OWNING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 14)

Owning the Mat Blog 14

Week 14


This is the week of the New England Wrestling Championships. None of our E.O. Smith wrestlers qualified for this elite-level U.S. northeastern tournament. However, Connecticut wrestlers did do well. Saint John’s Prep of Danvers, Massachusetts, took the team title. But, Xavier High School from Connecticut took second.

From Connecticut, Killingly’s Jack Richardson (145), Fairfield Warde’s Will Ebert (170), and Guilford’s Chris Murphy (195) each won New England titles while Xavier’s Jackson Heslin (120), New Milford’s Evan Lindner (126), Simsbury’s Zach Jones (152) and Norwalk’s Brendan Gilchrist (195) each finished second. Both finalists at the 195-pound weight class were both from Connecticut. And four of the top ten teams in the New England’s were from Connecticut.

I wish Dakota had gotten a chance to wrestle in the New England’s. But he didn’t. And I fully understand that he just didn’t have enough mat time to earn his way there. And that’s okay because our mission was always about building character and becoming a good man instead of just winning trophies.

After four years, it looks like this might be my last wrestling blog. I remember when this day seemed so far away. I can’t thank enough the New York Times Bestselling Author Scott Schulte, who wrote the Dan Gable story, A Wrestling Lifefor his support and encouragement. Scott also introduced me to Brian Preece, who became my co-author of our trilogy of wrestling books, starting with, Hitting the Mat based on this blog.

Brian Preece is an amazing man, and we complimented each other nicely. As a former champion, I am the father and wrestling coach of my son, Dakota. Brian was the son of a legendary wrestling coach who had never wrestled before. I am an East Coast progressive New Englander from the tiny state of Connecticut. Brian is a little more of a conservative Westerner from the large state of Utah. Brian is about a decade older than me. He has really opened my eyes to how excellent Utah wrestling is and how cutting edge they are, too, with their female wrestling program. We’re both very different but also way more alike than anything else. We are both wrestlers, athletes, coaches, teachers, authors, columnists, public speakers, husbands and fathers, and the list goes on and on…

Thanks, Brian Preece. My world has been much enriched with you in it. I look forward to us being on more podcast shows together in the future, having a great time talking about wrestling.

Lastly, my son Dakota gave me a real gift when he entered high school and decided to try wrestling. He brought me back into a world that I loved and missed dearly, wrestling. I saw more old friends over the last four years than I could count. I actually got to be my son’s high school wrestling coach. How many fathers get to do that? Not many! I felt useful and very proud helping Dakota, and his teammates become good young men.

And I think I successfully completed my mission of being a good man who raises a good man to replace himself someday. Look below at the high school senior essay project that Dakota wrote on the benefits of wrestling. Maybe Dakota didn’t win States or go to the New England’s. But it looks like his potential is unlimited as you read below and notice how he emphasizes a growth mindset. I’m so proud of him! 



Dakota’s Thoughts on the Benefits of Wrestling


Sports have always been inherently beneficial since the beginning of time; whether it’s to improve physical fitness, to meet new people, to develop new skills, or even just to have fun. Sports can also teach youth-specific values in which they can have a higher likelihood of succeeding in life. Wrestling is no exception. While wrestling is assuredly a daunting challenge for newcomers, it is also one of the most rewarding sports. The youth is taught through the sport of wrestling how to face challenges head-on and come out on top. The sport of wrestling effectively teaches the youth the life lessons and values needed to succeed later in life. 

One of many priceless lessons that adolescents need to learn to thrive in the real world is to persevere. Perseverance is all about getting up and trying again when a failure occurs. Likewise, anybody who is successful in their respected field knows that to succeed, one must learn from their accumulated failures. Wrestling is a tremendously difficult sport, and it teaches young wrestlers that failure is just an opportunity for growth. Whether it’s learning new moves, taking risks during matches, making weight, or overcoming injuries, it requires a lot of perseverance to improve in the sport of wrestling and many opportunities to fail. According to the article “Values Learned in Youth Wrestling ” by Matt Krumrie, “Wrestling teaches the importance of “if at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.”… Through wrestling, they have learned that if they continue to work on their failures, they can eventually get it—and achieve success” (Krumrie). The sport of wrestling empowers the youth by giving praise through their efforts instead of their results. When kids are taught to focus on their efforts instead of their results, it gives them a sense of control over their lives and improves their confidence. In real-world terms, it could be getting fired from a job, being evicted from their homes, making a poor first impression on your boss, or not getting the raise you know you deserve. For many, these setbacks could mean the end of the world, but for wrestlers, they understand that these setbacks are an opportunity for growth. In the article “Advantages of Wrestling Competitions for Children” by legendsmma.net, it is stated that “To succeed in a local wrestling competition and build discipline, children need to develop certain habits. For example, they have to wake up early, eat a balanced diet for their desired weight, and at times sacrifice their social life to compete. Sometimes they even have to do tasks that seem to be impossible for them to achieve” (legendsmma.net). This is especially important because those who stick with wrestling and see improvements in themselves can develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is imperative towards achieving success in whatever goals are desired. A growth mindset allows one to acknowledge they can develop their skills through effort, versus a fixed mindset which believes that abilities and skills are set in stone. The similarity between a growth mindset and perseverance is that they are often interchangeable. A child who displays a growth mindset acknowledges that they have the ability to grow and improve at whatever they set their mind to, whilst a child who displays perseverance often continues to put their best effort forth to strive for success no matter the obstacles or setbacks. Both perseverance and a growth mindset are about accepting failure to be part of the process and continuing to strive for growth and improvement in their corresponding fields.

