Let me admit from the outset that I come from a broken family. Domestic turmoil and subsequent divorce put to wraps my family situation as a young man. So even as I write this, I am not writing as one who necessarily continues to reap the benefits of the quality family experience I gained throughout my wrestling journey. But despite the eventual downfall of my family, to this day the many wrestling trips across the country, and competing, remain cherished memories of mine. These times in my life were valuable. And their value continues to increase as I move forward in life and think back on them.
There are a few things I want to express in this piece, and one of them is that families should take full advantage of their time together at tournaments. This is particularly related to youth wrestling, when the season involves much more of a family dynamic. As it pertains to my own family, all the dysfunction seemed to be set aside when we were engaged in traveling and competing. I think a part of this had to do with the fact that the wrestling experience was a communal thing for us. My brothers and I were the only ones actually competing, but my parents were so invested in our success as wrestlers that it was as if they were competing on some level as well. Related to this, my family took on the whole wrestling experience by being a part of a singular mission. In other words, despite the individualistic quality of the sport, each and every one of us had one mission in mind, which was to win tournaments. However, success was defined by the whole family. This means that my brothers and I were not just concerned about our own success, for example, we also took a vested interest in one another’s success. So unless all of us succeeded in our individual endeavors on the mat, the mission was not a successful one. We of course celebrated the victories and accomplishments if only one or two of us garnered them; but, at the same time, we felt the weight of one another’s losses. I hurt for my brothers when they lost, and they in turn hurt for me when I lost. The mission just didn’t feel complete without the equaled success of my brothers.
I also want to suggest that having a parent as a coach can be a wonderfully fulfilling thing. I have read some articles of recent which encourage parents to steer clear of coaching their kid as it may deliver negative affects. It’s suggested that the athlete might be more focused on pleasing their parent and winning for them as opposed to putting forth their best effort, taking some risks and growing in the sport. It’s also suggested that the parent in the coaching role will most likely have higher expectations for their kid compared to that of a different coach. While this is probably true, I think there are ways around this; and it involves intentional effort on the part of the parent to acquire proper perspective about the sport and communicate effectively to their kid that wrestling success is not tantamount to an increase in love and satisfaction. In other words, the kid needs to know and believe that their parent loves them and is proud of them no matter the results of a wrestling match. Personally, I loved having my father as my wrestling coach throughout my youth wrestling career. My father had (and has) his issues; but despite his future personal failings as a husband and father, he was typically good at communicating his love and care for me regardless of whether or not I stepped off the mat with a victory or a loss. Before every match in which I was competing for a state or national championship, my dad would pick me up in his arms and whisper in my ear, “Give it everything you got. Win or lose, I still love you.” I can’t begin to tell you how important this was for me in calming my nerves and helping put aside any belief that wrestling success breeds more love from my coach…my dad. As a result, any difficulties I confronted in putting forth my best effort and winning wrestling matches were aligned with other things, and had nothing to do with my father serving as my coach.
Apart from actually competing, the family time in traveling is invaluable in terms of fun. Not all families travel across the country to compete, but the time traveling (short or long) is relevant. Some of the most joy and laughter I have ever experienced as a kid (with my family) was on the road, or on a plane, heading to a wrestling tournament. There still remain inside jokes to this day dating back to our wrestling travels. I mentioned in the beginning of this piece that I don’t reap the benefits of the quality time traveling to tournaments with my family and competing, but I might be wrong in this. Because even though my parents are no longer together, and I don’t have much of a relationship with my father, I believe that the closeness my brothers and I now share is a reflection of this time in our lives. We didn’t always get along. Just like other siblings, we had our fair share of fights and bickering. But our love for one another after all these years is strong. And if you think I’m giving too much credit to this specific time in our lives, just ask my brothers what they think. We still talk about the wrestling travels and experience in our youth as if they were yesterday. And we talk about them with a tone of joy and significance.
Finally, try to soak in the moments. The years pass quickly, and the moments fade along with them. These are important family times and can have an impact on your kid(s)’ future wrestling career. Chances are you will all remember these times in positive light for the rest of your lives. And this includes the heartbreaks as well as the victories. Both are a part of the overall experience. I’m thirty years old, and I still remember my youth wrestling days and hold them in high regard. There’s something special about the sport of wrestling and the family dynamic so transparent in the youth stage of things. Perhaps this is a part of why the wrestling community is such a tight knit group. I’m unsure if I will have the opportunity to re-experience all of this as a father and coach to my son. Ultimately, it will be his choice whether or not the sport is a good fit. But if he does choose to give it a shot, rest assured I will make the most of our time together engaged in the world’s oldest and greatest sport.