HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 26)

Blog 26

Week 12

Regular Freshman Season

            The season is over, but it really isn’t over, yet. Sore, bruised, and scratched up, Dakota is back in my Subaru right in the middle of another New England snowstorm. We’re heading out on this Monday morning to a neighboring town for Dakota to work out with a group of wrestlers that qualified for the Connecticut State Open Championships.

Dakota, who is only a freshman, and didn’t qualify to wrestle in the Connecticut State Open Championships, has told me that if this will make him better, then this is what he wants to do this week instead of letting his wounds heal this week.

Ironically, this particular day’s practice is held at his mother’s old high school. It was kind of neat is some ways for Dakota to actually get a chance not only to see what the inside of his mother’s high school looks like but also even to get a chance to do some wrestling there.

While working out with some excellent wrestlers who were all older and more experienced than Dakota, he looked pretty good. His knee was holding up, and I felt like he was wrestling more like an upperclassman rather than underclassman.

Also, I stood right by his side just off the side of the mat barking out moves and offering advice to him every moment I could in between wrestling. It almost felt like I was Dakota’s one-to-one coach like I did whenever I could when he was training down at KT KIDZ with John Knapp this past fall. It also felt a little bit like Dakota was the one training to go to the Connecticut State Open Championships, rather than just being some kid squeezing in a workout.

After wrestling practice, I took Dakota out for a big lunch so he can put back on some of those ten pounds that he had to lose to wrestle this past weekend. I also kept reminding him that his days of sucking-weight were over. The car ride to lunch and home was pretty long, so we had a lot of time to talk more about the lessons of life again. And one of those life lessons that kept emerging was how people talk about getting better at wrestling, but then don’t take action to match their words.

Just look around. There aren’t many kids working out this week that aren’t mandated to work out because they qualified for the Open. If one really wants to get better, then why aren’t they taking advantage of the great opportunities this week is offering to wrestle with a small group of great wrestlers? And because the numbers are so low this week, and this is a group of advanced wrestlers this week as well, they are getting some tremendous individual coaching, too. What an excellent opportunity to get better, especially for the kids that don’t have to be here…

Tuesday I didn’t have the opportunity to watch Dakota workout because I had to work. However, that night when I was asking him how he did, the first thing he told me was that the wrestling coach was very impressed with his work ethic. The second thing he told me was that he did very well against a kid that pinned him during the season. Boy, has he improved. And think about this, too. He didn’t come to me and immediately tell me that he was beating a kid that beat him earlier. Instead, the first thing he told me was that the coach was impressed with his effort. He’s been paying attention. And he still remembers that EFFORT is everything! It’s not always about the wins. It’s the effort. I’m so proud of him.

Wednesday, I shared Teddy Roosevelt’s, “Man in the Arena” Speech with Dakota. Teddy was one of my favorite Presidents. During his lunch and dinner breaks as President, he used to invite in professional wrestlers and professional boxers to sneak in a workout.

Here is the speech. Notice the wisdom and how it entirely relates to wrestling.

       It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Thursday, the last wrestling practice of the season, I manage to get to the end of Dakota’s wrestling practice. He’s in another neighboring town working out with the really good kids again. I notice immediately Dakota’s face. He looks like he has been through the wringer. And he’s not even competing this weekend! I also notice that at the end of the practice the wrestling coach says how much he likes Dakota because he works very hard. He even tries to recruit Dakota to come to his school for next year. My son’s coach shuts him down right away saying that Dakota isn’t going anywhere. He’s staying right where he is to wrestle.

The weekend comes, and I find myself somewhere I haven’t been in a long time. I’m back at the Hillhouse field house in New Haven watching the Connecticut State Open Championships. However, this time I’m with my son Dakota and my wife, Jennifer. This is an entirely new experience from the old days of when I was there as a wrestler and then a coach. I see a lot of old friends there from the old days, and we have a great time watching some great wrestling and hanging out together as a team.

The quarter-finals were great, and as always the semi-finals to determine who got to wrestle in the finals that night was super exciting. Sometimes I forget how much I really love the thrill of battle… The feeling of a hard-earned victory… The do or die moment… My mind also drifted to my own quarter-finals match so many years ago when I teched my guy. And then in the semi-finals when I was up by a good ten points before I pinned my opponent. Coach Torres pulled me out of my stroll down memory lane when he asked me if I was going to march out on the mat tonight in the Parade of Former Champions. Unfortunately, with four other children at home, I wasn’t going to be able to stay for that parade or the finals. Maybe down the road when Dakota is here placing in this tournament, I’ll participate in the Parade of Former Champions.

However, while we were there watching some great wrestling, Coach Rogers yelled over to me to check my email. He had just sent some information on the Nationals that he wants Dakota to wrestle in during March down in Virginia Beach. Dakota wants to do it. Hmm… maybe wrestling isn’t over yet.

Later, I ask Dakota what he thought of the Connecticut State Open Championships. He answered me in the typical teen boy fashion when he said…

“It’s exciting.”

That’s it. It’s not always easy to get these boys to talk, is it?


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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