HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 8)

Blog 8

Preseason Week 8

 Wow! This week is off to another crazy start. Dakota and I snuck in a quick drilling session with some instruction that quickly wore me out late Sunday night. After about 15 minutes, my shirt was soaked, and I felt exhausted. I was a bit concerned because I shouldn’t have been so tired. I guess I had a tough week. And to think that I still had a few more hours of work ahead of me tonight with my weekly columns that I have to finish writing and submit before I can go to sleep, or maybe even just pass out.

Monday night comes around quick. And I find myself driving Dakota to KT KIDZ Wrestling in Rocky Hill, Connecticut while chewing the last few bites of my dinner once again. The drive is a pleasant one as Dakota talks to me about fitness. I eventually jump in with a stroll of my own down memory lane sharing the good old days when I was a kid who had a bike, but not video games. We were always riding bikes, and playing a game or two, or maybe even three of pick-up ball with the kids in the neighborhood.

We never had adult supervision during these games or bike rides. The only rule was that we had to be home in time for dinner, or we might not get dinner. Dakota said he wishes it was still like that now. And I wholeheartedly agreed with him. There was something special about those days…

Tonight’s wrestling practice is a little bit different. My old buddy and wrestling comrade, Coach Johnny Knapp, isn’t there. So Coach West is running the show. Also, since Marc Guberti, one of the world’s top ten podcasters, has just asked me to speak at his virtual summit this upcoming Thursday night, I am going to spend the first 30-minutes of wrestling practice doing some homework for the show.

Homework or not, though, I keep looking up at Dakota and take brief breaks to watch Coach West demonstrate a great high-crotch (High-C), and a single leg series. I’m still a little concerned though with how Dakota will do considering he was just recently in bed sick.

However, he walks by me and tells me that he feels good. So, here we are. Showtime! Live wrestling begins, and Dakota gets paired up with a very good, older kid who beat him up pretty good several weeks ago. The whistle blows and Dakota gets the first takedown. Cool! His opponent escapes though and takes Dakota down. He throws in both legs to leg ride. Dakota bucks up, grabs his opponent’s head and pulls it down under him to put the kid on his back for a near pin.

“Wow!” I just showed Dakota that move last night when I was huffing and puffing feeling old and out of shape. But, regardless, here he is tonight using it. Eventually, the other kid scrambles and gets away. But I don’t care. I’m thinking, “Way to go, Dakota!”

Dakota’s opponent looks a little angry, and he becomes more physical. He takes Dakota down again and turns him to his back. Dakota surprises the heck out of his opponent and me by hitting an explosive high back bridge that causes his opponent to roll over and ends with Dakota landing on top of him and pinning him.

“Dang! That was amazing!” I’m silently screaming inside. Well… I must admit that someone there might have heard something coming out of me.

His opponent becomes even more physical and rough, but Dakota doesn’t back down, and he gives it right back to him. I’m wondering, “Where the heck did all this toughness in Dakota, my little boy who ain’t so little anymore, come from?”

What an improvement Dakota has made! The other boy might have outscored him, but it was a close match. And even more important… Dakota showed a lot of guts out there…

Leading into his second match, Dakota was exhausted at fighting so hard in his first one, but he still seemed to be in his tough physical mode from the last match. He immediately hits a vicious double leg lift takedown that forcefully drives his opponent into the mat and stuns him. This kid is another good wrestler. He eventually recovers and reverses Dakota.

For the next almost six minutes the two boys brawl out there on the mat. At one point, Dakota’s opponent slaps a very deep half-nelson on him and also manages to catch Dakota’s wrist and yank it down his back. The boy is punishing my boy now. And it looks like Dakota’s arm is about to pop out of his socket as his head and neck are being violently twisted at the same time. Dakota is exhausted, I’m wincing, and I don’t know how he is going to survive this one… but he somehow does…

Dakota shows tremendous guts and courage as he refuses to be put flat on his back, no matter how tired or how painful it is. I practically have a tear in my eye for this young boy beating the odds. At this very moment when life is beyond difficult, he acted like a man by refusing to give in… I wish I could still wrestle like that… I miss those days… But, for me, it was easier to go through it when I was young than to watch my son go through it now while I’m older.

Eventually, the whistle blows ending the match. I don’t know how Dakota gets to his feet, but he does as Coach West yells out, “Find another partner!” By process of default, because Dakota took too long to move, he ends up staggering over to a much bigger, very athletic, and very experienced boy.

“Oh no. Not him” is all I can think.

The older boy was one of, the better ones in a room of a bunch of good wrestlers that I’ve seen so far. He tooled on my exhausted and dazed boy. And even though the other boy was putting on his own wrestling clinic out there, he was decent to Dakota and didn’t pound him or punish him. I was grateful to the young, fine man for conducting himself in such a manner. He was a real stand-up guy. And a great wrestler.

Coach West finally blew the whistle and yelled, “Do 90 push-ups and practice is over.” Dakota looked over at me and showed me his tongue again like he had done last week. And like last week it looked like sandpaper again. My poor boy. “Okay, only 90 push-ups and he’s done. And he can then rest and get some water,” I said to myself.

