Wrestling - The Parents Worst Fear

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The average parent might be a little worried when her son says he wants to join the wrestling team. Wrestling is not what one would call the average contact sport. A wrestling match is a test of strength, speed, agility, endurance and above all, the ability to combine these things. Getting hurt is not difficult if the wrestlers do not know what they are doing. While gaining strength, speed, agility and the ability to endure intense exertion of energy for up to seven and a half minutes without stopping is no walk in the park, it is not the hardest part of being a member of a good wrestling team. Achieving family status with perfect strangers is often times the most difficult part of achieving a strong, functional, winning team. Wrestlers compete individually to earn points for their team and it hurts the team when a wrestler forgets that his victory is the team’s victory just as his loss is the team’s loss. As for any sort of team, a wrestling team is only as strong as its weakest link.

The first year I managed the wrestling team at Amherst Regional High School, I felt I could practically play two-square on the line between upperclassmen and underclassmen. The Captain rarely spoke to anyone outside of a match or practice, not even on the bus on the way to a match. The other senior on the team hated every last one of his teammates and let them know. He was a good wrestler, but when it came to helping anyone else, he thought it was a waste of time. He put a damper on the overall attitude of the team, which was never in high spirits anyway because we had to forfeit at least three weight classes (18 points) every match. We had a bunch of guys who liked to throw each other around with some skill, but most of them being underclassmen had limited skill. I would not have even called them a team that year. They had barely achieved tolerance of one another.

As our parents tell us more frequently than we care to hear it, we must learn from our mistakes. The next year the boys tore down the shack they had built themselves into and proceeded to start on the foundation of the powerhouse they are now. Everything starts with the foundation. If there is not a good foundation, the house will crumble as if through a sinkhole. In the past four years, the record for the ARHS wrestling team has ebbed and flowed. They have gone from not even winning half of their matches to a 16- (15- not counting non-division teams) record.

A tricky part of being team captain and maintaining such a strong foundation is making sure the new comers feel welcome and are brought up to speed quickly. Sometimes freshman come up through the middle school program knowing the basic skills and catch on fairly quickly. Others come in not knowing what they are getting themselves in to. They come in with enthusiasm and ambition but with little or no experience. For either type becoming a member of the ARHS wrestling team is not an easy process. The first week of practice is hard for everyone, but especially new wrestlers. They know if they want a varsity spot for the first match, they have to work extremely hard. Before the first match, each wrestler is weighed. If there is more than one wrestler in a weight class, they will have a wrestle-off, where two people wrestle and whoever wins gets the varsity spot.


Watching the ARHS wrestling team communicate now is much like watching a pride of lions on the Discovery Channel. They are very playful with each other and they take very good care of each other. The littlest one who weighs only 10 pounds will run up and attack the biggest one who is twice his size and then some. The bigger one will accept the challenge but he is very aware of the little one’s limits. On bus rides and at daylong tournaments they laugh and joke at one another’s expense. Sometimes they pool their pocket change together and pay each other to do rather idiotic things. After the Western Mass. Tournament one year when we went to a Chinese buffet, they paid a sophomore six dollars to drink whatever they put into his glass. How he kept it all down I shall never know.

Among all the difficult tasks one has to perform when on a wrestling, maintaining his weight is probably one of the hardest. Wrestling season starts they day the students get back from Thanksgiving break. This means that the wrestlers should not stuff themselves at their holiday feasts because that would only make the first practice harder and get them farther away from their target weight (unless their target weight is more than they already weigh). Fortunately, the wrestling team is like Jenny Craig. One watches what he eats and exercises with a group. In a day, a wrestler might eat a piece of fruit for breakfast, skip lunch or have a few crackers and a bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde, and maybe have a bagel, a salad, or a Powerbar for dinner. If he is under weight, then he can have a sandwich or something that resembles an actual meal for a teenaged boy.

To keep their minds off of food and focused on wrestling, they often talk to each other wrestlers from other teams. They talk right through a match from handshake to handshake. If there is a flaw in the opponent’s stance, technique or overall match, it gets picked up on very quickly. Such analyses are critical at tournaments by the captains. There are only two coaches so they rely on the captains and more experienced wrestlers to show other wrestlers flaws as well as signature moves and tough holds to get out of in their opponents and show them either how to use their opponents’ mistakes against them or to defend against tight holds. Not only do they analyze other wrestlers but they analyze each other at the same time and give each other feedback. All of this is imperative to the structure of the wrestling powerhouse.

Knowing that the powerhouse is strong yet delicate is also critical in maintaining it. Not liking a teammate is no reason not to help him with his match or treat him differently inside the wrestling atmosphere. He is an important part of the team just as any other. Although he may not join in the bus laughter, he should not be made the butt of every joke. He contributes to his team in the ways that are most important.

Joining any wrestling team one has to be aware of some temporary sacrifices such as solid meals, free time and sleeping late on Saturday mornings. All of that is worthwhile when he is standing on the first place block at the Western Mass. Tournament being handed the first place trophy, medal and the poster sized bracket of his weight class.

Being the manager of the team and working so closely with the team without actually being on it, I have had the privilege of seeing what spectators and perhaps the wrestlers themselves have not seen the whole building process. I know my peers come to a match and see a bunch of boys in spandex rolling around on a mat looking like they are inflicting unbelievable amounts pain on each other. Parents come and support their babies. Mothers are particularly funny because they yell out things that have absolutely nothing to do with the sport and then cringe every two seconds because something looks bad even if it is not. The wrestlers see their teammate doing what he’s just been taught in practice growing stronger with every victory. I see something that is probably similar to what the coaches see. I see this powerhouse soaring up into a skyscraper. I see something on the mat that is more than just the result of hard practices and the desire to win. I see a group of boys who have come to know that winning is far from everything in an individual sport. Learning together is everything and together is how to win.

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