HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 32)

Blog 32

Week 7 of Regular Sophomore Season


Here we are in week 7 of the wrestling season, and Dakota still hasn’t wrestled a single day yet. I came out of a 15- year retirement from coaching to help coach him and his team, and I still haven’t had a chance to coach him yet. Hopefully, I’m at least making a difference with his teammates. I know I’m enjoying it. We had a good practice today on this first day of the wrestling week. The wrestlers worked hard on the mat while Dakota worked hard off the mat on the bike. It seems like the positive attitude from this past weekend where we wrestled well in Saturday’s tournament has carried over to today.

What I really liked about today, though, was the car ride home with Dakota, where we got to spend some time together talking. He told me that weight loss is coming easier for him now. I was happy to hear that because I know how miserable he was last year losing weight and how nervous he has been this year with just the thought of losing weight to make the 134-pound weight class.

I’m happy to hear his confidence in his ability to lose weight, It shows that he is maturing some. And now can do something hard rather than just complain about it. And I’m sure that at some point during this season, he’s going to tip the scale and he’s going to have to suck it up without excuses to make weight for that day.

I also shared one of my secrets of success for wrestling with Dakota on the drive home tonight. I told him never to let himself get out of shape. Always, year-round, be in shape, and have low body fat. One should never walk into the first wrestling practice of the season being out of shape and having to lose double digits to get back down to one’s ideal wrestling weight.

Also, Dakota shared with me a little psychological trick that he has been using that reminds me of my own elders council trick. My strategy consists of imagining that I have a council of older, wiser people to ask for advice when I run into a tight spot. I ask them what to do. Imagine their wise answer. And then go do that.

Dakota’s calls his trick the National Champion trick. He imagines what a national champion would do in a particular situation that he finds himself in. Then he does what he thinks a national champion would do. For example, would a national champion complain about an injury or just do the work to get healthy and strong again? Would a national champion complain about his body weight, or just do the work to make weight? I think we all know what a national champion would do, right?

So, in this vein, Dakota tells me that even though he’s injured, he doing as a national champion and trying to make the best use of his time. He’s keeping his head up. Dakota is watching and studying lots of videos on wrestling. He’s also helping other wrestlers with technique and mental toughness. And he’s working out, even though it’s just on a bike… Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday’s practice was pretty typical except for the fact that one of the up-and-coming new guys wasn’t there. He skipped practice because his body is sore in a bunch of places. He believes that Coach wasn’t fully listening to him yesterday when Coach told him, “You’re not injured, you’re just sore. So, get back out on the mat and keep wrestling.”

This wrestler was seen walking the hallways today with his girlfriend during practice time. I can’t imagine that head coach Torres is going to take this lightly.

This whole situation with this first-year wrestler is bumming me out because this kid has potential. But his immaturity might have just shot him in the foot. And he may never get the chance now to develop into the wrestler or young man that he could have been.

While walking out of the school building on Tuesday after practice, I share with Dakota how this whole situation of his teammate missing practice stinks. There needs to be a consequence. However, that consequence, and the boy’s possible reactions to it, could end the season or even the wrestling career for this freshman.

I also share with Dakota that after all these years, if there is one thing I know to be true, it’s that potential doesn’t equal greatness. I’ve seen a lot of wasted and unused potential over the years. Wrestling is a tough sport, and many kids don’t make it. I’ve always said, “Anyone can wrestle, but it isn’t for everyone.”

Before school on Wednesday morning, I watched Dakota step onto our bathroom scale and saw the digits finally settle on 136. Dakota was shocked. He couldn’t believe it. He finally spoke in disbelief, “How’s that possible? How can I be two pounds overweight? I barely ate anything last night!”

With school all day and Dakota’s limited ability to work out, making weight tonight for our match against RHAM is going to be tough for him. Even though he isn’t wrestling tonight, Coach Torres wants Dakota to weigh in to establish a pattern of him making weight for the team’s matches. Coach Torres is going to be pretty mad if Dakota doesn’t make weight. Hopefully, Dakota doesn’t forget to consult with his imaginary national champion on this one who we all know wouldn’t complain and wouldn’t make excuses. But instead, would just find a way to man-up and get the job done…

Dakota got in a short workout after school today but was still a half-pound over when he boarded the team’s bus for RHAM. He then proceeded to do something that doesn’t shock anyone in the amateur wrestling world but horrifies people outside of it. And it especially grossed out his mom.

