe training leading up to the biggest event of the year and an athlete's ability to compete at their highest level during that time. For wrestling, it is seen during the national championships, which are happening this week. While many fans may have an idea of what peaking is, I asked two former college wrestlers, now high-level coaches, what their perspectives on peaking are.
The first coach is Ben Askren, a four-time finalist, two-time national champ and Hodge trophy winner who now runs one of the most successful high school wrestling clubs in Askren Wrestling Academy. I also heard from Joe Dubuque, a two-time national champion who won both titles a week after not winning Big 10's and now coaches at the ascending Princeton program.
How would you define athletic peaking, specifically in wrestling?
Askren: Wrestling the best you possibly can to the utmost of your skill and ability level.
Dubuque: I define athletic peaking as being as fresh physically and mentally, as you can be, for whatever event you are trying to peak for.
You are someone who went from not winning their conference to winning a national title twice, what changed in the time between the two tournaments?
Dubuque: My junior year not much changed from Big Tens to Nationals, but more so it was the round-by-round of NCAA's is where my mindset changed. I was very focused on becoming a 2x All-American as that was a big goal for me and once I achieved that goal making it to the semis, I told myself that I was winning this tournament. My senior year I really wanted to win Big Ten's since it was in Indiana, but it was almost like it was an obligation and not really a desire. Once that was taken from me and vowed to myself to enjoy the next two weeks I had with wrestling and If I could do that then winning my second national championship would be attainable. I never lacked self-confidence whether, I was actually better than everyone or I was delusional about it, either way, every time I stepped on the mat I felt I was going to win.
How has your perspective/thought process on athletic peaking changed since you went from athlete to coach?
Askren: Initially, I would have thought it was, and I think a lot of people think this, that there is a really specific, more sneakier way to get ready, you know, a really regimented thing. And now I think it really just factors down to two things. Number one, obviously you want to decrease the volume so that limits the injury factor and also keeps the kids feeling fresher, which is great. You don't want them feeling worn down heading into big tournaments. And then number two, refining of the skill set. So, you know, don't be introducing new moves. The longer the season goes on or the closer you get to big tournaments, the fewer new moves you want to be introducing. Probably until you're almost doing no new move introduction by the end. So I think those are the only two big factors. I think some people want to make it out to be way more unique or way more difficult to peak, but I don't really think it's all that hard. Just don't wear kids out and don't show them a bunch of new things right before important tournaments when they've not had enough practice to do those things.
How do mindset and mentality factor into peaking?
Askren: I think it's just mostly kids having recognition that they are prepared and they're ready and they aren't fearful of the tournament that is moving ahead.
How much do you put emphasis on the mental aspect vs physical before a big competition?
Dubuque: I would say there is probably more emphasis on the mental aspect as it is the physical. Being in the right state of mind, I feel will dictate your success at higher-level tournaments. Confidence is huge and depending on how you did prior to that big tournament it might have to be manufactured confidence or organic. Obviously being healthy physically is a big deal, but if you're healthy enough to wrestle in a big tournament then the mental side is what is going to get you the success you desire.
How different can the plan for peaking be from wrestler to wrestler? What factors play into the differences?
Askren: I don't think there should be a difference. Just like I said earlier, people think it's way more unique and way harder than it really is. I think people just want to make themselves sound smarter and act like they have a unique ability to get kids ready to wrestle, and it really just comes down to decreasing the volume and decreasing the amount of new things you're showing kids, to let them do the things they do well. Have a good strategy. That's it.
At a tournament like NCAA's where you have the brackets so far in advance, how much time if any is spent game planning for opponents?
Dubuque: I would say there is time spent making a specific game plan, but you can't map out too far in advance because crazy things happen at NCAA's. The athlete should be ready for round 1 and 2 opponents but the coach should have scouting notes on all possibilities throughout the tournament.