I don’t know how much you understand about wrestling. I know very little about this sport that my now 10-year-old son Zachary has been competing in for three years. I can tell you three things.
First, wrestlers never want to end up with their backs on the mat. They risk getting pinned and losing the match. Second, wrestling tournaments are plagued with emotion and fueled by testosterone. And third, they need to offer more comfortable seating and open more windows at these competitions, if you know what I mean.
Attending a tournament is basically an all-day thing. Sometimes it turns into a weekend thing, especially when you travel out of town.
The season runs from about November to the end of February. Which means that I spend almost every Saturday during this period consumed with anxiety.
Wrestling matches make me very stressed. I even get tense watching other kids turn into little beasts on the mat. As they wrestle their bodies tangle up and conform into such painful positions that you would think some of the kids are made of play-dough.
Some kids cry out in pain. Others cry out of fear. But what amazes me the most is how, regardless of their physical ability, kids can win or lose matches based on their ability to control their emotions.
Also, coaches can win or lose matches based on their ability to control their emotions. Frustration, anger, pain, excitement, shame, arrogance and humbleness; it is all experienced by the kids on the mat, their coaches in their corners, and even the parents in the stands.
I must admit, sometimes it is hard to watch my son wrestle, especially if he is getting a whooping. But I am glad that he is into this sport.
There are a lot of skills that he is learning that he will be able to apply in “the real world” as he grows up. Zach has improved a bunch since the beginning of the season.
One thing that unequivocally will make him a stronger wrestler is his growing ability to control his emotions during the matches. Getting emotional makes him lose focus and, without exception, it results in a loss.
But during the 2016-2017 season he reached a milestone. For the first time, he went through every match of every tournament without losing focus by getting upset during a match. As a result, Zach placed fourth at the Texas State Wrestling Championships.
He is the fourth best wrestler in the state in the 9 and under age division for the 92-lb. weight class. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He has taught me that the fear, pain, frustration, or disappointment is all in your head. It is within your power to realize that you can overcome it.
This wrestling season also taught me another lesson. Adults also need to control their emotions to win on the mat and in life.
High testosterone levels at wrestling tournaments should not be an excuse for inappropriate behavior. I saw how parents and coaches, driven by the desire to win, acted in shameful ways.
Some coaches got kicked out for disrespecting referees, some parents for their obnoxious behavior. But the worst act that I witnessed was a coach, who was also the father of the wrestler, interrupting a match by picking up his son’s opponent by his back, the boy hanging like a rag doll, to then start choking him. The surreal scene quickly, and thankfully, was stopped by the referee, other coaches, and nearby parents.
Winners and Losers
Let’s not forget that in the end, when the whistle blows, it is over. And it is only a competition.
The most gracious winners hug and pat their opponents on the back at the end of every match. They shake hands with the coaches and referees. And the most gracious losers walk away without holding a grudge against their opponent. Bitterness is a temporary taste that shouldn’t ruin life’s most precious moments.
Make sure to listen to my podcast interview with Zach by clicking on the player at the top of the page!
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