It’s been almost 20 years since I last wrestled a competitive match but every year February I feel the need to see how my old high school is faring in the state tournament and to watch the real March Madness which is the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
I started wrestling late in life (high school) compared to a lot of kids and although I won more than I lost I never achieved my goal of a state championship.
But what I did gain from those hours and days spent in the wrestling room is something that can’t be measured by wins or medals but instead a few life lessons that will stick with me forever and that I can pass along to my son whether he chooses to wrestle or not.
My high school wrestling coach made a huge impact on my life and not only taught us the skills and techniques required to be successful on the mat but he also understood that as a coach of impressionable young men he had an opportunity to instill character traits in us that would last a lifetime.
My coach (William Bell) abruptly passed away my senior year, the week before the state tournament, but his legacy has lived on among the hundreds of lives he impacted through the sport of wrestling.
Here a few life lessons children that children who stick with wrestling will learn.
There is no bigger test than competing in one-on-one physical combat. But unless you are a world-beater there will always be someone better than you.
In wrestling, you can’t hide behind or place blame on teammates. If you make the choice to compete you not only subject yourself to the joys of winning but also being humiliated in a loss, which is not something a lot of people can handle.
Success in wrestling is in direct proportion to how hard you work. Of course, being physically talented can make a big difference but because of the weight classes, the best wrestlers are typically only separated by who has put more work into practice, running, etc. This parlays into life post-wrestling as there is no substitute for hard work.
Knowing the capabilities and limitations of your body at a young age will serve you well for the rest of your life. By building a strong physical foundation, sports and other activities will come more naturally and you will be better prepared to face these challenges.
If you can physically impose your will on another wrestler, then the average Joe doesn’t have a chance. Wrestlers are not known to pick fights but they definitely know how to finish them and since most street fights end up on the ground a wrestler will have a decided advantage to neutralize their opponent.
The skillset and reasoning for children to take up martial arts is very similar to wrestling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the best example of this, which is why I recently started training and I’d like my son to try it.
Once you realize that the worse thing that can happen in wrestling is getting pinned (which can be devastating for a 15-year-old), you only have one direction to go and that is up (literally).
As I mentioned before, by working hard and being diligent about practice you will build confidence in your abilities to succeed. You might not win a match but you will get better at a takedown or an escape and once you can put it all together the wins will follow.
Wrestling is the ultimate individual sport. You can’t blame a teammate or coach for your performance, so accountability is at an all-time high.
But, wrestling is also a team sport as points are awarded at each weight class based on who won each match and by how much. After a wrestling meet the total team points will decide the team victory or loss.
During the wrestling season you learn to support your teammates during training, off the mats, and in competition. You want to see them win, but your teammates become your friends and you naturally cheer them on to succeed and will do what is necessary to help them achieve that.
This same mentality can be taken into any group or work setting. Learning how to work and support your team is a soft skill that is extremely valuable, long past your wrestling career.
Mental toughness is even more important than physical strength as your mind will almost always give up before your body. Wrestling not only works the body but the mental aspect and controlling emotions before and during a match is a key to success.
Wrestling is a lifestyle. It requires dedication and discipline away from the mat, especially when it comes to diet and nutrition.
Nothing will tax your body more than a wrestling match and any deficiencies in your diet will impact your performance. Wrestling also requires the discipline to put in the extra 6 am run or after practice weight session if you want to be successful.
Wrestling isn’t for everyone but children that choose to participate will be rewarded with qualities that will remain with them throughout their life.
Here’s a photo of me with Dan Gable (The greatest wrestler and coach of all-time) at the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, OK.
My “tough” look in high school
top photo: Orting High School Sports