I vividly remember watching my son wrestle for the first time five years ago (pictured above). He was a seventh-grader, and I had no idea what to expect. Would he struggle mightily to win a handful of matches, as I had in my brief, unremarkable wrestling career, or would he find success on the mat? Would I watch one season of wrestling or spend the next several winters running around to meets?
Later this week, he’ll wrestle in his final state tournament. The last time we were at the state tournament, at the end of his sophomore season, he stepped off the championship platform with a third-place medal. A junior and a senior occupied the two higher spots, and he beamed with confidence and anticipation of the two seasons ahead of him.
After a football injury forced him to sit out his junior year, we hoped he could pick up where he left off. The first and second place guys had graduated, and he had never lost to anyone in his class. We hoped it would be a year of relatively easy victories, but that’s rarely how wrestling works. We know that now.
We also know that wrestling not only develops athletes, it teaches their parents some pretty remarkable things as well – things I wish I had learned much earlier.
- We are there for support. Unless you have experience as a coach, leave the coaching to the coaches. Instead, focus on keeping your wrestler healthy and motivated. Remind him to sleep right and eat right. Give him the fuel he needs to compete. Kids will often default to convenience and impulse. Make sure that his pre-competition meals don’t look like movie theatre snacks and that his sleep routine has him rested and alert for competition and practice.
- We are there for encouragement. Because of the physical nature of wrestling, we tend to focus on our wrestlers’ physical health, and often neglect their emotional health. It’s important that parents encourage their wrestlers through the dark days when their egos are as bruised as their bodies. A friendly, accepting face can be invaluable after a brutal practice or heart-breaking loss. Lastly, above all else, it’s important that we encourage effort, because effort is all he can control. He might face superior talent, but no one has to face superior effort.
- Remember that there is a parent on the other side of the equation in every match. They experience the same struggles that you do. Treat them and their sons like you want your son to be treated. Talk to them in the stands. Your shared experiences will often make the conversation easy. I’ve had great conversations with parents whose sons my son has beaten, as well as the other way around. We’ve even sat side-by-side while our sons were on the same mat.
- Enjoy the moment. This is perhaps the toughest one, because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety of competition. Wrestling is an intense microcosm of life. Hundreds of hours of sacrifice and dedication are tested by relatively few moments on the mat. As a wrestling fan, you have the privilege of watching the drama unfold. Don’t waste that privilege by focusing on your bleacher butt and complaining about the length of the tournament. Even when things don’t go well and your son walks off the mat in defeat, be thankful that he was able to compete and learn from the experience.
- As the parent of a senior in his last month of the sport, I’m down to his last two tournaments, and they are big ones – the state tournament and the state dual tournament. His team is undefeated and in a good position to win the title. He is not undefeated, but could still win an individual championship, though it won’t be easy. Nothing in wrestling is easy, and that’s what makes is so special.
Patrick won that first match six years ago. I have no idea if he’ll win his last match, but I’m glad that I was along for the ride.
Patrick in 2017