IMG_1052In the late 1970s, Dan Gable and his cadre of coaches were ahead of their time, and very mindful of this fact. The Hawkeye coaching staff understood that physical injuries don’t derail a team or an individual.

Rather, it is the lack of confidence that weakens an athlete. And confidence remains purely mental and necessary at the highest levels of competition. As we ready for the August 2016 Rio Olympics, pay close attention to those athletes who are in the mental zone. You will see their readiness in their walk and eyes.

Each successful athlete must own the mental zone — that is why Coach Gable hired a psychologist to get inside each wrestler’s head. Building a culture requires lifting up vs. pummeling down. Culture building must be shaped mentally and engaged daily. The best sport teams or high performing companies have it — an understanding of how to nurture confidence after setbacks.

As I think back to my years growing up with my brothers, it dawned on me that we were and remain each other’s best backers. What awesome power is delivered when you hear repeatedly that “You Got This.” Recurring and positive words mattered for us back then as they do today. We often hear the phrase, “Get Your Head into the Game.” If the coach or a manager has to remind us game-day or proposal day, then it is a little too late. This reinforcing confidence must survive well before the contest or a meeting. It must be built daily and harnessed timely.

Step back for a moment and ask yourself one question: Whom do you enjoy being around most? Your answer is probably family and close friends. This is no coincidence, as these folks know your potential. More importantly, you accept their assessment because you trust their unbiased motivation.

Any good culture rests upon mutual trust that you have the other person’s best interests at heart. As the saying goes, “I got your back.” When you let someone know your biggest fears or concerns, you become vulnerable. And this is exactly why the mental aspect is so difficult. You are exposed. But the very best move beyond vulnerability with the right support and coaching.

Similar to daily weight lifting that builds muscle mass through a repeatable workout program, so too is the mind able to be “built.” Hardened and undefeatable confidence is the byproduct of daily imagery, role-playing and visualization, coupled with timely input and feedback from key allies. Mental preparation doesn’t replace physical workouts; it greets it willingly as a couple. The icing on the cake is to understand — through faith — that it isn’t the destination, but the journey that matters. Like faith, confidence lives in the head.

The US Army Rangers have it, as did our Iowa Wrestling dynasty. Seeded in the mind, pollinated through mutual trust and blossomed by saturating words of encouragement, these are the essentials of the “zone culture.” Our greatest potential rests not with robust physical attributes but, rather, intangible confidence that brings our head to the game. So here’s to the next time you look into a mirror. Let me hear you roar!