Another important value that adolescents are taught in the sport of wrestling is discipline. Discipline is not only about following rules but about setting higher standards for oneself. It’s about the behaviors and actions that one will and won’t accept from themselves. In order to build beneficial habits that will improve chances of success and quality of life, discipline is needed. Being exceptional is difficult while being mediocre is easy. Actions and behaviors directly influence the outcome of lives as well as performance. In wrestling, discipline is a necessity. Youth wrestlers learn to push themselves during practice, eat a healthier and more balanced diet, manage their time between practice and school, and put in extra work when nobody else does. Discipline also coincides with responsibility. When kids learn to take responsibility for themselves and the actions they take, they learn how to be independent and be motivated by their desire to improve. In an article by the name of “Why Kids Should Wrestle” by theschoolofwrestling.com, the article expresses that “As an individual sport, the only person responsible for success or failure in wrestling is the individual themselves. Wrestling teaches self-awareness and how to be responsible for your own actions. What you put in is what you get out” (theschoolofwrestling.com). Responsibility is a critical lesson for kids to learn that will support them throughout their lives. Not only does responsibility correlate with wrestling, but in many real-life situations as well. When the youth is able to cultivate and learn responsibility, the skill seeps into other aspects of their lives. They learn to take responsibility for their schoolwork, their chores at home, their behavior, and the small choices they make throughout their day. A perfect example of a wrestler taking responsibility for their actions is to make healthier food choices in order to maximize their performance in wrestling and achieve their desired weight class. Discipline is a skill that benefits lives in an infinite number of ways. Young wrestlers who practice discipline learn that ultimately they are in control of their destiny. The website Ciscoathletic.com expresses in their article “Benefits of Youth Wrestling,” “if you want to win, you have to be disciplined. You need to make sure you are following a routine to keep your body fit and providing yourself with the energy that you need to perform. It involves keeping to a strict diet and avoiding unhealthy junk food. As such, it teaches kids to look after their body and themselves, as well as ensuring that they learn the importance of following the rules” (ciscoathlete.com). Learning how to nurture a healthy, balanced, and nutritional diet will ultimately benefit many facets of the youth’s lives. When discipline is developed, adolescents learn how to make better choices and decisions for their future selves.

The third and final value that wrestling develops in the youth (although there are too many to count) is confidence. Confidence is all about being self-assured and believing in one’s abilities. Funnily enough, one can have the skills needed and still lack the confidence to execute these skills. Young wrestlers learn to build confidence by putting in the work required to succeed. When wrestlers push themselves and give 100% of their effort, they are inherently confident in themselves because they have done all the work they possibly could have. Losing is a part of life and wrestling is no exception. However, adolescents learn to still be satisfied with themselves, even if they lost, because they had given their all. Not only does this confidence present itself in the sport of wrestling, but in social interactions with other athletes as well. This can be especially useful growing up because the skill of communication is extremely important in life. As maintained by “The Social Benefits of Wrestling” by teamusa.org, “kids from around the country exchange singlets with kids they’ve never met before. Sure, some may be quick conversations, but at some point, these young athletes had to muster the courage to speak to what is in most cases, a stranger. These experiences are providing building blocks for future communications, such as in that first job interview, during an interview for a scholarship from a community organization, or even in the classroom setting, where many kids don’t feel comfortable raising their hand and asking questions in front of others” (teamusa.org). Wrestling can be an opportunity for many juveniles to travel to places they’ve never been before, and practice interacting with new people as well as make new friendships. Over time, confidence grows. The skill of confidence can offer an abundance of advantages within an adolescent’s life, including performance, communication, self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and mindset. Confidence prepares young wrestlers for life and its many unpredictable challenges. Following the previous article “The Advantages of Wrestling Competitions for Children” by legendsmma.net, “In competitions, kids are accountable for both their successes and failures. Therefore they need to be highly confident. Without an optimistic attitude, success can elude them. From the beginning, children learn to count on themselves and gain confidence on and off the wrestling mat.” (legendsmma.net). Due to the difficulty of wrestling, it is quite common to attempt and accomplish hard things daily. This is a great way for young wrestlers to build self-confidence.

In short, the sport of wrestling consistently and effectively teaches young wrestlers the skills and values they require to succeed in life. There are countless lessons taught throughout wrestling. Perseverance aids adolescents in pushing through and overcoming obstacles set in front of them, as well as developing a growth mindset. Discipline gives service by guiding juveniles on how to be responsible for themselves and take the actions needed to achieve their goals. Lastly, confidence is everything. Those who are self-assured and unconditionally believe in themselves can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. Wrestling is more than just a sport. For different people, wrestling can be anything. It could be a way to make new friends, an outlet for negative circumstances in life, a way to set and achieve goals, to have fun, to improve health and fitness, to bond with family members, and the list goes on. The sport of wrestling has been here since the beginning of time, has guided millions of people throughout the game we call life, and it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.