The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have arguably two of the finest Big 12 College wrestling programs of all time. Coach John Smith has led the OSU Cowboys to 21 out of OSU’s 53 Conference Championships, which is more than double any other coach in the history of the program. Most recently, Smith led his squad to its ninth consecutive Big 12 tournament title, with three Cowboys claiming individual titles in 2021. 

OU’s coach Lou Rosselli was named head coach in 2016, after a 10-year stint at Ohio State University. In 2021, Rosselli led the Sooners to their first Big 12 Championship win since 2002. Rosselli gives insight into better understanding the elements needed to create a championship-caliber program. 

“It starts with picking the right people – people with a winning attitude that have Olympic aspirations,” he says. “But it’s more than just what they say they want; they have to demonstrate that commitment with not only what they bring to the mat, but whether they can organize their life during the other hours of the day to optimize their performance.”

Rosselli also expands on what a day in the life of an OU wrestler can look like. Mornings are built around strength training and conditioning and afternoons really center around wrestling: warm-ups, drills and skill-building.

Prior to his coaching career, Rosselli was an accomplished athlete. In high school, he was a two-time New York State champion and finished with a record of 37-0 his senior year. In collegiate wrestling, Rosselli was a two-time All-American and three-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion. He also represented the United States on the international stage at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and captured three U.S. Open championships. During his most recent year at OU, the Sooners were ranked inside the top-20 nationally throughout the entire season. 

In terms of mindset, Rosselli instills in his athletes a level of mental fortitude which helps them endure pain and stay focused in the midst of distractions. He expects his athletes to study and learn the various styles of wrestling, which fall under either the Freestyle or Greco-Roman style. In freestyle, wrestlers can use their legs, which is not permitted in Greco-Roman wrestling. Greco-Roman wrestlers also cannot grab their opponents below the waist.

The final element of mindset centers around belief, according to Rosselli. 

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“Successful wrestlers have to believe in themselves; it’s a physically demanding sport, and that belief will cause you to push yourself, eventually learning you can exceed your own perceived limitations.” 

Women in Wrestling

Women’s collegiate wrestling is the No. 1 growing sport in the U.S., according to Oklahoma City University coach Nicole Tyson. When she was a freshman at OCU in 2007, there were five women’s programs in the U.S. Now there are over 100.

Women face numerous barriers to entering into competitive wrestling. There are several states in which women must compete against men to gain a foothold in the sport. Coach Tyson recounts her experience as the only girl at her high school who wrestled.

“When I came to OCU, it was my first chance to actually wrestle other women. It was upsetting the first time I lost to a girl because it was a brand-new experience.” 

Fewer than 40 states in the U.S. have sanctioned women’s wrestling programs. However, each year there are more coaches and more women competing.