Goals are an important thing to have not only in wrestling but also in life. They give us something to work towards and an expectation of ourselves. Ask any successful person on or off the mat and they will tell you that they have a set of goals that they work towards every day.
In wrestling you need to be working towards something every day, if you’re a first-year wrestler it might be something as simple as winning half of your matches. If you’re an accomplished wrestler it could be making the podium or making the finals at state.
The biggest downfall of any athlete is becoming complacent. While coaching I had the same goal every single season, to win a team title, I never reached it. In fact, I never even got close to placing in the top 3, but if I would have changed my goal to something smaller then it would be easy to become complacent. However, every year it was the same goal. While coaching I had a special athlete who had all the talent anyone could have ever asked for. He was a smart and gifted young man who coaches are lucky if they get once every 10 to 15 years. While he was young he was hungry for success. He started working hard and putting in hours that rivaled college athletes, he would practice on his own for hours every day and run hundreds of miles a week. He had one goal as a youth wrestler and that was to win a USA State title. He won two. This was a young man who came from VERY poor single parent home. He was supported by his mother who made less than $20,000 a year.
However, this wrestler had a drive that he wanted to wrestle the highest levels in college.
Coming into his freshman season he was putting together a great year. He had straight A’s in the classroom and was wresting like a man on a mission. Midway through the season, he told me that he had a goal to be an undefeated four-time state champion. I explained how much work he would have to put in to make that goal a reality. He told me he was game. He was ready to give up everything to make himself be the best. Our very next dual he wrestled the #1 kid in the state. He lost 6-5. It a matter of a week his goal had ended. I hurt for him and didn’t know what to say to him as we headed into winter break.
The first day of winter practices he had beat the coaches to the wrestling room and was already into a full sweat and had taken hundreds of shots on the drilling dummy. His goal had only changed slightly, no longer being able to be undefeated he still wanted to be a four-time state champ. As the year progressed he rebounded and climbed to the 3rd ranked kid in the state as a freshman in an upper weight class. He dropped another couple of matches but was undeterred.
The state tournament came around it was like a kid on Christmas morning that had just gotten a puppy. He cruised to the semi-finals without a close match. Then in the semis, he lost again and not only lost got majored. This was the first time that he had lost but bonus points in several years. I pulled him to the side and explained that he had to focus on the next morning’s consolation semi and that he needed to get 3rd place. It fell on deaf ears. He was pinned in his next bout falling into the 5th place match. He finished the season getting 5th place and stood on the podium with his head hung.
As we made our way to the exit for the long ride home he had friends and family and teammates congratulating him, he was cordial and thanked them, however, when we got somewhere private he asked:
“coach, why are people so happy for me to lose?”
The next season came quickly. The wrestler had similar goals to the previous season. He had missed a couple open workouts, telling me that he had to make up some missed assignments. To me, it wasn’t a big deal since these were optional practices anyway and I always stressed to all my wrestlers the importance of having great grades in the classroom. The season began at the end of October and he was the best athlete in the room. He regularly worked with two seniors who would go on to wrestle in the state finals that season and one would win their 2nd state title. He was a team leader as only a sophomore. Older kids on the team would look to him for help and he was always ready to make someone else better. Going into winter break he was undefeated and cruising through the season. However, one morning right after Christmas the coaching staff shows up to get the workout started and this wrestler was nowhere to be found.
After several calls to him, he finally texts one of the coaches back and said he had been sick all night and had overslept. It was an understandable excuse and we told him to make sure he calls or texts us next time and to get better soon. As we were leaving I sent a message to his mom asking if they needed any medicine or food for him and I would swing it by. His mom called me and was very confused. The wrestler had lied to the entire staff and his mother. Come to find out he had blown off practice to be with his girlfriend. I was deeply disappointed and upset that a kid I had coached for nearly 10 years would lie to me. When Monday came I quickly pulled him into the office and asked what had happened after a long conversation about goals and accountability, he promised me that I had his word that it would not happen again and that his goal was to be a three-time state champ. He was given his punishment and the season went on.
He was undefeated most of the year only losing once going into the state tournament. Once again he quickly made the semi-finals where he faced off against the wrestler he had faced in the consolation semis the previous year. This time it was a different match. He came out and quickly made the score 5-1, however, he became complacent in the match and with 30 seconds left in the 3rd period he was down 9-8, he gave a flurry of action and once again lost falling into the wrestle backs. He sprinted off the mat crying and mad. When I finally caught up to him he was complaining about bad calls and how it wasn’t fair. I quickly told him that he had lost on his own and that he had to focus to once again try to get 3rd place.
The next morning he quickly pinned his opponent moving into the 3rd place match where he was set to wrestle a kid he had already beaten in the quarterfinals the previous day. However, 15 minutes before the match he was nowhere to be found. He was supposed to be warming up and when I found him he was sitting in a stairwell talking on the phone to his girlfriend. I was livid. I took his phone and sent him to prepare for a match that had team implications as we had two wrestlers in the finals and had a very outside shot of winning a trophy. He didn’t seem interested in wrestling the match, he barely warmed up and wrestled poorly and lost. Once again he was on the podium with his head hanging.
