Number 6 started wrestling in October 2019, about three months ago.
It’s our first experience with the sport, and I thought it was going to really teach Number 6 a lot about hard work and perseverance and the importance of moving out of your comfort zone.
And it has.
But I think it may be teaching me even more.
As a parent of five kids who are athletes, two of them elite swimmers, I have been around the block a few times.
A few years ago when Number 3 was in his second or third season of travel baseball, I realized I was that mom.
The one who was a little out of control in the bleachers.
The one who didn’t want to see her kid fail.
The one who was telling her kid what he should do differently the next time he’s out on the mound.
I think we put a lot of pressure on our kids to win.
We often do this without even realizing it.
We teach them with our words or our actions (or both) that winning is the most important thing.
That winning is what makes them valued or worthy or important.
Of course we want our kids to be successful and feel good, so we want them to win.
(Sometimes we also are just living vicariously through our kids, but that’s a whole different blog post).
So we tell them what they need to do.
We tell them what to focus on. What to do better next time.
When they get off the mat or the mound or the field or out of the pool or the rink or wherever it is they are, we tell them what they should have done differently.
Not so much so we can teach them about how to grow as an athlete and a human, but so we can get them closer to winning.
We forget that there are more “losers” than “winners” in a swim meet or a wrestling tournament or a track meet or cross country meet or any competition that isn’t a team sport.
In a swim meet, an event can have over 100 swimmers in it.
So you’ll have one person who wins.
And 99 people who don’t.
If we teach our kids that winning is what’s most important, then what about the other 99 people?
What’s the point for them?
There isn’t one, really.
Not if you are focusing first (or solely) on the importance of winning.
But we forget about what things a person needs to experience in order to REALLY feel good.
And to be, as cheesy as it sounds, a winner at life.
That’s the goal, isn’t it?
I have been a swim coach for over thirty years.
I see parents who are so misaligned — albeit most of them well meaning — who are focusing on all the wrong things.
They advise, coach and even berate their kids during swim meets and after swim practices, telling them what to do differently.
Telling them what they are doing wrong.
Comparing them to other kids.
I have done this myself.
It comes from a well-intentioned place for most of us.
We think we are helping.
But we aren’t.
And we are so often driving home the message that what matters the most is winning.
I have developed a lot of perspective in this department, especially in the last five years or so.
I did this three years ago with Number 4 when she joined the middle school cross country team.
After her first season in 6th grade, it was clear she had A LOT of natural talent and ability.
And you know what I did?
I immediately started researching year round running clubs and teams and contacting people whose kids were cross country runners and asking them what I should do regarding Number 4 to help her get even better.
I went off the deep end! Even when I knew better.
And you know what happened the following year?
She didn’t enjoy cross country as much because she felt pressure to do well.
The fun and enjoyment had already begun to be sucked out of it.
I learned a big lesson with that one.
A BIG ONE.
And I think that was really instrumental in helping me maintain perspective with the kids.
Which brings me to today.
Number 6 had a wrestling tournament.
He’s only been wrestling for three months, so he’s a beginner, or novice.
That makes me a novice wrestling parent.
Today Number 6 wrestled in a tournament where he competed in the U10 Intermediate age category.
He was WAY out of his league.
Each match Number 6 wrestled was three 1-minute periods. But if you get pinned, the match is over.
Even if you get pinned a few seconds into the first period.
His first match was against a kid from his team who is also a new wrestler and who was also out of his league. They were pretty evenly matched with each other, and I was grateful it was his first match, because the next two were going to be pretty rough.
At the last tournament they were in together, Number 6 pinned this boy in the first period.
Today, the same boy pinned Number 6 in the second period.
Number 6 was a mess.
He was sobbing and inconsolable.
I suck at wrestling!
I’m not wrestling anymore!
I want to quit!!!
I HATE wrestling!!!!!
He was really upset for a good ten minutes.
I wanted to talk to him, but just like an adult, when a kid is that upset, nothing gets into his/her brain.
He had to calm himself down first.
Once he was back over with his friends he regained his composure.
While he was chilling with his friends, I just sat and observed.
I saw parents who were reserved and supportive.
But I also saw lots of parents where were OUT OF CONTROL.
I watched a woman lose her shit so badly when her kid was wrestling that she walked off the mat with her hands on her still-heaving chest, completely out of breath.
It was kind of unsettling.
Number 6 had two more matches to go.
His next two opponents were very experienced.
It was not looking good.
Wrestling tournaments like this are different than swim meets in that the kids sit with their parents and not as a team with the coaches, and it’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure the wrestler is where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be there.
