HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 11)

Blog 11

Preseason Week 11

            Monday’s 45-minute car ride to KT-KIDZ Wrestling was good. During it, I spent some time sharing some of my high school underclassman war stories on the varsity wrestling mat with Dakota. I’m trying to work on Dakota’s self-confidence and mental toughness because I know he’ll have a much better chance of doing well when these two components are intact, especially against the older and more experienced kids who I know he’ll be wrestling, just like I had to when I was his age.

Driving up Route 99, the Silas Dean Highway, in Rocky Hill I asked Dakota if he and his guy buddies play that ranking on each other game that so many young men fo. He seemed like he didn’t know what I was talking about. I was kind of happy to see a confused look on his face this time.

I explained how wrestling, football, and the Army taught me a real brotherhood. I never felt like I needed to rank on or bust on my fellow guy friends to make myself feel better. I never felt like I had to establish some kind of silly pecking order among the guys. Unfortunately, too many men know sarcasm and putting each other down, all in the name of fun, oh too well.

I explained to Dakota that someday he will most likely encounter these putting down behaviors among his guy buddies. And how regrettable it is that many of us men don’t truly understand what a real brotherhood is. Unfortunately, too often, we men don’t know how to accept and enjoy each other’s company without the over-zealous competition and cut downs. It’s sad that men do this to each other. Life is hard enough without that kind of garbage in it.

Busting on my friends is something I never did. And I hope my son, Dakota, never does it either. Hopefully, with the confidence wrestling is building in him, he’ll never feel the need to build himself up by emotionally putting another down emotionally. He’ll know in his heart who he is and what he can do if shove comes to push… something so many other males out there who don’t wrestle haven’t a clue about if the “you-know-what” ever hit the fan.

Pulling into the parking lot at wrestling I mention to Dakota that it feels like we haven’t been here in a while. And I can’t believe this pre-season wrestling is almost over. As I stop the car in our parking spot and notice my gas gauge on empty again, and my stomach rumbling again because I hadn’t had enough time to eat enough before we left, I ask Dakota if there are any big lessons he has learned so far. A smile creeps across my face when he replies, “Sustained effort over time beats talent.” And, “You have to work hard all the time.” It’s all been worth it, I’m thinking as we head into practice together.

Wow! Where did all these kids come from? My buddy Johnny’s wrestling room is full of wrestlers from corner to corner. It looks like his travel team has joined us tonight.

Cool! Dakota should have some great kids to wrestle tonight. My old buddy Coach Knapp started practice with a warmup and then a long period of drilling before we went into instruction and then live wrestling.

While the boys were drilling, John’s younger brother, Jude Knapp magically appeared somehow, as if out of thin air. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I feel like I haven’t seen him since he was still a young boy or at least a young man in college. Now, Jude is taller, thicker, and has a few whiskers. And some of them might have even been grey.

I find out he has been a schoolteacher for 21-years already. And he has been coaching wrestling for almost just as long. It felt awesome to catch up with one of my old wrestling teammates. We really do let too much time go by sometimes…

Finally, Johnny called in all the wrestlers to show them a sweet cross-face cradle series that I thought would be good for Dakota because he has long arms… unlike me. And of course, Coach Knapp showed some strategies to make this move painful so your opponent will want to put his knee to his face, be cradled, and then pinned so the pain will stop.

Live wrestling started next, and the wrestlers had to take turns wrestling in two waves because there was just too many of them for the mat space. Dakota was in the second wave with the bigger kids. When he finally got his turn, he wrestled two-minute periods against three different kids. The first kid Dakota wrestled I hadn’t seen before. This stranger got the first takedown on Dakota. I wondered if Dakota was a bit rusty or if this kid was really good. Dakota eventually got back to his feet and got the next takedown. Then time expired.

The next kid Dakota wrestled against, Dakota gets the first takedown and puts him right to his back. I’m wondering if the rust is gone, but then his opponent escapes and gets the second takedown. At this point, I’m still not sure about the rust factor.

Dakota seems to hit his stride against the third kid. He gets both takedowns of the two-minute round. And both times Dakota put in a half-nelson, turns him, and pins his kid. “Wow!” I’m thinking. That’s pretty cool.

        Next, Dakota leaves the mat so the little kids can get another turn. He soon returns for mat wrestling and does okay, but not as well as he did in neutral. I’ve got to teach him to stay on his opponent’s hips better. And when he feels like his opponent is getting away, he needs to get back to the hips, or at least on a leg. Dakota also found himself a couple of times in a position where he could have used a dump move, and a few other times a peterson roll move. But, he doesn’t really know those moves that good yet.

Finally, Coach Knapp blows his whistle and yells, One hundred pushups and thirty , and you’re done!”

Dakota pops out 150 pushups and 30 pull-ups. Then we work together on the peterson roll. However, I do let him know that I’d rather have him attacking or at least working his way up and out when he’s on the bottom versus carrying his opponent’s weight trying hit a roll.

He needs to make things happen. Wear his guy out. Make him carry his weight instead because he’s on top rather than the bottom looking for a roll. Then, every once in a while, when it’s appropriate, surprise his opponent by hitting him with some kind of roll like a peterson.

After getting gas, Dakota and I talked wrestling once again all the way home. At one point during the ride, Dakota asked me to turn up the radio. There was an 80’s song playing. Wow! This is great, I thought. Now my son and I have another thing to add to the list of wrestling and weightlifting that we like and can enjoy together… 8o’s music is getting better and better as I’m getting older and older!

