Yesterday I spent 9 hours in a highschool gym. Voluntarily. And I wasn’t taking a CPR class.
This is my son’s third year on the varsity wrestling team, and yesterday was his school’s big annual Holiday Classic tournament. There were 10 schools competing, and with only 2 mats (some schools with bigger gyms have room for 4 or even 6 mats) and 14 weight classes, we all knew it was going to be a long day.
My son’s day got off to a rough start, but it ended well. He lost his first match, getting pinned after being slightly ahead points-wise. He won his next two “consolation” rounds, which put him back into the semi-final rounds. He won again, and qualified to compete for third place. The boy who beat him in the first match lost at some point during the day, so the final match ended up being a re-match of the first. I know my son was surprised to have been beaten in the morning, but there is no question that the other boy was a good wrestler. It was a very close match and came down to the last points and the last seconds. The whole team was on their feet cheering and I was doing my best to twist and grapple to help my son from the sidelines. When the final buzzer went off and my son was ahead, I jumped for joy.
The win was awesome, but even more special was seeing the big grin on my son’s face. He was so thrilled and proud of himself. He got a big congratulatory hug from his coach, many back-pats from his teammates, and congratulations from the other parents. And, he got to celebrate with a big steak dinner with his teammates, who don’t have to weigh-in for a full week. (Thank goodness my son is wrestling “up” so he doesn’t have to worry about making weight.)
The first year my son wrestled, I wasn’t into it at all. I didn’t really enjoy watching the boys, and felt so barbaric cheering them on. As the season wore on, I understood the sport more, could follow the scoring, and figured out why you need to “lift his head!” when you have your competitor on his back (to force the shoulders on the ground to earn a pin).
By last year, I was totally into it. Well, I still don’t like it when the boys seem to bend their necks more than they should be able to go, or when arms and shoulders get twisted back too far, but for the most part the boys wrestle “clean” without hurting each other.
What I have really come to appreciate is how demanding wrestling is as a sport. Sure, a round may only last for 2 minutes, but you try keeping your shoulders off the ground for even 30 seconds using only your core strength while someone your weight is on top of you using all of his weight to try to push you down. I’m not even sure that I can hold a plank for 30 seconds with only gravity working against me!
Wrestling offers so many lessons:
- It ain’t over until it’s over. You can be way ahead in points, but if you get careless, or tired, or the other guy gets lucky, you can find yourself on your back with the referee counting out a 3-second pin. The good news is that this holds true when you are behind. There is always a chance that you can pin your opponent and win as long as you stay in the match and keep trying.
- Every second counts. A match can change direction so quickly. The wrestler who initiates a take down may quickly find himself flat on the mat. The wrestler on the bottom may be able to flip around if his opponent is too high up on his back. Once the referee starts counting a pin, you have 3 whole seconds to escape and it can be done. Sometimes it seems that sheer determination earns a win.
- The number on the scale doesn’t tell you everything. Each weight class is separated by 5-17 pounds (at the higher weights) and most boys try to be at or near the high end of their weight class. That means that boys in the same weight class should weigh about the same, but they often look very different. There are boys with tall and lanky builds, boys with short and stocky builds, and every build in between. It’s not clear that either build necessarily has an advantage. More often it is skill (and maybe a bit of luck) that determines the winner–I’ve seen boys with different builds dominate their matches.
- You need to work with what you have. If you are tall and lanky, you need to use that height (and leverage) to your advantage. If you are short and stocky, you need to make that strength and stability work for you. No matter what your size, you can hone your skills and agility so you will be able to respond to your opponent’s strengths.
Another thing I really enjoy about following my son’s wrestling team is the team “family.” Parents (and grandparents!) make an effort to come to the matches and everyone cheers on each wrestler. It is fun to watch the boys grow and mature as the season goes on, and it is great to get to know the other parents as we pass the time between matches during the day-long tournaments.
Tonight, we are putting that “family” to the test. Our boys are going to one wrestler’s house for a New Year’s Eve party. We have used our bleacher-born connections to make phone calls, verify itineraries, and do what we can to make sure that everyone makes it to practice on Monday.
Have you experienced Wrestlemania?