Dakota asked his mom for a piece of gum so he could spit off some weight on the bus ride. Coach Torres didn’t think Dakota could spit off a whole half-pound on the ride. I shared that I’ve only seen kids spit off a quarter of a pound on short bus rides. It doesn’t look like Dakota is going to make weight tonight. But Dakota doesn’t seem worried about it. He even says, “Don’t worry. I’ll make it.”

Breathes were held when Dakota finally stepped on the scale at RHAM. Everyone had made weight so far. Would Dakota be the first wrestler that night not to make weight? The scale’s numbers flashed up and down for a bit and then finally settles on 133.8. He made weight somehow. None of us knew how he spit off seven-tenths of a pound on a short bus ride over. The RHAM coach, Ryan Fitch, looked a bit confused. He asked Dakota if he was wrestling because he knows from this blog that Dakota has been injured and is still recovering from surgery.

Dakota shook his head back and forth sideways and told Coach Fitch that he was just weighing in… And I’m sure only weighing in has a lot of us a bit confused. Sometimes, even Dakota wants to know if he has to make weight or if he can just be close since he’s not wrestling yet. The answer is pretty complicated and lengthy, so Coach usually just says, “Make weight.”

RHAM has a history of being well coached and having a strong program throughout the years with Kevin Kaniatis and now Ryan Fitch as their head coaches over the last couple of decades. Both are former East Hartford boys who, just like me, wrestled for East Hartford High School under the big, rough, and tough coach Steve Konopka.

Our team was determined that we were going to battle hard tonight and make a good showing even though they vastly outnumbered us in wrestlers and years of experience. And many of our wrestlers did indeed step up and wrestle tough tonight, but we still came up 12 points short. So close… that point spread could have been as little as just one of our wrestlers pinning his opponent instead of getting pinned by his opponent, and the score would have been all tied up. So close… but no cigar… Regardless, our kids wrestled tough, and we’re proud of them.

Hey! Guess what? Our freshman wrestler with potential is back. Coach benched him for one day, not allowing him to travel on the team bus to Wednesday’s match, and he took the consequence like a man and showed up ready to work hard on Thursday. I’m very happy that this turned out well. The coach had a measured action, and the boy didn’t overreact to correction from his coach. This is a good thing. And now we can get back to helping this young boy become a good young man someday.

Thursday and Friday’s practices went pretty well. However, Coach Torres didn’t think the kids had enough pep in their step. So, he gave them a bunch of extra conditioning to wake them up and get them moving. I tell you, I wish I could still move like these young athletic kids, even when they are not moving at their fastest. I ran sprints with them at the end of practice and came in dead last every time. This hurts a little bit because I still remember how I used to always come in first place. But I guess, just like everyone else, I need to stop and count my blessings on what I have, rather than grumbling over what I don’t have. Just a couple of months ago, I couldn’t even run because of a hip-replacement surgery I had that has sidelined me for the last decade. So, the fact that I am running now, even at a much slower pace, really is a blessing and even a victory in itself.

In Friday’s practice, I had an understandable, but a frustrating moment, when I was trying to coach a kid who was tired and frustrated himself. I was on him about keeping his head up and being in a good position during a particular drill we were doing. And eventually, he turned and looked at me, and politely said, “It’s just a drill.”

I knew the kid was tired and frustrated. So I just gently reminded him that in matches, he was going to be tired there too. And he would do the same exact thing there that he is doing here by dipping his head. Again, he politely declined my help by repeating, “It’s just a drill.”

I gave him the look that I knew he was better than that. And I will follow up on this later on this at a better time when he isn’t tired and frustrated. Hopefully, at a later time, he will be more receptive and be more coachable.