Dakota ended up being one of the last boys to leave the wrestling room that night. He slowly and arduously powered through 115 push-ups and then did 10 pull-ups on top of that.

I don’t know how he did it. Pure determination I guess. I was so proud of him. And so was Coach West as he mentioned on our way out the door that if Dakota keeps it up, he might have a chance of making his varsity wrestling team this winter as just a freshman. That was pretty cool because I know that is one of Dakota’s goals. He wants to wrestle varsity as a freshman just like his dad did.

On our way home, even though Dakota had reclined the front passenger seat again so much that it looked like a recliner, he looked like he was recovering nicely. We had a great conversation about how important the old Greek values of mind and body are. And everything seemed to be going well when he dropped a bomb on me that he had injured himself.

“What?” I thought. “When?”

Right before live wrestling he had grabbed his water bottle and sat down at the very end of the bench. The bench fell over, and he landed right on his tailbone on the hard cement floor. And now it was painful for him even just to sit my car. My heart jumped up into my throat because I’ve had a tailbone injury before and it caused me excruciating pain for about a week. And it made it very hard for me to move around well and fight back in practice.

Let’s hope Dakota is a quick healer. And if he does heal quickly, let’s hope I have time to work with him before his next practice. I have to teach him how to defend and break out of that 2 on 1 arm hold his opponent had on him a few times tonight that he didn’t quite know what to do about… And that switch, too, that he got burned a few times tonight on.

The next night, which is Tuesday night, I get home a little late from work and immediately ask my wife how Dakota is doing with his tailbone. She thinks he’s okay. He hasn’t said anything all day about it. After a quick dinner, I go upstairs to my boy’s room to work with him on how to defend the 2-on-1 arm tie and the switch. He tells me he is fine, but I only want to work with him for a few minutes this time just in case he isn’t okay. He mentions to me near the end of our short session that his knees hurt, I look confused, but then regain my sense and look down at my own knees and noticed that we both had a little case of rug burn on our knees from this short session of mat, or maybe I should say rug wrestling instruction.

Before we know it, it’s the next day and Dakota, and I are back in the car driving to wrestling. I’m really starting to appreciate the 45-minute of father-son time rides. It’s bringing me closer to being the kind of father I want to be in developing my boy into a real man.

After some small talk, we land on the subject of girls. I explain to Dakota that real men always respect women. And that some immature boys may think it’s funny or cool, or even manly to disrespect women. But, it’s not. They’re just showing their lack of maturity and that they’re really not real men yet.

Later in the car ride, Dakota ask me what he should be doing on the bottom position because he’s having some difficulty there. I don’t mean to simplify it too much here, but I basically say, “Just stand up. Use your athletic abilities, and just stand up. And if you can’t, then get wrist control, strong base, and then stand up. Learn to do that first, and then you’ll have a chance on the bottom. Then you can slowly learn the other bottom stuff.”

Tonight’s practice was a little different again. I wasn’t studying, but this time I had to be on a conference call for one of my side jobs with the American Federation of Teachers. From a distance, I watched Coach Knapp, and Coach West show the wrestlers a pretty cool hammerlock and arm-bar series that they practiced over most of the next hour.

My conference call ended just in time for me to be back mat-side for the live mat wrestling to yell to Dakota to either look away or to stand up. To his credit, he tried his best to do both.

At the end of mat wrestling, I saw that Dakota had that sandpaper tongue again while heading into his six-minute match against another really good kid. I’m going to have to remember to tell Dakota to drink more water during the daytime when he has wrestling that same night.

Dakota’s opponent was good. He nailed Dakota with a couple of ankle picks. At one point, Dakota catches him in a front headlock, but the boy just drags out of it and takes him down anyway. I’m also going to have to remember to show Dakota a better front headlock that doesn’t allow his opponent to so easily drag out of it, which I do in the car on the ride home.

We only did one six-minute match tonight, but combined with everything else, the boys were all exhausted. Coach West yelled for all of them to go home after a few minutes of intermittent jogging and sprinting up and down the wrestling mat.

Dakota walked off the mat with all the other boys to get some much-needed water. Then he headed back out onto the mat to pop out 70 pushups. Dakota was the only person on that great big wrestling mat area at that time. I was proud of him for being able to stand all alone to work hard at something he apparently now believes in. After the push-ups, he headed over to the pullup room and popped out a bunch of those, too. I didn’t say a word. Just watched in admiration…

We were once again the last ones to leave. Coach West yelled over to Dakota asking him how school was going. I smiled because the village raising the child was busy at work again. On the way out that night, Dakota looked Coach West in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Thanks, Coach.”

Dakota wouldn’t have even thought to do this sort of thing a few months ago. Also, the 45-minute car ride each way that a couple of months ago that felt like it was going to be another thing that I had to do somehow, was now a pleasure to do. And it was something I was really looking forward to doing tonight. It’s a blessing in disguise where I’m seeing with my own eyes, and hearing with my own ears the transformation of my boy slowly developing into a good man… One that can even now at 14- years old look you in the eye, shake your hand, and say, “Thanks.”


Learn more about this book, A Sprint to the Top, that DAN GABLE endorsed:




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