Tom Ryan’s Philosophy: Becoming Elite in Life and Leadership

becoming elite

Lessons from the Mat

I’m incredibly excited to introduce you to a new friend of mine: Tom Ryan. Tom is an acclaimed wrestling coach renowned for his transformative impact on The Ohio State wrestling program. His tenure at Ohio State has been marked by significant achievements, including leading the team to their first NCAA National Championship in 2015. Under Ryan, the Buckeyes have seen seven Top 3 NCAA finishes, been NCAA team runner-ups five times, and have claimed three Big Ten team titles.

Tom’s journey has not been without personal challenges. The devastating loss of his five-year-old son, Teague, to a sudden heart attack due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy profoundly affected him. This tragedy was a turning point in Tom’s life. It led him to a deep exploration of faith and gave him a new perspective on life, on love, and in coaching. This life-altering experience molded his coaching philosophy to emphasize personal growth and character building. His approach is deeply personal. It’s how he helps his athletes become the best versions of themselves through truth and love.



As a leader, Ryan’s personal hardships have deepened his understanding of resilience. He brings a heartfelt approach to his work. His approach is characterized by humility, gratitude, and a commitment to nurturing strong relationships.

His journey is compellingly told his book Chosen Suffering: Becoming Elite in Life and Leadership. Maybe you’re thinking: Skip, I’m not into wrestling. My answer? It doesn’t matter whether you follow, or even enjoy, the sport of wrestling. You will find yourself moved by Tom’s story and the incredible lessons applicable to all of us.

Wrestling is more than a sport for Ryan. It’s a metaphor for life. He equates the discipline of training, the personal competition, and the sting of defeat to the challenges leaders face every day.




The Crux of Chosen Suffering

Chosen Suffering delves deep into Tom’s personal and professional struggles. Loss, defeat, and grief are not strangers to him. But here’s the catch. He doesn’t just bounce back; he leaps forward. How?

Tom suggests we all have a reservoir of untapped strength. His method is not to avoid suffering but to embrace it. To choose it. Because in that choice lies growth.

Faith anchors Tom. Spend any time with him and you see that strong faith is his steadying force. Time spent with Tom also highlights his incredible perseverance and discipline. His mindset and attitude is one of a winner.



Tom Ryan’s Leadership in Action

Tom instills in us that winning isn’t about the scoreboard. It’s about the struggle. It’s about standing up one more time than we’ve been thrown down. Tom details in his book and in our interview what “ELITE” means to him and the students he’s coached: Excellence. Leadership. Initiative. Teamwork. Endurance.



But what you might not guess from that title is that a different word lies at the heart of Tom’s work: love.


Tom Ryan

In our surprisingly direct and personal conversation, Tom talks about how a philosophy of “suffering for what you love” is the key to personal, professional, and leadership success. He uses the term “chosen suffering” to describe how we love the most important things in our lives not despite hardship, but because doing difficult things is part of the commitment that love requires.

When I think about all of the winning strategies I learned from Tom, I see them as invitations. He invites us to deep examination of our wins and setbacks. He invites us to acknowledge our pain but not let it define us. He invites us to a journey of faith.

Tom told me that successful leadership takes vulnerability. I agree, and I’m very grateful that Tom took the time to share both his leadership advice and how a philosophy rooted in love helped him get through a terrible personal tragedy.

(Listen to our podcast here.)




Please listen to this interview that will not just tell, but show you how a man turned his battles into bridges. You will find our conversation deep and compelling.







For more information, see Chosen Suffering: Becoming Elite in Life and Leadership.


Image Credit: Joshua Earle

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