Arthur Ashe’s Wrestling Advice

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August 15, 2010 by David Gillaspie

What’s a tennis player got to do with wrestling?

From this one, plenty.

This man is different.

He’s not an Eastern Euro automaton. Not a Scandinavian baseliner or midwestern momma’s boy.  He’s not a New York City cry baby or a Swiss watch.  Or a Spanish firecracker in sleeveless shirts showing his unloaded guns.

Instead, Arthur Ashe is a son of Richmond, Virginia.  A black son, who on his death was given an honor only accorded to General Stonewall Jackson.  That alone is enough for former Army Lieutenant Ashe.

But there is so much more.

Arthur Ashe is a champion, a winner in a white man’s country club sport.  He was the Tiger Woods of tennis in the mid-60’s without the grief of poor personal choices.

He was a minority in a white pastime who forced his way to the very top against enormous odds.

Sound familiar?

Do you wonder now what he has to offer wrestling?  Maybe it’s more than wrestling, but since there is little that is more than wrestling, let’s go with that.

What do you need after you’ve drilled up, trained up, and wait for the next round?

You need words you can trust.  They come from the coach in your corner.

Arthur Ashe speaks to them.  

“Start where you are.”

Has a coach ever asked you where you are?  They’re not asking you to recite an address.  They’re asking where’s your head’s at?

Try and not go all English teacher and say “behind that at.”  Save it for another time.

Where are you?  If someone stands in front of you and asks, “Where are you” they’re not looking for a geographical location.  They want to know what you were thinking when you drifted off and let bad things happen.  They’re asking what you are going to do about it.

“Start where you are” offers hope, hope for you and your coach.

Where are you?  If you hear that question, you’re in a world of hurt.  Starting where you are begins the process of taking away the pain.

The right answer to “where are you?” is, “Right here.”

Dan Gable defines “Right here”  from

“When I lifted weights, I didn’t lift just to maintain my muscle tone.  I lifted to increase what I already had, to push to a new limit.  Every time I worked, I was getting a little better.  I kept moving that limit back and back.  Every time I walked out of the gym, I was a little better than when I walked in.”

During the summer before Dan Gable was a freshman at Iowa State, he worked out with Bob Buzzard.  Buzzard had won two Big Eight wrestling titles.  He recalls, “Dan was a tough kid.  Some days I’d crunch him, some days I’d fool around and let him make some moves.  But on the last day before I went back to Eastern Michigan University, I wanted to show him he had a ways to go, even though he had won three consecutive state high school championships.”

After Buzzard finished with Gable that night, Dan fell to the mat crying tears of anger.  Right then Gable recalls, “I vowed I wouldn’t ever let anyone destroy me again.  I was going to work at it every day, so hard that I would be the toughest guy in the world.  By the end of practice, I wanted to be physically tired, to know that I’d been through a workout.  If I wasn’t tired, I must have cheated somehow, so I stayed a little longer.”

You know how that worked out.

“Use what you have.”

Is your school weak in wrestling?  Do you lack confidence in yourself and your coach?  If you do, then you have the perfect excuses.

That’s not what Arthur Ashe meant when he said,  “Use what you have.”

This was an athlete who followed his dream.  He went from Virginia to UCLA to Wimbledon.  He was a stranger in a strange land who made it his own.

Is it too much to ask yourself to make it down the road to the wrestling room to use what you have?  Remind yourself you have goals, intentions, and you plan to fulfill them.  Use what you have to start now or start later.

Just remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  And someone always keeps score.

“Do what you can.”

It means try.  Everybody fails at something.  If they don’t fail it means they haven’t extended themselves.  They haven’t tried.  You will fail as a wrestler, as a coach, as a person.  The only ones who don’t fail are quitters.  You can tell who they are by their pumped up self-importance.  Don’t stand near them, they will pop.

Do what you can to make yourself better.  Make those around you better.  Make your family and friends better.  Do what you can by using what you’ve got where you are.

Arthur Ashe has magic words for everyone, and a somber warning.  When you step out on the mat, or to the altar, or when you raise your hand to take an oath, you are alone in your dedication.  You know in your heart what you need to do.

“I may not be walking with you all the way, or even much of the way, as I walk with you now.”

Arthur Ashe said it one way, Mississippi John Hurt said it another.  But it’s the same thing.

Sing along in the key of YOU:

You got to walk that lonesome valley
Well, you got to walk it for yourself
Ain’t nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk that valley for yourself

My mother had to walk that lonesome valley
Well, she had to walk it for herself
Yes, nobody else could walk it for her
Yeah, she had to walk that valley for herself

Oh yes, you got to walk that lonesome valley
Well, you got to walk it for yourself
Yes, nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk…

My father had to walk that lonesome valley
He had to walk it for his self
Yes, nobody else can walk it for him
He had to walk…

Oh, Jesus had to walk that lonesome valley
He had to walk it for his self
Yes, nobody else could walk it for him
He had to walk that valley for his self

Oh yes, you got to walk that lonesome valley
Well, you got to walk it for yourself
Yes, nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk that valley for yourself

Alright now…


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