Failing sucks, but it’s better than the alternative, which is not trying.
Sarah Dessen, Author
This time of the year, the Books household is consumed with all things wrestling. From early November to about mid-March, Saturdays are spent at day-long high school tournaments watching our son go up against other grapplers looking to quench the thirst for independent victory and to celebrate the joy of team glory.
About 6 years ago, my son, Brandon, surprised us by coming home from school and announcing that he wanted to join his junior high school wrestling team. My wife and I were understandably concerned at the time about this revelation (learn more about that story here), but we supported his decision and are happy with the direction his journey has taken to date. It’s been a positive step towards his development onto whatever path he decides to travel once he clears high school.
Five years have passed so far with one year to go. We’ve found the sport to be exciting and invigorating as well as sometimes nerve-wracking. We’re active supporters of his school wrestling program as well as the coaches that develop the players. We’ve met many great people and made new friendships with other wrestling parents who share the same enthusiasm we do about all our children’s successes. Conversely, we commiserate with each other when there are shortcomings. Expectations are high in this sport, most often self-imposed by the mat-men themselves. That’s where it gets tricky.
As a parent, there is no greater pain felt than the one inflicted on your child, physical or mental. Any loving father or mother would gladly trade places or willingly sacrifice an appendage just to ease the agony felt by their son or daughter in just about any situation. It is indeed all part of the maturing process to accept our failures and challenges in life, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it any easier to take when you’re watching it all go down from the sidelines of your child’s life.
Last week, I was at one of several sectional tournaments being held in our area. Each weight class sends the top 2 wrestlers to the next level of competition. That’s the culmination and holy grail of high school wrestling – the state tournament. Wrestlers fight tooth and nail to get to this point in what is the completion of a long, tough season. Brandon was not competing (next year, buddy!), but 6 of his teammates were all fighting for a chance to advance. They’re not the only ones, of course. 8 schools are in the middle of the scrum all trying to get to the same place, where only the top 25% can go to face off against winners from other schools. Doing the math, that means for each person who goes, three don’t make it. Their road ends just short of the goal.
Where there is outright jubilation in the victory of advancement, there is also incredible sadness in season-ending defeat. Sometimes, all the preparation in the world can’t get you into the winner’s bracket. That’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone on either end of the age spectrum. Sometimes the frustration gets the best of you, and emotions spill over like a bucket overflowing with water.
As the tournament was coming to an end, I elected to stretch my legs in attempt to stave off an impending attack of high school bleacher-butt. As I passed through the lobby of the gymnasium, I couldn’t help but notice a wrestler who had obviously just suffered a crushing defeat and was now at the end of his wrestling journey for the year…quite possibly his high school career. Inconsolable and in the arms of his coach, he was sobbing. Searching for reasons and out of breath from crying, all he could say in between gasps for air was “Why coach? Why?” The coach, on any other day an imposing hulk of a man whom I would steer clear of in a dark alley, was also fighting back tears. All he could do was softly acknowledge his student’s grief while holding him in a supportive embrace. I would have bet all the money in my pockets right then and there he didn’t know what else to say.
You did all you could do. You gave it your best. That’s all anyone can ask for.
That was a tough moment to witness. It wasn’t even my child, but my heart went out to both of them because I’ve been there.
Conventional wisdom says there are two things in life that are certain – death and taxes. I’ll add a third: failure will happen in your lifetime and occur more than once. What’s important is how you use that experience to make your self better the next time around. That ‘s a message likely lost on people who are most interested in blaming circumstance versus overcoming adversity.
Quite frankly, it’s not an easy lesson to learn for a teen-aged boy, especially on the mat, in the middle of the gymnasium, in front of hundreds of spectators who are cheering you on to victory. However, part of the beauty of wrestling…and in just about any team sport….is learning how to deal with the highs and lows of life.
Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes, you’re the bug.