Wisdom from the Mat: Wrestling Camps

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working at Augsburg College’s wrestling camps. It was a hectic two weeks: up at 7am every morning, and done around 9 or 10pm every night. So today, the first day after camps, I can honestly say I’m exhausted and recovering. But, it was a great two weeks, and I’d like to share with you why:

1. Hanging out with youth and young adults is awesome. I got to coach a high school team who didn’t have their coach with them this week; I got to teach technique to kids 12 and under; I got to spend time with our current Augsburg wrestlers and I got to know the incoming freshman for this fall. Let me tell you this: there is nothing more energizing and life-giving than living life with young people around a shared passion. You learn so much, laugh a lot, and have some pretty meaningful conversations as well. I’ve said it before: wrestling’s one of those sports where life is mirrored pretty accurately – you get to see people’s good and bad sides, you get to see what makes them tick, and what ticks them off; and you say and do things that are just downright ridiculous and funny.

2. Wrestling is the most inclusive, diverse, and fair sport and community I know. Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme, because no community is 100% inclusive and diverse. But bear with me for a second: think about it. This past week, there were kids from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds and contexts, racial ethnicities (at least as much as possible in Minnesota!), physical and psychological abilities, and even gender (yup, had a female camper this past week). It’s a sport in which as long as you both weigh relatively the same, there’s no reason you can’t compete against each other.

And in camp, everyone wrestles. I saw kids who were out for the first time and kids who were multiple state and national champions. I coached a kid with learning and emotional disabilities. Think about it: who can’t wrestle? You can be any body shape or size – you can be blind, deaf, without a hand or limb (or in some cases I know, without any full-sized limbs).

We talk a lot about the need for diversity and inclusivity in this country and in our society as a whole. What bothers me is that we push the one sport that actually exudes and lives it as a part of its culture to the margins. Kids learn this important lesson at wrestling camp, and from the sport: you may not like the kid across from you. You may think they’re weird, strange, or completely backwards. But you have to respect that person for having the courage to step on the same mat with you and face you. You have to respect that that person is just that: a person; someone who has put in the same amount of effort, and is just entitled to the opportunity to win a match as you are. Win or lose….respect is paramount.

3. Honesty is rare, but honesty is always the best bet. Ok, my wife tells me this all the time: wrestlers are strange. We’re a bit to aggressive most of the time, and a bit too outspoken for our own good. When I hang out with wrestlers, I become a bit too abrasive, a bit more aggressive than normal.

But that comes from honesty. I think that mindset comes from the fact that more than any other sport, wrestling demands honesty. You have to be honest with yourself and with others, and where you stand with them. It’s funny, we hardly ever agree. In fact, we often are so stubborn we don’t give into each other. But we’re always honest with each other. And we can laugh about our shortcomings in the patience and temperament department. But I will always appreciate the honesty I know I get from those I know in wrestling – I can ask them for feedback, and I’ll always get a straight answer. I’ll always know where I’ll stand.

4. Life is about living passionately. You might as well do what you love in this life….it’s too short. And, it’s what God intends…at least the way I understand it. As I age (I’m almost 35) I’m starting to realize that my body physically cannot keep up with 18-24 year olds any more. But I never feel more alive than when I’m drilling or wrestling live. It’s not about winning or dominating so much any more; (ok, it is more than I care to admit!) it’s about that rush I get from pushing myself physically and mentally when I know it’s becoming less and less possible as I age. It’s about doing something that makes me feel alive when I do it….and it reminds me that such a mindset should extend into all other aspects of our lives as well. Be fully alive – in our relationships, families, jobs, pursuits, etc.

As I sit here, I wish life were more like my sport: more honest, more passionate, more diverse and inclusive, and just full of life-giving interactions in general.

But then I ask myself: What’s stopping life from being that way? So maybe I’ll take a cue from these past two weeks of wrestling camp, and from the sport I love so much – I’ll bring a little of my wrestling culture to the other aspects of my life…and maybe it’ll be better for it.

And perhaps, with some of these lessons you can do the same…..and I would encourage you to check out this awesome sport that I and many others love so much: wrestling. In fact, a great opportunity is this weekend. The U.S. World Team Trials is going on this weekend. They’re being streamed in the internet – check out FloWrestling.


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Filed under Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

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