Last weekend was a powerful reminder of the influence I have on my children. My youngest son had made a goal last year that he wanted to make it to state this year in wrestling. At that time, I told him, “Put the work in during the off season, lifting and conditioning, hitting every single open mat practice, and you’ll get there.”
My son truly did as I said. Last summer, I would look out my windows and often see him lifting weights in our backyard. I even watched him do weird things like carry 40lb weights in each hand and walk the perimeter of our yard.
“What were you doing?” I asked at the time.
“Building my grip strength.”
Determined, that’s what he looked like. He was so excited for this year’s wrestling season to start, but sadly staying healthy ended up being a struggle for him. In four week’s time, he got strep throat three times. Four weeks is a huge chunk of the wrestling season so he ended up not being able to wrestle at his best a lot of the time. He went into divisionals ranked eighteenth out of thirty-two boys in his weight class. The meant he would be seeded randomly, but to get to state he would have to finish in the top eight. But what the boys in that weight class didn’t realize, my son was fully recovered and ready to give it his all.
The random seeing placed him the harder side of the bracket and his first challenger was a state champion senior. He fought hard but ended up caught in the second round so he fell to his first challenger. He shook it off, knowing that his road would be a hard for him. The next two matches he won, staying alive in the cons rounds and still determined to make in the top eight. His final match that night was a brutal one, neither boy wanting to go home early. Sadly, it was finally my son who found himself a few points short and the end of the three rounds. My son would end up being in ninth place, one place shy of going to state. My son shook the boy’s hand and then opposing coach’s hand and left the mat. I had to return to the table I was running so I follow not long after him to go to the other gym. When I turned the corner saw my son in the hall with huge tears running down his face. He cried even harder when he realized it was me who saw him.
“I know I shouldn’t be crying.” His words came out stuttered and hard to understand.
“Honey, you misunderstand me.” I always point out if I see bad sportsmanship on the mats, and pitching any kind of public fit after a loss is a big no-no for me. “I know this mattered to you, and it’s okay to cry here. You did the right thing, you shook that kid’s hand and his coach’s hand. You showed great restraint waiting to deal with your hurt until you got out here. There is a time and place for everything, even crying. And in my opinion you made a choice to do it here.”
“But I worked so hard. Why wasn’t it enough?”
It was valid question. I did tell him if he put the work in during the off season he would accomplish his goal, but life is seldom that simple.
“Because sometimes you can do all the right things for the right reasons and still come up short. I know that sounds super unfair, and maybe it is but that’s how real life sometimes is. It doesn’t mean that the effort you put into reaching your goal wasn’t worth it, it was. You’ve grown a ton as a wrester this year, even gaining twenty pounds of muscle from where you started last year. As long as you don’t give up, then it’s not really over, so pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. But most importantly, your dad and I love you right now.”
To be honest I really wished my son could have felt that gratification of accomplishment after working so hard, it would have been the easier lesson to understand. But if he can find the strength to keep working even after the disappointment of this season, he’ll be an even better all around person in the end.