It’s been a while but if I’m honest the season has been a grind and I haven’t really felt like writing, working, doing the dishes, making my bed, taking the car to have the oil changed or much of anything other than eat and sleep. Not to sound like a little wimp but I’ve struggled the last two seasons with cold and flu viruses that last about a month during the middle of wrestling season. I’ve become a proponent of the fist bump rather than the handshake because of my ills. As a note; the older we get the more we talk about our physical ailments. There will come a time when conversations are dominated by blood pressure, back pain, joint replacements and just general malaise. But not today.
Yesterday, the Lake Stevens Wrestling Program reinstated our annual invitational tournament appropriately named the Viking Invite. Simple, direct and economical. There were no team awards, although I’m considering sending the head coach of the winning team, Mt. Spokane High School, a gift certificate so he can take his wife out to a nice dinner which beats the hell out of ridiculous bowling trophy. The individual champions received a custom belt buckle and the runner-up got a t-shirt. Perfect.
On the surface my initial reaction to my team’s performance would be one of complete and utter dissatisfaction. We placed in the lower half of the fourteen-team event taking an eighth overall. We had one champion and another runner-up. When I was younger, I would gage almost every competition by wins and losses which could make Sunday mornings incredibly dour. Today, I rolled out of bed around 7 am, made some coffee, homemade scones, a frittata and read thirty pages of a new book totally enjoying the gorgeous view of the mountains and warm fireplace. I was even motivated enough to write a blog post for the first time in a long time. Part of it is I’m finally getting over the sickness that’s plagued me and I also feel great about what an awesome tournament our people put on yesterday. Beyond that there’s a lot to be positive about within our wrestling program and I remind myself I get to coach a great group of young people that I get share a special journey with. It is inevitable when you’ve had a lot of success for people to look at the scoreboard and ask, “What happened to Lake Stevens they’ve really fallen off?” I would agree that we would like to be higher in the standings and being a competitive person, I am searching for ways to get better and climb to the top, but it does no good to sit around and mope on a Sunday morning about it. Maybe, as I’ve gotten older I in turn have become a little wiser. I do take solace that our team will be better in the end than at the beginning and we are heading in the right direction. More importantly our athletes are having a phenomenal life changing journey that will mold them for a life time. Wrestling is special that way and I really don’t know of another sport where the potential for human growth is more evident. What most people don’t realize about a seasoned professional coach is for us in the fight we don’t generally get crushed by actual wins and losses on the scoreboard. It is the personal and human defeats that take its toll.
In a month or year, I will forget what place our team took in the 2019 Viking Invite but what I will not forget are the kids that I may have failed or in some way they failed themselves or the program. A coach yesterday said to me, “What’s so tough is when I have way more passion and commitment than the kids I’m coaching.” It’s true in a perfect athletic world the athletes would be just as motivated as the coaches and each entity would push each other to new heights. On great teams this happens at a higher level than not so great teams. This is not a perfect world and it is not our job as high school coaches to just focus on those that have the same passion as we do. I realize as a former college wrestler and someone who chose to make coaching wrestling my career that I inherently have more passion than most for the sport. There are times where I must remind myself that in the big scheme of things this is an interscholastic extra-curricular activity and extension of the school day. Our job as coaches is ultimately to teach life lessons through sport and winning championships is an ancillary amenity. Now, let’s not kid ourselves we all like to win and more importantly we like to work with those that are willing to lock arms and march into battle together. Coaches are only human, and they are lifted to greater heights by those athletes that want a little more, work a little harder and are willing to sacrifice at a high level. Kicking a mule in the ass is not only redundant but, in the end, will only make your leg tired.
What hurts most, leads to burn out, makes coaches bitter and dispassionate is not losing matches or tournaments but investing a bunch of time into athletes that quit before the journey’s end or give up the fight in the heat of the battle. Wrestling is unique because it doesn’t get easier as you get better and or older. Naturally, expectations rise, competition becomes more rigorous, the commitment level to achieve greatness increases and the personal and emotional tole can and most likely will be more significant. That’s both the beauty and the hardship of the sport. From afar we see a kid winning a fourth high school state championship and we tend to think that at some point it became easy. What we don’t realize is the amount of pressure and emotional calisthenics that person will endure to earn those titles. It doesn’t get easier and there are those who opt out before it’s done. Coaches, I being one, have a tendency to feel like we wasted a bunch of time because the kid quit before his/her senior season ends or they stop progressing, sacrificing or being committed like we know they should to reach a certain goal. Many times, that goal is something as coaches we have created for the athlete. We look at them and we see all this potential and through motivation and hard work we believe they can achieve these lofty heights. Our ego’s as coaches play a roll in this too. We think we can change kids, make them see the light, provide them with our awesome technique and training and they too will become champions just like the others we have molded. In the end though it truly falls on the shoulder of the athlete. They must own their sport and goals. I’m not saying we stop motivating or getting kids to strive for greatness but it’s also good to see the big picture.
After the tournament yesterday, I had a heart to heart with one of my senior athletes. He is a hardworking, dedicated young man that is a solid student and even more solid person. We are both searching to make this season good for him. His senior year admittedly hasn’t gone the way he has wanted. I waited until yesterday to have this conversation and as I was talking, I started to tear up a bit and get emotional. He was totally aware of my state as I was of his. We share a connection that only comes through the toil of a four-year career in a hard and demanding activity. At times he has not been as passionate about the sport as me but why would he be? He’s going to be an engineer or history professor when he grows up not a wrestling coach. There is a part of me that feels like I didn’t do enough, or I could have done better for this young man. There are also times when I’ve felt he short changed himself and he could have done more of what we’ve asked of him. That’s the paradox of coaching and being an athlete. Really it is probably the way it should be because it’s never a perfect world and it’s hard and that’s what is awesome about it. He and I still have time to achieve goals. Some are his and some are mine. I will continue to dream of great things for the completion of his career and I hope he does the same thing. Regardless of the outcome he will finish this journey, battled with his own state of being and the ongoing emotional tug of war the sport puts us through. He, or more apt we, will not disappoint because we are going to complete the journey.