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Thread: Wrestlers & Memory

  1. #1

    Default Wrestlers & Memory

    In my years of talking to wrestlers, I've always been struck by the incredible ability wrestlers seem to have to recount past matches with astonishing detail.

    I'm talking about wrestlers of all ages -- from today's college stars, to the legends of 40 or 50 years ago. And... in the cases where I'm able to confirm the accuracy of the memory from newspaper or AWN stories or watching films, the wrestler's memory is just about always on target.

    This has really come home to me the past couple days, in interviewing a 1950s great (who could replay his title matches as if they happened earlier today)... and in hearing from one 1960s great write about the late, great Ronnie Clinton with incredible clarity.

    How come wrestlers have this ability? Is it because the big wins (and heartbreaking losses) are such a vital part of their memory, akin in importance to other milestones like wedding day or the birth of a child? Is there something about wrestling that strengthens memory? Or is memory key to the success of wrestlers, so that wrestlers must have a better-developed memory sense? Or am I just lucky to interview wrestlers with good memories? ;-)

    Weigh in, please.


  2. #2

    Default Re: Wrestlers & Memory

    One of my favorite wrestling memories came after the 1991 NCAA finals. My wife and I were staying at what used to be the Highlander Inn in Iowa City. We went down to the pool lounge area and Harold Nichols and his wife and a number of former Oklahoma State wrestlers and their wives were in there. All of them were at least in their sixties and they were sharing memories of individual matches from many years before. It was great fun listening to them describe old matches hold-for-hold and shot-for-shot.

  3. #3
    Olympic Champ therick's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Columbus, Ohio

    Default Re: Wrestlers & Memory

    That is an interesting observation. I've found that one of the interesting things about my wrestling memories is that i can remember very vividly almost every loss I ever had, but very little of all but the biggest wins.

    Example, there are times when someone will ask me about a particular school and I'll remember that I beat someone from the school, but I can't tell you what the score was, or even what the guy looked like.

    On the flip side, if I lost to a guy from that school, I can tell you who it was, what the score was, and most if not all of what happened during the match.

    Some of that might be because I usually watched the film of my losses 3 or 4 times more than the wins.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Wrestlers & Memory

    I actually studied autobiographical memory so I can take a shot at this.

    Autobiographical memory tends to be stronger in those who have a better defined sense of self. Detailed memories are best formed when an individual can structure those memories around themselves -- what they were feeling at the time, what they thought about it, and even self-dialog where you replay a scenario in your mind over and over, or tell it to a friend over and over.

    Most of the wrestlers I have met have a strong self-schema and tend to have big egos.

    To better illustrate what I mean about sense of self, I'll explain a psych study I did in college.

    In general, Americans tend to have better autobiographical memories than individuals in India. If you ask an American what his or her earliest memory is, most will recall something from around 3 years of age that is a memory for a specific event, such as breaking an arm getting a new puppy.

    However, in India, most adults say that their earliest memory is around 6 or 7 years of age, and it tends to be something that could have happened on a regular basis, such as going to school.

    My professor and I decided to look into this a little closer. There are obviously huge differences between the 2 countries -- in the US, the focus is on the individual whereas in India, it's more upon the community. We video recorded a sample of American parents interacting with their 3 and 4 year old children, and had someone collect similar data in India. What we found is that in the US, American parents talk to their children a lot about what the kids think, feel, etc. So as the events of a child's life was happening, he/she is constantly relating the event to his/her emotions and thoughts at the time, and therefore structuring them around a well defined sense of self.

    In India, parents tended to speak with their children mostly in commands (do this, do that), and rarely asked the children anything that pertained to themselves. We speculated that as these events were happening, the child didn't really have any sort of scaffolding to structure and relate these events to their thoughts and feelings, which could result in poor memory for the events.

    So to tie that back in to wrestling, I know that I can remember specific events in a very detailed manner. Wrestling is something where a lot of emotion is involved. It's a very individualistic sport, so most wrestlers have a very strong sense of self. And we tend to think about every detail of a match, especially a loss, over and over since it's something that might have affected one's sense of pride or even one's identity if it was a match where you beat the best guy in the nation, or suffered the first loss of an undefeated season.

    It's late so I'm sure I didn't explain this well at all, but I hope you can get where I'm going with it.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Wrestlers & Memory

    Okay - everyone that has an Ivy League education, please raise your hands. DH - thanks for sharing.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Wrestlers & Memory


    Thanks so much for your explanation. It actually makes sense to me, esp with your sharing of your experiment with video of US and Indian parents with their children.

    Now... yesterday I interviewed yet another multi-time champ from the 1950s... and, while he seemed to have trouble calling up details of his championship matches*, he certainly had no trouble describing his one regular-season collegiate loss. But -- then he immediately followed up with a detailed explanation of how he got revenge the next time the two met on the mat! ;-)

    Happy New Year,

    * I should say that in this case, it may be that he's rather modest and didn't want to brag.

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