As the sun is rising on a frigid winter morning, a brave and determined group of athletes are weighing in at a high school gym. They are physically and mentally preparing for a long day spent at a tournament where they will spend only minutes wrestling, despite the hours they sit and wait all day. Their sport uses offense, defense, and mental strength unlike any other sport.
My sons and nephew are wrestlers. They are part of a special team of athletes who work together but compete as individuals.
Their youth team is run by all volunteer coaches with years of wrestling experience who teach valuable lifelong lessons—on and off the mat. The kids are taught conditioning exercises, drills, and offensive or defensive moves and eagerly await the opportunity for live wrestling or playing games. The gym smells like body odor and stinky shoes. The boys giggle when someone unexpectedly farts.
During practice or on the mat at a tournament, I am not in charge. Their coaches are the experts and that is who my sons need to focus on when they wrestle. Being a wrestling mom brings me true joy! One of the first, few, unspoken rules we learned as parents of wrestlers is there is no coddling in wrestling.
The coaches are trying to toughen up the kids, teach them controlled aggression, learn moves to help them get back up quickly, and safely take down their opponent. If my boys get hurt, they have learned they cannot come instantly crying to me for reassurance. They need to be strong and tough. There is no coddling in wrestling.
Wrestlers are a different breed of athletes. They use their physical and mental strength to find confidence and become unstoppable to others, including themselves. They must silence all other distractions and put trust in themselves, one another, and their coaches.
When former wrestlers hear young wrestlers talk about wrestling, there is an instant bond and flashbacks to days spent on the mat. My dad and brother were wrestlers. There is a special connection between wrestlers, past and present. It warms my heart to watch my sons and nephew learn wrestling moves from my dad. Family or friends who are former wrestlers help me determine what my kids need for wrestling and remind me that wrestlers are the best community of athletes to belong to. Wrestlers look out for one another.
My young sons have run up to high school wrestlers with their arms wide open, ready to wrestle. They laugh and smile as they challenge older athletes, bigger athletes, and stronger athletes, gaining confidence in themselves and momentarily forgetting they are a lot smaller or younger.
This is a sport filled with countless lifelong lessons. They learn to help their teammates in practice to prepare to compete alone. They learn that it does not matter what gender you are or how big or small you are, you can still be a great wrestler. They learn respect, discipline, and self-control. They learn to be proud of themselves and their team. They learn it is okay to be strong, tough, fight for what you want, and not give up.
Sometimes my kids win and sometimes they lose. Win or lose, it takes courage to compete in this sport. Each time they wrestle, they win or learn. They are learning to transition from being little boys to becoming young men. They learn lessons in this sport that prepare them for life. They become fighters, not just physically.
As a mother, my heart aches when they compete. I feel like a part of my body is fighting their fight. My heart explodes with their successes. I want to cry at their pains of defeat. It takes self-control not to have my mama bear voice come out at adults or kids who are setting bad examples for these young athletes. I see their little bodies being contorted into positions that look dangerous and painful, yet I am helpless on the side of the mat, unable to protect them or save them. My heart is on the mat.
As I sit on the side of the mat with other parents, I am thankful for this wrestling community. The parents come together wanting their children to be successful yet supportive of their teammates. We cheer for our own kids and for their friends. We learn about our kids, celebrating their victories and helping them when they feel defeated.
As the sun sets, these athletes are finally home after a long day of sweat and sometimes blood or tears. These brave athletes have fought physical and mental fights on the mat. They leave winning or learning.