As we pulled into our driveway at home, I realized that I had forgotten to show Dakota the dump wrestling move after practice… Oh well… I suppose there’s always tomorrow… However, I already know it’s highly unlikely I’ll show him that move since I have another crazy busy day ahead of me where I won’t get home until late… Well… at least he has the village in KT KIDZ Wrestling Program on this upcoming Wednesday night to help him learn what he needs to know for this upcoming season, which will be here before we know it!

Wednesday night gets here quick. The car ride was a bit frustrating for multiple reasons, but in the end, it was productive. It’s never easy explaining to today’s kids that they are still kids and that there is a difference between kids and adults, regardless of how tall some kids grow.

In addition, I ask Dakota what he had for dinner.

He says, “Nachos.”

Hmm… Not what I would have had if I was wrestling that night…

Well, regardless of the initial stressors of the journey over, the car ride was a good one. It was another opportunity to have a really good conversation where I got to dive deeper into the concepts of respect, values, and how important it is for all of us to control our anger and remain emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is crucial, but sometimes is sadly lacking.

At practice, tonight Coach Knapp and Coach West introduced a wrestling concept called FLOW. It basically is sparring through wrestling. The boys did this FLOW thing for a while as I chatted with some of the other fathers there trying to make their young boys into good men, too.

The other fathers complimented Dakota. They told me he is a fast learner. They also said that in some ways I was really lucky that Dakota waited so long to begin wrestling. I know this is counter-intuitive, but they said that by waiting and then going straight to Coach Knapp, Coach didn’t have to break Dakota of his bad habits. One father shared with me that it took two-years for Coach Knapp to break his son of his bad wrestling habits. Now his son is doing awesome!

Tonight’s instruction after the FLOW activity was simple but powerful! Coach Knapp showed how most kids tend to sprawl wrong when their opponent shoots on their legs. Johnny showed a way to sprawl and stuff our opponents when they attack our legs. In addition, he didn’t just show one way, he showed a whole series on the correct way to defend our legs no matter how our opponents to shoot on us. Coach West is a good sport for enduring much of this pain that Coach Knapp dishes out. And again, I wish I knew this stuff when I was still in high school back in the 1980s.

Next comes live wrestling… Dakota gets paired up with a pretty good kid for one six-minute period. Dakota gets the first takedown, but his opponent quickly hits a granby move and is right out of it and back up on his feet. Dakota then looks like he is getting the second takedown, but then at the very last second the other wrestler wiggles out of it and ends up on top of Dakota.

The kid is pretty good in the top position. He occasionally throws in legs, but can’t seem to turn Dakota. Dakota attempts a few switches but is unsuccessful. I yell for him to stand up a few times, but Dakota doesn’t do it. I wonder if this is a consequence of his nachos dinner.

Because there are so many wrestlers there again tonight, once again, the live wrestling takes place over two waves. There is a 130-pounds and over wave, which includes Dakota because he is in at 131-pounds. And then there is also the under 130-pounds wave consisting of the little kids.

When Dakota gets his chance to wrestle again, it’s through a shark bait round in a group of four wrestlers. They do takedowns. The one who gets the takedown gets to stay in until someone takes him down. All four of the kids in Dakota’s group are good. The first kid takes Dakota down right to his back. Then this kid also takes down the second and third kid, too. I’m very impressed with this kid whom I’ve never seen before.

     Now Dakota is back up again against this really good wrestler. Somehow, though, this time Dakota takes him down right to his back. Wow! Now I’m really impressed with Dakota, too! The next ten minutes these four young wrestlers battle very hard. Dakota shows a lot of guts out there. Maybe the nachos weren’t a problem, after all. Dakota even somehow pops out extra pushups again tonight at the end of practice once again.

The drive home tonight was excellent! Dakota and I discussed at length how important the eye of the tiger is, and that we mustn’t ever lose it. I also explain to him how so many of us humans are really just crabs in a bucket. Sadly, when one of us works really hard to try to climb up and out of our circumstances to the freedom of a better and more successful life, others will grab us and try to pull us back down. Some of this yanking down is obvious, and some of it is more subtle like when someone calls you a try-hard or a good little schoolboy.

We can’t succumb to these obvious attacks or even listen to these subtle attacks on our dreams of a better life that will also put us in a better position to help others. Hey, after all, Rudy, from the famous Rudy movie who wanted to play football for Notre Dame, didn’t succumb to these overt or subtle attacks on him and his efforts on his dreams, and neither should we.

I’m very pleased and satisfied with our ride home tonight. I think Dakota understood a lot of what I was talking about in becoming a good successful young man. In our driveway, Dakota gets out of the car first. It’s good to be young, isn’t it? I reach over to grab my water bottle and my eyes land on his declined passenger seat. Once again, the seat looks like he was practically laying down. That seat, at that angle, is beginning to become his signature symbol of our sessions in the car on becoming a good man on our rides to and from John Knapp’s KT KIDZ Wrestling Program.

Dang… just remembered that I forgot to teach Dakota the dump again…




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Dan Gable Olympic Gold Medalist and Wrestler of the Century

Dan Blanchard, Teen Leadership, The Storm

Dan Blanchard is a bestselling author, and award-winning speaker,
and educator. www.DanBlanchard.net