Before Number 6 went out on the mat, I talked to him.
“What’s the most important thing when you are out there?” I asked him.
“Winning,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“No!” I told him.
“Trying hard?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Just doing your best. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose! It doesn’t matter.”
“What else?” I asked.
“Not crying?” he said.
“Yes, your attitude,” I told him. “This is really just for fun, remember?”
He nodded like he got it.
But I wasn’t convinced.
Number 6 walked over to the mat and waited for his match to start.
He got pinned almost immediately. The kid he wrestled against was a badass and Number 6 didn’t even know what hit him.
The good thing was it happened so fast he didn’t even have time to get really upset.
I could see him starting to get a little bit emotional as he was talking to his coach after the world’s shortest match.
He came over to me and said, “I SUCK AT WRESTLING!”
He started crying.
“I’m not going to talk to you when you are crying,” I told him. “When you calm yourself down, then we can talk.”
It’s natural to want to reason with your kid when he/she is upset, but you can’t make any headway. Nothing gets across to anyone when they’ve flipped their lid.
He stopped himself right away.
“There is no way you should have beaten that kid,” I told Number 6. “He’s been wrestling for years. If he didn’t beat you, then he’d have a reason to cry,” I told him.
That almost made Number 6 smile.
He had one kid left to wrestle. We saw this kid, and he was good.
Like way better than Number 6.
Before each of his first two matches this kid was being advised and warmed up by his very large, thick-accented father. He was like an older, weathered Drago from Rocky IV. Every time he warmed his son up, they finished with a little bit of sparring.
It was kind of intimidating even for me, not to mention my little guy.
“How long do you think you lasted before you got pinned in that last match?” I asked Number 6.
“Ten seconds?” he said.
(It was probably closer to five).
“That sounds about right,” I told him. “Okay, then. Here’s your goal for the last match. Make it 30 seconds before you get pinned.”
He looked at me.
It hadn’t occurred to him that he could have a goal that didn’t include winning.
I think knowing he could go into a match without the expectation of winning — whether that expectation was self-imposed or implied (intentionally or not) by someone else — really helped him change his focus and priorities.
And then I reminded him of what the coach had told him earlier.
“Remember what your coach said after your first match?”
“That he shouldn’t be able to tell if I won or lost by looking at my face,” he said.
“That’s right,” I told him.
A couple minutes later it was time for his final match.
I gave him the thumbs up.
“30 SECONDS!” he said as he got his headgear on and gave me the thumbs up back.
He went out onto the mat and shook hands with Weathered Drago’s son.
I was standing next to WD.
“How long has your son been wrestling?” I asked him.
“Three years,” he told me.
Three months vs. three years. Yikes.
My dad was there watching, too. WD towered over him.
“Tell your kid to go easy on my grandson,” my dad said to him, jokingly.
Number 6 put up as good a fight as he could.
WD Jr. pinned him with 22 seconds left in the first period.
Number 6 stood up.
AND HE WAS SMILING.
He shook hands with WD Jr. and then WD Jr.’s coach, went over and had a post-match talk with his coach, and then he walked off the mat and over to us.
“THIRTY-EIGHT SECONDS!” I said as I high fived him.
“I BEAT MY GOAL, MOMMY!!!” he said.
He was a different kid.
A happier kid, a smarter kid, and a more confident kid.
AND HE LOST.
“Mommy, I did better today. And not because I won, but because in the first match I had a really bad attitude, in the second match it was a little bit bad, and in the third one, it was really good! You can’t tell by my face if I won or I lost. You might even think I won the last one!”
I was beating myself up after that first match this morning for being a clueless parent who registered her kid for a tournament he didn’t really belong in.
But what started off really rough ended up being maybe one of the best wrestling experiences Number 6 has had so far.
“Yeah?” I replied.
“I’m really proud of myself,” he said.
You know, he didn’t say that after either of the beginner tournaments he competed in this past November and December.
And he won both of those.
So you tell me.
What’s more important for your kid?
Or to lose?
My kid lost three wrestling matches today.
All three by pins.
He didn’t make it three rounds in any of his matches, he only made it to the second period in one of them, and he got totally smoked by each kid he wrestled.
“I’m really proud of you, too,” I told him.
Number 6 learned a lot, today.
And his clueless, novice wrestling mom?
She still doesn’t really know anything about wrestling.
But it was made crystal clear today that knowing a alot about wrestling isn’t really the stuff that’s important for her to know, anyway.