The best wrestler in the world must ensure his mind is sharp, so even J'den Cox, Olympic bronze medalist, plays phone apps to keep his mental game up. It goes hand in hand with his workouts, Cox says, as he continues to rise on the world wrestling scene. He won silver at the Outstanding Ukraine Memorial in the 92-kilogram weight class in late February, and on April 7 and 8, he’ll compete at the Freestyle World Cup, an international championship in Iowa City, Iowa.
While competing professionally, Cox serves as a volunteer coach for the MU Tigers, which finished sixth at the NCAA Championship last month. Cox is a crucial asset to the team, head wrestling coach Brian Smith says. “Any time you can have someone who cares about the program like he does, with the success that he was and the level that he’s on right now, that can’t hurt your program,” Smith says.
The transition from athlete to coach has given Cox a unique perspective on sports.
How have you shifted from being the student athlete to being the coach?
I’m more honest about how I feel. If you did a bad job, you did a bad job. That’s why we need to work on this and get better. As a teammate, there’s supposed to be some honesty, but at the same time you want to be able to build them up. As a coach, you are able to put the hammer down a little more since your word has more weight to it.
Do you enjoy coaching more than being a student athlete?
It’s more straining mentally. It’s kind of like being in the passenger seat with someone who doesn’t drive very well. It’s not so much that you don’t trust them; it’s more that you want it for them so badly that if you could do it for them, you would. I think every time they’re out there, they take the wheel. There’s nothing I can do anymore. Once you step on the mat, (my) job is done. I’ve prepared you; I’ve trained you; I’ve done everything I can to make sure you can be successful. When they accomplish what they want to accomplish, it’s a really awesome feeling — unlike any one I’ve experienced before as an individual.
What does your training look like right now?
I train four to five hours a day with some other small workouts throughout the day. Sometimes I get talked into wrestling someone randomly. Weight training and cardio go hand in hand — low-weight, high-intensity, high-repetition. I’m going to be on the mat more before this upcoming tourney. I’ll go live for that real-match feel, burn in your lungs, getting to the dark place where you have to push through. Overall, it’s working pretty well.
If you were to pick any other sport besides wrestling, what would it be?
It depends. Would I be good at it automatically?
Golf. It’s really easy, you don’t have to do much, and I’m going to make a lot of money off of it.
I thought you were going to say football.
Nah. If I want to be going out and having a good time, I want to be playing rugby or something like that. I would love to do that. I don't have to be making money to do that. That's just fun.
Do you see yourself coaching the Tigers for a while?
I see myself having to prepare myself to be the best in the world someday. I do train these guys, and I want them to be great, but at the same time I have to understand that I have to be great myself, and I have to do it on another level. I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m enjoying the ride, and I enjoy these guys and the system we have.