February 14, 2012 by David Gillaspie
You hear more about ‘the end’ than you do the beginning.
The end of paper by e-book.
The end of gasoline by electric car.
Or a more important milestone, the end of the last wrestling road trip.
Every season has its own story. When it feels like the last season, things start sinking in, everything starts looking like the end of something bigger.
The last wrestling run, the last wrestling party. You notice senior teammates moping around. It’s the end of their wrestling days. They’re not going to state and they fear freestyle and greco.
Do you cheer them up, or let them mope? Since no one likes a mope team in any sport, the choices are limited.
So cheer them up.
One reason wrestling is the best sport is the way it changes moods second to second. It’s part problem solving, part bullying, and part hazing in a good way.
When teammates and friends are down, work on the problem.
You know the basic problems every time you step out on the mat. Just know that a senior leaving the team without fanfare or medals wants to know it was all worth it. Show it by wrestling hard in practice matches.
You know how ready you are. Let the mopey guy share the feeling.
Will this match be a knock-down-drag-out? Good, because your conditioning wins those.
Will this match be a technical give and take? Good, because you’ve been drilling for years.
Will it be a benchmark in your wrestling career? You hope so, that’s why you show up. Thumping on a senior on the way out shows them the respect you both share for the sport.
If you’ve reviewed your preparation and can’t find anything lacking, you are the better man before the whistle. That’s called mental toughness, attitude, maybe self-delusional in some cases. Sometimes that’s the edge.
If you know how to put your opponent away at different stages of the match, you will.
You’ll try a sweep single off the whistle. You’ve got a slippery take down for the sweat rounds.
Break out the bread and butter throw, a go-to ankle pick, and an off-balance drag-trip.
Whatever else you do, start the match with what you’ve got. You’ve done what’s needs doing, and now it’s time to kick it. The senior across from you deserves your best effort.
If you feel the chill of a freeze-up, get physical. Better yet, get physical from the start. If your opponent reaches out, push their arm up. If they reach again, sweep their arms across their body and jam them.
Ignore the senior’s pained expression. They’ve been beat on for years. They’re used to it.
From there, circle toward them, then circle away. Watch their feet on the away circle. When they start their step and transfer their weight, sweep their arms across their body and snag their knee. Since we’re talking physical, lift their leg and run through them. When they go down, they’re going to scramble, so land hard and find your balance before going to work.
In spite of the whomp when you both land, the senior landing first is having a great match.
Other sports claim to teach athletes about real life, but few deliver like wrestling. If you have a problem, work on it until it’s solved, keep driving. If you face those insurmountable odds, relax, it can’t be more daunting than the time your coach put you in against a freak show early in your career. You weren’t ready, but walked out anyway.
You always have a choice, right? Roll over and quit, hide on the bus, or face fear and learn.
A high school kid from another school took a year off to start a family. Call it his red-shirt year. He came back and challenged the number one ranked kid in the state for the varsity spot. The returning kid looked like he was thirty and spent some yard time on the weights. He carried more new ink than a Sunday newspaper.
He pounded the #1 guy at 215, then went on to the next dual against a pudgy 189 pound sophomore wrestling up to fill the roster. It was a match to close your eyes for. After a step-in single lifted high and slammed down for a pin, the match ended. The kid’s parents talked about facing odds, being brave, and looking forward.
The kid didn’t say much. The mom said she was frightened for her boy. The kid kept quiet. The dad said he just wrestled the sort of match where most kids quit the sport in terror. The kid said he wasn’t afraid.
Not afraid? Why?
“You can’t do more than doing all you can do,” the kid said. “I’m not afraid of guys on the mat. Tonight, my guy had too much for me. When I’m that guy, I’ll help wrestling by doing normal wrestling instead of his King Kong act. If I ever face another guy like tonight, I’ll have more tools to work with.”
You’ve said this after matches and meant it. The same expression will follow you the rest of your life. It’s called learning. That’s the habit you’ve had pounded in on the mats, the learning habit. The seniors graduating from the team have the learning habit.
That’s it, wrestlers, learn the tools and use them. Keep a few extras for special occasions.
The next time you’re walking down the street and a problem pops up, remember the tools you’ve learned to use. Don’t be surprised to find problems solving themselves during your conversations. Somehow, people with problems don’t want a wrestler breaking them down.
The end of wrestling season might seem like the end of wrestling, but it’s not. You don’t need a puffy ear or a bent nose to show who you are. Taking a moment to talk someone through their problems is helpful. They get the idea their problems aren’t so bad as long as they don’t make them your problem.
They know which is worse, a bad attitude, or getting scrubbed across cement with a bad attitude.
Wrestling stays close to wrestlers.