It was alumni night. It had been twelve years since I graced the mat at Apple Valley high school. I was excited to reconnect with some old teammates; and when I saw Phil walk through the doors, I was particularly excited. He was a late comer to the team, moving from small town Minnesota to the wrestling powerhouse of Apple Valley as a senior. Phil had a hard time with the transition, in that he had essentially left all he knew behind. I think it’s safe to say that he dealt with at least a small form of depression throughout the wrestling season. Nevertheless, I was captain of the team as a senior, and made it a point to try and make him feel at home. I took him under my wing, introduced him to people, and tried to make him feel as included on the team (and at the school) as possible.
As Phil and I talked, we reminisced about this particular time in his life. “I was sad, man,” He said. “That was a really hard time for me. I just didn’t like wrestling anymore. I had a bad attitude about it. And you know what bothers me looking back? My attitude kept me from putting forth my best. I was the best wrestler in my weight class that year. But I just didn’t care. My heart wasn’t in it.” Phil took third in the state his senior year, losing a close match in the semifinals. I remembered our interaction and his obvious lack of passion throughout the season twelve years ago. Honestly, I can understand why he struggled. The familiar comforts of his life were removed and he was put in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation. But despite obvious sympathy and understanding from anybody regarding his difficulties, Phil was disappointed that he allowed the situation to impact his attitude and wrestling career.
What’s interesting is that I was dealing with a similar issue. I merely approached it differently. I began to lose my passion for the sport early on in high school, but more so due to the fact that I struggled to make my way back to the top of the podium after a state championship finish as a freshman. I viewed wrestling as a measuring stick of self-worth, and with no repeat state championships to my name as a sophomore and junior, I wasn’t getting much out of it. My attitude toward the sport was negative. My mindset (at the time) was to make sure I won a state championship as a senior, and after extracting whatever feelings of self-worth I could garner from the accomplishment, move on and wrestle in college. What’s more is that I didn’t care much about what I could do at the college level or how I could grow in the sport. I only cared about surviving the wrestling seasons and acquiring a college degree in the process. My hatred for the sport was developing rapidly, and it was no surprise that, after injuries and a lack of success on the mat, I quit after just my first year in college. In short, my attitude toward wrestling eventually stifled any life I had left in it.
That very same night (alumni night), and prior to my conversation with Phil, I realized something remarkable as I watched my one year old son crawl up the stairs leading to the Apple Valley wrestling room. On these stairs is marked the word “attitude”. For three years (I moved to Apple Valley as a sophomore) I walked up these stairs and saw this word. And yet, it meant nothing to me at the time. It simply amazes me that the very issue I was dealing with throughout the latter half of my wrestling career was plastered on the stairs I walked up and down every practice.
Attitude. It truly is a game changer. Simply put, if we don’t have the right attitude in our approach to wrestling, we will undoubtedly experience the sport as a burden as opposed to the positive resource that it is. A negative attitude also impacts our effort – both in periods of training as well as competition. In other words, it’s much more difficult to put forth our best in something if we obtain a negative attitude towards it.
There’s no disagreement in the belief that wrestling is probably the most physically and emotionally demanding sport on the planet. But be that as it may, it’s important that wrestlers view the sport positively. And a positive attitude is the most important element to this.
My friend Phil is now a high school wrestling coach. And you know what bothers him the most about some of the wrestlers he coaches? You guessed it…their attitude. Phil loves the sport now and wants to do everything he can to deliver a positive influence on the lives of his wresters. And for him, it starts with helping them to change their attitude toward the sport. Because with a changed attitude might come better efforts and better results.