Saturday, January 13, 2007

i've spent several of the past few days and evenings watching my son-in-law's high school wrestling team compete in a variety of settings: duals, double duals, and tournaments.
the season, which began in october, is in full stride, now that the holidays are past, building to a crescendo that peaks in late february. every year.
i was in 8th grade, at good old nevada junior high school, just up the road a fur piece, when they started a junior high wrestling program. because i was just a little shit, too small to do anything well athletically, and desperately wanting to because all my friends did, i went out. oh, sure, i went out for track and cross-country, running "long distances" just for fun and something to do to burn all the energy i had.
but when it came to wrestling, i was just a scrawny little kid in white nylon tights, t-shirt, shorts and wrestling shoes [i still have a pair; i just like them].
i was one of many, although some of my classmates were naturals at it.
not me: 4'6" tall, 83 pounds, and determined NOT to look like a fool out on the mat, but fearing i would, just the same.
i wrestled four years, opting to forego my senior season to portray a munchkin in the fine arts department's production of "the wizard of oz." our varsity 112 pounder was second in state that year, so the team was in good hands; the j.v. would do fine without me.
but for four years, from late september through late february, i skipped meals, took exlax, sat wrapped in towels, wearing layers of sweat clothes, on top of lockers that were dragged into steaming hot showers to lose a few more pounds, ran up and down stairs for hours on end [well, 30 minutes at a crack], did sprints up and down the bleachers, carrying a teammate on my back, and did drills.
drills, drills, drills: sit-outs, stand-ups, single legs, double legs, fireman's carry, run and drops. we did leg lifts while the rest of the team ran on our abdomens.
hard, painful shit.
and no overt complaints.
and i was happy when i had a winning season. i sucked, truth be told.
but i loved wrestling. it was hard; not that sissy shit basketball.
it was a team sport, and all, but when the ref blew the whistle, it was me and that guy on the other side of the circle.
no help. no hiding. no excuses.
and sure as hell no glory.
[well, every now and then, there would be a cheerleader who just loved wrestlers...]
but basically, it was, and remains, a hard sport.
i learned a lot from wrestling:
-- you should do the stuff you REALLY want to do, and don't give a thought to what others think.
-- that it doesn't matter if you suck at something. if you love it, that's all that matters. keep at it, and you'll get better, whatever THAT means.
-- that sometimes things you love really require a lot of thankless effort. doesn't matter. you do what you must, and THAT is all the thanks you need.
-- that some people are better wrestlers than me. that's fine. it doesn't mean they're a better person than me.
-- that kids who wrestle tend to have these values, and they tend to be pretty good people. hard-working, dedicated people.
-- that it's good to try to instill these values in kids. they might grow into reliable, hard-working grownups.
-- that a lot of wrestlers walk funny. well, that's just fucked up. like their ears.
at the same time, it's frustrating to me when i encounter very talented kids who haven't realized all these things. i just want to shake them, and say, christ, kid, you just have to bottle that shit, and let it out over the course of six minutes; nine minutes, tops. it's an opportunity for such growth, such learning, that will carry them through their lives.
my son-in-law is doing a great job, too. he's taken over for a guy who had been there since 1985, or so, and had become pretty lax [team fucks up? have em run laps. miss practice? run laps. you get the picture: not coaching, just facilitating.] well, dwight's team ran into a very good team from saydel thursday night. not pretty. one guy received a forfeit, another guy won by pin, but of the eleven other wrestlers, ten of them were pinned. NOT pretty.
but to a kid, they all said they really respected the way coach handled them after the shellacking. and today, just two days later, they totally kicked ass. in the ten-team tournament, of twelve wrestlers who participated, fully eleven placed in the top six. no champions, but they ALL wrestled beyond themselves [2d place, several 3d and 4th places, and such]. they are better tonight than they were this morning at 500 am when they got on the bus.
and they've made significant progress on their own personal growth lists.
i'm looking forward to thursday's double dual and next saturday's home tournament. these kids are beginning to believe in themselves. this is good.


Anonymous said...

I missed this the first time around...

Yes, wrestling has a funny way of giving back when a kid fully commits himself to it. More so than any other sport, for whatever reason. I played all sorts of sports growing up, but wrestling was the only sport where guys would show up to get the snot pounded out of them, day after day, just because they wanted to be a part of the family. And with wrestling there's a threshold for every kid where, if they are willing to pay the price to cross the line, they become a wrestler. Its an almost instant transformation. Success follows...a certain respect from others in the wrestling community for the price they've paid, and most importantly, the kid knows he's earned it. The trick of being a good coach is leading the kids to that threshold, then letting them take the next step. Sounds like your son-in-law has that part figured out. I had a coach in HS, a great wrestler in his day, and we drilled, drilled, drilled. But I saw wrestlers actually get worse as the year went along - guys who worked hard and were fit. He didn't get it. We weren't becoming wrestlers, even though I could show you my double underhook, splaedle, suicide cradle or guillotine, if prompted. I was lucky enough to have another guy in the community who'd come in to work out, and he turned me into a wrestler. We wrestled live for hours, stopping every now and then for instruction. Single leg, single leg, single leg, hand control, hand control, more hand control. Those guys are few and far between... Its so cool to see kids get it, after busting their asses. Sure, it happens in other sports. But the transformation of an athlete into a wrestler is never as obvious to me as it is on the mat. Its more than belief - its an understanding of the line that's been crossed. Its knowing that you're a wrestler. And once a wrestler, always a wrestler.

I am a wrestler. Still working on becoming a cyclist...


the mostly reverend said...

jed said: I am a wrestler. Still working on becoming a cyclist...

but your advantage is that you "get it!"
it'll happen here, too.

thanks for your comments. wrestlers ARE different, aren't we?