On The Whistle

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August 21, 2009 by David Gillaspie



Athletes have two lives, a normal one and a competitive one.  Most recognize the limits of their competitive life; there is an end as sure as a beginning.  Those who get it bask in the miracle of sport.  You see those who don’t understand plow through the kids at the family football game.  They sky the lane during gym ball.  They steal home in slow-pitch with spikes high.

If athletes know how to walk away when it’s over, wrestlers know it better.  They leave the sport that creates the most mental adjustments in the shortest time span, where they competed in a maelstrom of sweat and expectation.  When they are done, they stay done, except for Chris Campbell. 

It’s the end of something special when they leave the mat for the last time.  The sense of conclusiveness comes with the sport.   No gathering with friends in a parking lot like basketball.  No meeting the guys for a game of work-up like baseball.  No flag football.  It doesn’t work that way. 

The beauty of wrestling is the degree of difficulty; if it’s not all-out, then it’s not wrestling.

Over is over.  No one who’s wrestled well wants to pound on someone with tournament intensity.  You don’t want someone who hasn’t done it well trying to pound on you.  When a non-wrestler challenges a wrestler to takedowns, you have to wonder what’s wrong.  There’s nothing to prove. 

It’s the wrestler’s duty to find something else to do besides dishonor their sport.  Dishonor basketball, they’re used to it.  Give baseball a shot.  Buckle your chinstrap and pick up a football.  Just leave wrestling alone.

Other sports offer a change of pace, a moment to clear the senses.  It’s built into games.  You can see the differences in the scouting.

Football scout reports on speed and size, getting to the edge and turning the corner, receivers getting separation downfield.  Wrestling scout reports on who stalls with a lead, if they ride or pin, for vulnerability in conditioning and technique.  They focus on a margin of victory and expand on it.  They make it personal.

A basketball scout reports on height and speed with a breakdown of the opponent’s inside game and long-ball threat.  They pay attention of help-defense.  In comparison, a wrestling scout notes strength and quickness.  Size is a given, body-type is more important.  They report on reactions to bad calls and breakdowns when an opponent trails on points.  They look for an emotional edge.

The baseball scout reports on pitching and hitting, if a team goes yard or moves people around the bases playing ‘small ball.’  The wrestling analogy is the big throw or a cheap tilt.  The big throw stuns the crowd with absolute athletic grace that ends with a finality rarely found in sports: Lock it up and hit it, boom, you’re done.  The tilt goes for the easy points toward a win.

Wrestling takes the adage of winners never quitting and quitters never winning way past the normal meaning.  Ask a wrestler what happens if an opponent quits on them during a match.  This isn’t to say they leave the mat, they just quit trying.

Do they feel sorry for an opponent who quits in the second round, or do they see a chance to grind for another round and a half?  The guy might quit, but he’s not rolling over and giving up pin-points either.  Like a shark in the ocean, wrestlers smell blood in the water and go after it.  Some have been the shark, more have been the blood, but both know the power of the moment.

Since all wrestlers don’t become Olympic Champions, what do the guys do that put in as much effort for lower results?  Do they ride their disappointment into the gutter of smashed dreams?  Think who they’ll be sharing with, guys who took the first excuse to quit sports, guys who blame a coach, or a bad call; guys who blame their momma or their teammates.

Who wants to quit more than a wrestler after a bad loss in a big tournament who still has another match?  This guy wants to walk away.  He wants to run, but he doesn’t.  He stays right there for his next match.  And when he hears others talk about quitting, about giving up, he’ll have something to say.

During your competitive life you practice hard, run an extra mile afterward and call it the third period.  You face the greats in your weight and don’t back off.  You’re the teammate others call when they’re down; you keep them from quitting.  If this is you, then you get it, you already know what to do. 

If it’s not you, then start today.  Call a wrestling buddy and take a run.  Go to the gym and lift.  Do this and make your competitive life better.  Do it so you won’t be the guy running over the neighbors for a touchdown, so you won’t plant your knee in someone’s face during gym-ball.  Do it so you won’t slam the woman playing second base to break up a double play. 

Most of all do it so you’ll be ready to fire all jets at the start of wrestling season; so you’ll be ready to go on the whistle.


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