HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 12)

Blog 12

Preseason Week 12

            Dang! It’s Monday night again, and Dakota and I haven’t done any drilling for wrestling at all since his last practice. We did manage to get to the gym to lift some weights over the weekend though. But, even though lifting is better than nothing, it’s still not the same as drilling.

The drive over to KT KIDZ Wrestling in Rocky Hill felt a little bit different tonight. Our conversation continuously jumped from one thing to another, to another. One moment we were talking about wrestling, the next school, then music, then family, then friends, and then back to wrestling.

I don’t think either of us came upon any really good insights on the way to practice tonight. I’m not even sure if I gave any good fatherly advice either. However, besides narrowly avoiding a deer not too far from our house, the one thing I do remember though is Dakota laughing in disbelief when I told him that back in the old days when Coach John Knapp and I were teammates, sometimes our opponents would refuse to come out to the mat to wrestle us. Instead, they took the forfeit and gave our team the six points so the wrestling meet could just move on to the next weight class. Dakota’s disbelief in our opponents forfeiting to us is what stuck out the most in my mind during the car ride over, even more than the near-miss with the deer.

Johnny’s wrestling room was full again. This might have been the most kids I’ve ever seen here. I tried to show Dakota the dump wrestling move right before practice started, but Dakota had to use the bathroom, so we weren’t able to sneak it in. Practice began promptly with Coach West running the kids through a quick warm up. Then, Coach Knapp, had them to do some drilling followed by that FLOW-sparing through wrestling, activity again.

Next, Coach Knapp showed a great series for defending the single leg takedown attacks. He really emphasized for the kids to stop worrying so much about their opponent’s head. Instead, he wanted them to crank down on the wizar, lower their level and leg while attacking the hands. Johnny showed several different strategies to accomplish this technique depending on what one’s opponent was doing.

The wrestlers were all working really hard and sweating a bunch tonight. Dakota and several others looked a bit tired before live wrestling even began. Once live wrestling did finally start, it started with mat wrestling.

Dakota began on top and rode his kid for the entire one-minute period. Although it didn’t seem like he did much, at least he didn’t let the kid reverse him or get away. Next, Dakota was on the bottom, and again not much happened. I wondered why he wasn’t trying to be more athletic, and just stand up. Later in the car on the way home, he told me how he felt too tired and that his leg was hurting; so, that’s why he didn’t stand up.

The next round of mat wrestling, both of his opponents, improved upon their performances and got the best of him. At one point, Dakota even got cradled and pinned by one of the boys. Indeed, they were pretty good.

Neutral was next. Dakota is stronger in neutral. So I was anxious to see what he could do against these two good wrestlers on his feet. On the car ride home later that night Dakota told me that one of them had already been wrestling for ten years.

The boys did takedowns. And the winner got to stay in the winner’s circle. Dakota got the first takedown. I’m impressed. Dakota looked like he was getting the next takedown on the second kid, but at the last moment that boy turned the table on Dakota and ended up with the takedown instead. Thus, Dakota had to leave the victor’s circle.

For what seemed like the next ten minutes or so, these two good wrestlers kept taking Dakota down. There were some close ones, but their experience was just too much for him. Coach West noticed Dakota, who is still green, battling with those tough and experienced kids out there and he yelled some encouragement. Dakota then hit his old trusty arm drag and got a takedown. This time he stayed in the winner’s circle to face the next kid. With the next kid, Dakota hit a nice double leg and was driving through his opponent. It looked like Dakota had some newfound life and was going to get the takedown here too, but somehow he came up short and landed on the bottom.

Coach West asked Dakota where his head was looking? Dakota’s eyes were looking down at the mat during his double leg attack attempt, and thus he ended up down on the mat with the other kid on top of him. Coach West instructed Dakota that if he had been looking up, he most likely would have scored the takedown and been able to stay in the winner’s circle. I reinforced this on the way home in the car with Dakota later that night.

Practice ended, and all the wrestlers gathered around Coach John Knapp like he was some wise old warrior that they’d follow to the ends of the earth. It felt like they were all getting ready to go into battle with Johnny. It was a pretty cool sight, and it made me miss those days of yesteryear when that was me who was surrounded by a bunch of young warriors looking up to him and ready to go through a brick wall. All I had to do was give the order…

As the room thinned out, I pulled Dakota aside to show him the dump wrestling move finally. Then Dakota popped off some extra push-ups, we said goodbye to the coaches, and then we got out of there.

The 45-minute car ride home consisted mostly of the talk centered on wrestling. And once again we pulled into the driveway before we knew it. And once again Dakota’s passenger seat was left in the reclined position so far back that I couldn’t help but notice it when I got out of the car. This preseason is almost over, and I’m wondering if I’m going to miss adjusting that seat every Tuesday and Thursday morning before I go to work?

           Wednesday wasn’t looking good for practice this week, though. I had a meeting I had to go to, so I wasn’t going to be able to bring Dakota to Rocky Hill. A father of one of the wrestlers graciously offered to pick Dakota up even though he lived about a half hour away. However, Dakota had been limping a little bit with that sore leg over the last couple of days. You remember that sore leg, right? That’s the same sore leg coupled with the exhaustion that kept him from hitting his stand up on Monday night’s practice. Wednesday morning before I left for the gym and then work, Dakota told me his leg was still bothering him. At that point, I thought it would be better for him to rest it.

Sadly, another week with only one practice. And next week will be the same because Wednesday night there won’t be any practice due to Thanksgiving being the very next day. Oh, well, regardless, we can’t think about what we don’t have. Instead, we need to remember to be grateful for what we do have. And we have had an amazing preseason of wrestling with Coach John Knapp and Coach West that this last summer I wasn’t even expecting. And I am incredibly grateful for what all these guys have done for Dakota in helping him become a good man. I can easily see the positive changes in my boy in just one short season. And I’m extremely proud of him, the coaching staff, the fathers and mothers that have encouraged, Dakota, and of course the vast challenges that the sport of wrestling offers.




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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