This time I did not feel the same sympathy I had felt the previous season. He had lost because he became complacent and had lost sight of his goals. Walking back to the vehicles to head home he was congratulated and was told how much he had accomplished and that it was great.
He again asked,
“coach, why are people so happy for me to lose?”
A few days after the tournament I called him into my room to discuss his grades as they had fallen from straight A’s to B’s and C’s. I reaffirmed that he wanted to wrestle D1 and go to college and become a lawyer. As I explained to him that he was beginning to come to the age where he had to make choices of schools to look at and that they would be looking at him as well. He interrupted me saying that he needed to meet up with his girlfriend to take her to eat. While he was walking out I told him to focus on his goals and think about what his life will look like in 20 years and would he be surrounded by the same people he was now or would he find other people. When the freestyle season came around I seen a positive change in him. He started driving to harder workouts in the state and was once again working hard and seemed to be reinvigorated in wrestling. I pulled him to the side and told him that I was proud he had changed his ways and gotten back to being focused. Secretly I was happy that I had seemed to make an impact on a kid that was heading towards the wrong road. The spring and summer ended with him getting much better than he had ever been and was wrestling better kids than he ever had before. He had gone all over the country and was wrestling kids who were nationally ranked and even beat a kid who would go on to be the #1 ranked kid at his weight in the country.
His junior season began much like his freshman season had. He was showing up early and staying late and putting in the extra time. He was the sole leader on the team and was determined to be a two-time state champ. Then there was a sudden shift in him once again during the winter break. He began skipping practices and his weight was spiraling out of control. I pulled him into a meeting and he explained that he had a lot going on in his life and was freaking out about growing up, he never would tell me what his problems were, but, many kids at 16 or 17 years old are very private.
He was suspended from a couple meets and he began practicing but not with much passion or urgency. He had become complacent in his routines and when I asked him about his goals he would tell me that I knew them and that I needed to stop asking him about things. I respected that and didn’t ask again for the rest of the regular season. When we got into the state tournament he was ranked 3rd and for the third straight year, he cruised into the semis by pinning the 4th ranked, and undefeated, wrestler in the first period. However, he fell in the semis 9-6. This time there wasn’t any tears he just simply walked back to the stands to sit with his girlfriend and he would go on to get 3rd place easily and we were leaving few people talked to him or congratulated him.
“coach, why is nobody happy that I won?”
This wrestler had be come complacent in his life. To him, he had what he needed. He had a girlfriend and his phone and kids at school liked him. When the spring season came around he was working out but not as often and seemed distracted. One day his mom came to see me and was visibly upset. She was crying and was inconsolable. When I finally got her calmed down she explained that the wrestler’s girlfriend was six months pregnant and that she had just found out about it herself. I told her that even though she and I were both disappointed in his actions that we stilled loved and cared about him and that we would have to be there to support him.
After she left I tried to get ahold of him several times over the weekend but he ignored and avoided me until the next week and school when I told the school resource officer to bring him into my room by force if he had to. I didn’t say anything to him when he walked in I just gave him a hug and told him that I would be there for him. However, I told him that now he HAD to have goals for his life and that he had a gift that would help him earn a scholarship and would be able to get a college degree and would be able to provide a life for his child. He agreed and we began trying to get him recruited to a school for wrestling.
By the time his senior season had rolled around he had taken a few visits to schools and had committed to a successful division 1 program. He was excited and by this time he had had a daughter born but he was struggling in the classroom and was never at workouts that were either optional or required. It was a unique situation that I had never planned for. I was unsure of how or if he should be punished. After thinking about it I decided to go easy on him and I became complacent in my coaching of him. He cruised through the season going into state undefeated and #1 in his weight. We had talked very little about his life and his goals. He cruised into the finals by pinning everyone. During his finals match, he would break his arm but finish the match and get 2nd in the state. He stood on the podium smiling and holding his bracket and medal.
As we left I asked him
“did you achieve what you thought you would?”
He finished his senior year graduating near the bottom of his class but scoring high enough on his ACT that he would be accepted into the college he had committed to. We didn’t talk during the summer at all and I was concerned about him going to college 16 hours from home but when we finally talked he assured me that he had goals of getting his degree and going to law school and becoming an NCAA champion. I talked to him once more about how easy it will be to become complacent in college while he had no one to push him and that he had a child far away from him that he would miss. He promised that he would do whatever it took to get through college. By this time, however, his promises meant little and I wished him the best knowing that it could turn out bad for him.
During his first year at college I would text or call him to make sure he was doing okay and that wrestling was going well. I would usually get no reply to my messages. His mom called me during the spring that he had flunked out of college after his girlfriend and daughter had moved there and that he was working part-time at Walmart. I’ve kept track of him since he quit school and him and his girlfriend has lost custody of their daughter and is unemployed and homeless. He has no goals in life and has become completely complacent with what he is doing. This wrestler could have been a lawyer or a doctor and an NCAA champion. However, he lost sight of his goals. During his time in high school, he made a choice that girlfriends and skipping school were more important than his future.
When you’re thinking about the goals and dreams that you have to remember that it will take years of work and internal fortitude. Don’t be another cautionary tale and wake up every day working towards your goal.