It’s that time of year again.
The leaves are turning, the temperatures are getting cooler outside, school’s in full swing. Wrestling preseason is upon us! (Ha, you probably thought I was going to say it’s college and pro football season! Nope!)
This is my 11th preseason as a wrestling coach; this is my 7th team I’ve coached over those years. It’s my second year with these kids, which is awesome – they know me better and I know them better. We’ve got over 50 kids out for our high school program, a ridiculous number. And the funny thing we’ve found out as a coaching staff: they love hanging around.
They’ve asked for 6am workouts. They stick around the room for about 30-40 minutes after our Tuesday/Thursday club practices, until we end up kicking them out. Last weekend, we set up for the wrestling tournament we hosted, and they wrestled in it. That Saturday night, it took us about 30 minutes to set up and the kids stuck around playing and talking with each other and the coaches for another 45 minutes after. And after that, they said, “Coach, let’s all get frozen yogurt.” And that’s how I spent my Saturday night with my wife: hanging out with a bunch of my high school wrestlers, eating yogurt and listening to their ridiculous banter.
It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in my years of coaching: 50+ kids, high school boys no less, who all genuinely like hanging out with each other. They’re a pretty diverse group of personalities and backgrounds too. But they like being around each other. And they genuinely treat each other with respect – from youngest to the oldest; the least experienced and ability to the most experienced and best ability. It makes coming into the room a joy each and every time.
We’ve got a lot of newcomers coming into the program; and as I think about this preseason, we as a coaching staff are focused on the usual teaching technique and getting kids prepped for the season ahead. But we’re also focusing on – and to a greater degree – building a culture in our room and program. It’s a culture of community where each kid has something to contribute, to offer. It’s a culture of community where each kid and coach has something to learn from each other, and we have a responsibility to look out for each other.
Last night, I told the kids after our practice: “Here’s what’s awesome: you all coming in here, and not only working hard, but enjoying being around each other. Treating each other with respect. And that’s what will carry us through the season: taking care of each other, looking out for one another, and respecting each other. That’s not normal outside this room; it’s not normal for guys your age. But if you’re focused on treating each person in this room with respect, and looking out for each other….and that means sometimes you gotta push each other – ‘hey, you should come to morning lifting,’ or ‘let’s get another 5 minutes of work in’ or ‘man, let’s get some help in this class’ – you gotta challenge each other because that’s caring about that person and them getting better. Here’s the thing: you look out for each other, and help each other get better, you’ll get better too. And we learn from each other….from the youngest on the team to us coaches. We can all learn something. And honestly, that’s when for us coaches all this is really fun. So keep helping each other out, keep working together.”
Now, how much of that they actually heard, I don’t know. But I think they get it, because I see the signs all the time. When they talk about guys who are on the fringes, they comments are always, “What’s that guy’s deal? He could be so good…..we gotta get him back in the room.” Of course, they worry about their individual goals just like any high school wrestler would, but in the end they do care and look out for each other…and that’s pretty cool.
I think there’s something to take away from the “preseason.” It really sets the whole tone for what you’re team or organization is about. What is the focus? And does what you focus on make a lasting impact on your people? I guess as I think about my wrestlers, I’m more concerned with them learning what it means to be a man and good citizen through the sport of wrestling, rather than just good wrestlers who can produce titles and championships. The latter are fleeting….but the character they develop, the bonds they form – those last a lifetime.