As a distance runner since high school, I am partial to the individual sports where each person competes and whose performance may or may not contribute to a team score like wrestling, cross-country, and swimming. There is a lot to be said for the individual, the work ethics, the drive to face challenges alone, uncelebrated victories, and public defeats. I wanted to cover this topic after a day spent at my sons’ high school wrestling tournament. Both of my boys wrestle. One a freshman. One a senior. Both in their fourth year in the sport.
The senior loves wrestling, breathes the one-on-one nature of the match, the mesh of endurance, strength and technique required on the mat. He has realized what his body can accomplish. His confidence is impressive, his technique equates to an art. The way he can leg ride as wrestler, read his opponent’s position and shifts in body weight, and take control in a fluid manner. There were moments yesterday where he derived such momentous feats of turnover, dominating of the match in an instant and pinning his opponent seconds later. His growth as an athlete inspires. Yesterday he got as many wins as he did his entire first season of the sport. But he has put in the time, the extra practices, the extra runs, the sweat, the losses. Whether or not a win, each match has been a lesson. Some lessons he celebrated, some he took humbly, others upset the balance of his young psyche for an hour or two. He has earned his year of victories and based on yesterday, he will have many wins this season.
The freshmen will learn about defeat this year. Not that he doesn’t have the abilities; he is a natural athlete and a two-time district champion in junior high school wrestling. It’s tough to combat some older wrestlers, both their physical prowess and experience. Those young men with maturity have learned what my freshman has not yet realized. It’s the same lesson my senior embodies. The time, perspiration, and extra miles must be invested. The end game isn’t about a single match.
As a runner at forty-one years of age, I can do what 95% of the population can’t. And to be honest, I love that feeling. I know how to cover the distance, pace myself, and take down opponents. But I was never a speedster. I am not graced with natural athletic abilities. Everything that I am, I built. I logged the hours, the miles, the workouts, pushing my body beyond its comfort zone.
Running teaches self-discipline, perseverance, and pacing not just on the trail but in life. Few successes come quick and easy. Accomplishing goals is about the long game, the determination, the work ethic, driving toward becoming better, whether it is toward a degree, a career, a book or two, or three. It’s not just one mile or two or ten or twenty that will enable betterment. It’s the sequence of workouts, the dedication, returning day after day to the plan. Individuals who can run three, ten, thirty miles without stopping learn how to overcome mental and physical discomfort, the suck of the mundane, to realize they can go places most people can’t. The hardest part about running is putting on your shoes. The hardest part about improvement is the resolve to continue, especially when the improvements are not yet there to celebrate.
Those lessons are not so apparent in team sports like football, basketball, and volleyball. I am sure other lessons are plentiful in those settings, but I am partial to the individual lessons. So often in life, we can rely only on ourselves, our skills, our dedication. Other people will ultimately disappoint.
Back to my freshman with the same years of experience as my senior but who will experience a different season. To be honest, it should be that way. The freshman needs to formulate the understanding himself. He needs to realize that it is his work that will make or break him, both on the mat and in life. He relies on the team setting to push his abilities, his competitive nature to make him run faster, jump higher, lift more when at practice. Unlike the senior, the freshman has not learned or is not yet ready to learn that it is the individual work and dedication that will make him better than 95% of the population. It is the workouts he undergoes when nobody is looking that will accelerate him into a winning year. Sure, he has already celebrated victories this season against younger wrestlers like himself. But it will be bouts against the junior and seniors where he learns how much more he will need to work beyond the scheduled grind. Everything comes easy to my freshman, the academics, athletics, and friends. Once he embodies the lesson about going the extra mile not once but day after day, he will accomplish goals both on the mat and in life.
The challenges, they surround us. We are a complex and splintered society with a constantly shifting paradigm. Navigating the requirements to develop as an individual and succeed in life is difficult. So many rules seem written in a foreign language or not documented at all. It takes dedication to research, comprehend, and then navigate the arena. And the playing field is thick and growing more competitive. With the increasing population, it will be even more challenging for my sons to succeed than it was for the previous generations. They must be a disciple to the lesson plan they formulate for wrestling. To accomplish goals, they must go the extra mile, day after day. To be successful, like the senior’s ability to read and utilize his opponent’s body weight, they should never miss an opportunity to shift a struggle to their advantage. The opportunities are few, the competitors many.