#152 – Dan Gable: Olympic Wrestling, Mental Toughness & The Making Of Champions | Lex Fridman Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • Study with the best in the world but don’t get so fixated on them that you don’t believe you can beat them
  • Hard work and science beat luck
  • To be a great coach outwork and outthink your athletes: first in, last out
  • Coaching isn’t just what you know about the sport; it’s also what you know about your athletes
  • Fear gives the better athlete the edge


Dan Gable (@DannyGable) is an American wrestler, coach, and ambassador. He is two-time NCAA champion for ISU, World and Olympic gold medalist for the USA, 15-time NCAA Championship coach for Iowa.

In this episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast, Lex and guest Dan Gable discuss what made Dan a great athlete and coach, relive past Olympic experiences, and using pain and anger in productive ways.

Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Book: A Wrestling Life by Dan Gable

Becoming An Artist Of Your Craft

  • Study the science of your sport, study with the best in the world
  • “The impossible is possible.” – Dan Gable
  • Record performances change because knowledge and technology changes
  • Review losses with a critical eye and make the adjustments
  • Visualize being the best
  • Take scientific, calculated risks  
  • Hard work and science beat luck
  • Be ok with changing training philosophies and practices
  • Study the best but don’t get so fixated you don’t believe you can beat them
  • The discipline it takes to be a great athlete translates to success in other areas of life

Being A Great Coach

  • Outwork and outthink your athletes: first in, last out, analysis of athletes
  • React to mistakes before they become casualties and you lose the athlete
  • “It’s not just what you know, it’s what you know about them.” – Dan Gable
  • Listen and take in information about athletes
  • Get athletes in a non-training atmosphere they feel comfortable and they will open up about other aspects of their life and allow you in
  • Athletes face real challenges: it doesn’t take a big leap for losing to turn into despair, feeling of failure, and depression

The Role Of Fear In Sports

  • Fear gives the better athlete the edge
  • There is a real fear of facing someone better than you on paper
  • Some athletes thrive on fear
  • Don’t make mistakes: preparation puts fear to rest

Pushing To The Limit

  • Athletes and coaches understand the need to work to the limit
  • Outsiders want to pump the breaks sooner than necessary
  • For better and worse, coaches can’t publicly push athletes the same way they used to
  • You need to see your limits to push yourself and get better

Managing Pain And Anger

  • You can do it alone, but why?
  • There’s a fine line: anger can be fuel as long as it’s controlled
  • Sometimes pain and anger can come out when you don’t expect it
  • Emotions can be triggered by the setting
  • Pain and anger can make you better if used correctly
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Notes By Maryann

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