You see, being coachable is one of the keys to success and becoming a good man. One of the challenges this young boy is going to have though, is that he’s already a pretty good wrestler and has already had some success even though he dips his head and is not always in the best position. Sometimes good can be the enemy of great. And if one is already doing pretty well, then they don’t always find it necessary to change anything that they are presently doing.

I know here in the United States, we pride ourselves on cutting our own path. But the bottom line is that after working with thousands and thousands of kids over multiple decades, the most successful ones are the ones that are personable, (have social skills), hungry to learn more than what they already know, and are coachable.

Sometimes I wish I could just pour the knowledge and skills that I have into young people’s heads so they can be wildly successful through knowing what I know. This would help them avoid a lot of the pitfalls and pain of growing up. But unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. And if it was possible, our young people would probably just decline it anyway. They would probably think that that is too weird, and they want to do it their own way. We call this stubbornness. They call it independence.

In thinking a little more about this… Our Creator does works in mysterious ways, though…. So, I suppose if our older generation really could just simply poor our knowledge and skills into the next generation making them younger versions of ourselves, then it really wouldn’t be fair to the older generation. After all, the older generations had to go through a lot of ups and downs, bumps and bruises, exhilaration, and tears to get to where we are now. I guess there are no short-cuts for our youth. They, too, have to go through the hard times and good times, just like we did, so they also can toughen up, build character through experience, and become good young men and women, too, someday.

Saturday arrived, and so did a snowstorm that postponed our Saturday tournament. The regular world may like this day off from being snowed in, but not the wrestlers. This means the wrestling tournament is on Sunday this week, instead of Saturday. It also means that the wrestlers have an additional day of sacrificing to make weight, and their one day off this week is gone. This is more sacrifice for the wrestlers that most civilians aren’t even aware of as they eat, sip hot chocolate, and peer out the window at their beautiful winter wonderland.

Oh, well… these are the kinds of things that make and forges a good young man, right? Now it’s time to watch our weight and get in a workout or two through shoveling. No snow blowers allowed! Only man-power…

Sunday’s tournament was tough. We ran into a lot of good kids who gave us a real hard time. We just didn’t have a pep in our step today. I don’t know if it was the snow day off yesterday, or was the competition just that tough today. It was another very long day where we left in the dark and came home in the dark, and all we had to show for it was a second-place and two third-place medals. I know… that’s better than nothing… but it just seemed like one of those days today where we went through the motions and couldn’t catch any breaks… Oh well… there’s always tomorrow, I guess. We’ll be coming right back to this same school tomorrow for the jayvee tournament. I am feeling good about our chances to win some medals tomorrow.

Also, I want to share another wrestler’s poem I ran across too. It’s called, “He Stands Alone.”


He Stands Alone

What high school sport makes the demands on the individual that amateur wrestling does? When a boy walks onto the mat, he stands alone. No one will run interference, no one will pass him the ball when he is under the net, and no one will catch a high fly if he makes a bad pitch. He stands alone. In other high school sports, where individual scores are kept, the contest is determined in time, distance, and height. But in wrestling, the score is kept on a boy’s ability to overcome an opponent in a hand to hand contest, where a two-second interval at any time can mean a loss or a win. If an opponent gains an advantage, there will be no help, no substitute; there will be no time out, and all can be lost in two seconds. Yes, the boy stands alone.

There is no place on a wrestling team for the show-off, the halfhearted, or the weakling. When the whistle blows, a boy puts his ability, his determination, and his courage on the line.

We who are close to the young men on our high school wrestling teams, have watched the range of human emotions from elation to heartbreak.

We have seen coaches with tears running down their cheeks as they try to console a young man who has given his all. Yet lost.

Wrestling is a tough, hard sport, a life where it is the survival of the fittest. The young men who enter and stay with the team know this. They also know that when the time comes and the whistle blows…

They Stand Alone!


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*** Finally, check out the very 1st blog of, Hitting the Mat: https://tinyurl.com/w68ubf8

Dan Gable Olympic Gold Medalist and Wrestler of the Century


Dan Blanchard, Teen Leadership, The Storm

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