Weapons of the Mind: Jon Anderson of the US Army is an Olympic Alternate
By Betsy Veysman
A year ago, Jon Anderson wasn’t ranked at 74 kg in Greco Roman wrestling. In fact, he wasn’t even a full time Greco Roman wrestler.
Now, after a third place performance at the Olympic Trials on April 22 in Iowa City, Jon Anderson is an alternate on the United States Greco Roman Olympic Team after coming into the Trials seeded seventh.
So, how did he climb the ladder so fast?
It could be the experience he’s had with quick adjustments. After all, Anderson moved around quite a bit as a child, living in Germany on two separate occasions as well as Washington, Kansas, Georgia and Virginia.
Or, it could be that becoming a force in Greco was less daunting than the many types of challenges he has seen over his years in the Army, including stints in Iraq.
But Anderson would tell you that much of his success is in his head. The grappler believes that the mental skills training that he has applied to many aspects of his life and has shared with everyone from basic training personnel to Iraqi soldiers in the Middle East is the key to his progress.
When Anderson arrived at West Point for college, he was a relative newcomer to wrestling, having first tried the sport as a high school sophomore who was getting “run over” in football. As a freshman 125 pounder, he tore his meniscus and although he made weight for the EIWA tournament by “skipping on one foot”, he was unable to compete. The same was true for much of his second season as he again suffered a knee injury.
As a junior, he was determined to make up for lost time. Having grown several inches, he competed at 141 pounds and was in a tight battle throughout the campaign for the starting job. With the conference tournament approaching, he lost the last wrestleoff and once again didn’t participate in the postseason. Disappointed, he wanted to be sure to take full advantage of his one remaining year.
“I got involved in the Center for Enhanced Performance,” Anderson said. “I learned about stepping up my mental strategies and being mentally prepared for anything. It made a big difference. I had a great year as a senior that I was proud of.”
Anderson won the New York State title, the All-Academy Championships and placed third at the EIWAs at 165 pounds with a victory over former NCAA champion Troy Letters of Lehigh.
“The Letters match is the most memorable of them all for me,” he said. “He was a wrestling legend and when I defeated him, I knew that I had the potential to go on and beat anyone.”
It turned out to be Anderson’s last collegiate victory as he went 0-2 at NCAAs after facing All-Americans in both of his matches – Iowa State’s Travis Paulson and Iowa’s Eric Luedke.
“I was still young in the sport and those guys were better,” he said. “But it left me really hungry. It fueled the fire for me and it helped me to this day. I didn’t dwell on it, I just focused on moving forward.”
That he did. He was a graduate assistant at West Point Prep school for six months and went to Ranger School. Starting in 2007, he was a platoon leader, an executive officer and a company commander. He spent time in Iraq. All the while, he kept working on his mental skills approaches, teaming up with sports psychologist Steve DeWiggins to develop programs he implemented within the military.
“We did mental toughness training,” he said. “As a platoon leader, I used it to enhance infantry unit performance. In Iraq, we used it to train Iraqi soldiers to do their missions better. We trained drill sergeants and we did basic training cycles for new soldiers. We focused on things like goal setting, energy management, imagery, attention control and building confidence. The results were phenomenal. And along the way, I continued to apply everything to myself.”
While Anderson hadn’t wrestled for a while after college, he got involved in Combatives, which he described as mixed martial arts in the Army. He and some colleagues formed “Team No Name” and trained together.
He won the 2010 All-Army Combatives Championships, including a victory in the finals over an opponent Anderson said trained in MMA for eight years.
“Combatives was a springboard for me back into wrestling,” he said. “I wanted to keep the momentum going. I started training for Greco Roman events.”
Why Greco? It wasn’t because of experience, which for Anderson was limited to a couple of tournaments while at West Point.
Anderson chose Greco because after the success he had in Combatives, he had a new goal in mind.
“I wanted to be an Olympic champ,” he said. “I knew my best chance was in Greco. I never had a lot of success in Freestyle and Greco evens things out on the feet and turns it into a fight. That works for me.”
Anderson received extended duty to train for the 10 months prior to the Olympic Trials. He moved to Colorado Springs, watched a lot of video and worked out with the World Class Athlete program.
“I was submerged in training,” he said. “I improved by leaps and bounds. I needed to use the mental skills training because I needed to make up time. Most of the other guys had been wrestling Greco for years and I only had a matter of months. I used imagery to learn quicker, stayed really mentally focused and applied the techniques every day. I wrote down my goals every day. I visualized what I wanted and had a great routine before stepping on the mat.”
Although seeded seventh, Anderson felt confident coming into the Trials.
“My goal was to place first,” he said. “I was expecting great things. I felt that I was doing a little better at each competition and that I was peaking at the right time. I felt that it would be a good tournament.”
It was. He began by losing the first period against Marco Toledo in his initial match, but he came back to win 0-1, 1-0, 4-1. That victory earned him a meeting with Andy Bisek, who had qualified the 74 kg spot for the United States for the London Olympics and according to Anderson, was the favorite despite his number two seed.
“That might have been the best part of the tournament for me – gut wrenching Bisek,” Anderson said. “In the third I had to get the turn to win. He’s been pretty much unstoppable at the tournaments he’s been in. I hit a fake left, gut wrench right and secured the victory. I’ve been working on that, drilling that. It all came together for me in that match. I knew I needed a perfect match to beat him and I did it.”
Eventual champion Ben Provisor defeated Anderson 1-0, 1-0 in the semifinals, sending him to the consolation bracket. In his next bout, he dropped the first period 4-0 to Tanner Andrews of the USOEC.
“I lost to him at the Dave Schultz International in February so I had some vengeance to pay back there,” Anderson said. “I came out for business in the second period. I turned up the heat and stayed aggressive. I have a refocus technique that I used when down throughout the tournament. I told myself to ‘turn on the smokes’. I tried a few moves and eventually got in a scramble, got him off balance, caught him on his back and pinned him.”
Next up was the third place match, which had significant implications. With a win, Anderson would make the national team and be an alternate on the Olympic team. But even beyond that, a win would allow Anderson to stay in Colorado and train. Otherwise, he said he would “probably be back to a typical officer timeline” and would have to wait at least several months to get back to the Centennial State.
Anderson had lost the first period of each of his four matches to that point, but not in the bronze bout. Jake Fisher gutwrenched Anderson early, however the former West Point grappler reversed it and got the fall in 1:54. Third place was his.
“Fisher was the top guy at the weight for a long time,” he said. “I fell behind but stayed with it and put an end to it quickly. I finished the tournament right.”
Anderson now feels that he has the tools, both mentally and physically, to continue his rapid improvement in the Greco discipline.
“I’ll be attending all the Olympic team camps, improving every day,” he said. “I want to keep winning matches for the US Army and the United States. I want to be part of the Olympic experience. It’s a very valuable time right now.”
While focused on his goals on the mat, Anderson is also a Masters Student in Sports Psychology, as well as a husband and a father to a seven month old.
He credited his great support structure of “faith, family, friends and chain of command” for helping him. And of course, he is grateful for his mental skills training, especially with DeWiggins.
The pair has worked over time on the four-phase mental skills approach that begins with preparation well before an event, including setting goals and utilizing positive imagery.
Anderson can visualize himself on the Olympic podium.
“The work I’ve done with Steve [DeWiggins] has been a great asset to my life and training. Everything Steve and I have touched, from implementing battle drills to my Olympic dreams, has turned to gold. Now, I want to make that into a physical gold medal.”