Lessons From Youth Wrestling

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A couple of days a week I coach some 5th and 6th graders here in Los Angeles, teaching them how to wrestle.  It’s only for an hour, and it’s only on the side, but I have learned so much from the experiences I’ve had in that makeshift wrestling room.  I want to share some of these experiences with you and tell you what I draw from them.  Here is the first thing I’ve learned:

Some people never grow up, they just get better at pretending that they have.

 

It is an absolute joy to be able to bond with these kids, to teach them a new skill, and to watch them grow and learn.  That said, there are definitely some challenges.  Kids are, by definition, immature, and I often have to correct them.  No surprises there.  Yet it still sticks with me when problems arise.

I sat all of the kids down recently and told them about “removing the log from their own eye.”  It had been a big problem of late that whenever I call out a kid for messing off or for disobeying, most of them immediately point a finger at someone next to them.  When I try to talk to them as a group about specific problems, most of them will look indignant, complain about how “everybody” does such and such, and generally, they feel very vindicated.  Every one of them.  Each of the twenty-odd kids thinks that they are the exception to poor behavior.  Really, it’s only two or three of them, and those ones don’t look vindicated or complain when I talk about problems to the group.  I try to tell them to stop worrying about what other people are doing wrong and focus on correcting their own behavior.  We would have smoother practices if everyone did this.

That got me thinking: this is a problem that doesn’t magically end when you can grow some hair on your face.  Even as I write this, I’m extraordinarily tempted to write “I know a lot of people who…”  But then, am I making the same mistake?  In all likelihood, yes, yes I am.  And it takes me having to be the adult to a bunch of kids to realize it.  That said, in that group of rambunctious kids, it’s most everybody, and I think I can say with confidence that some people mature better than others.  Yet for a large part of our population, the exact same problem remains.

“My life isn’t good because of this guy who’s stopping me.”

Are you handcuffed to a desk?  Because if not, get out and change your attitude, then your situation.  Most likely, no one is single-handedly destroying your plans.  Maybe the problem is your strategy.

“__________ is so wealthy.  He must be greedy.  How dare he?”

Forget about him; are you generous with what you have?  Because if you can’t be generous when you only have three dollars to your name, you certainly won’t be generous when you have more.  Also, when did we start associating wealth with wrongdoing? Remove the log from your own eye before you try and remove the speck from your friend’s.

It’s so easy to excuse ourselves and indict others, but that’s not what maturity does.  Maturity first wonders how it can be doing better.

 

Second thing:

It’s really easy to stuff our feelings and act out instead of addressing the real problem.

 

I don’t know that I even have to elaborate on this one.  Children sometimes get angry about something, but they don’t fix the problem.  They just turn into an angry, vindictive, passive-aggressive version of themselves.  Does this happen to us “adults” sometimes?  Yes.  A lot.  Some people (There I go again…) go through their whole lives in this mode, I dare say.  Change is hard, but when an injustice or disappointment happens, maturity says to deal with the root issue and make it right.  And if it can’t be made right, then at least it doesn’t turn into bitterness, causing us to become caustic or guarded.

 

And finally:

The poor decisions of one person affect many.

 

It’s easy to think that when we’re doing something wrong it’s not so bad because we’re only involving ourselves.  Yet this isn’t how it plays out in the wrestling room.  When one kid cheats on a drill, or ignores instruction to mess off, or leaves the mat for whatever reason, this changes the atmosphere of the room and it convinces others that it’s okay for them to cut corners too.  It’s often said that fear is contagious, and then the optimists among us will pipe in and say that courage is also contagious.  I agree with both groups of people, and I add this as a unifying statement:  Attitude, as expressed in behavior, countenance, and intent, is extremely contagious.

What we do very rarely, if ever, affects only ourselves.  I see it every time the kids practice.  They are doing well, then one kid starts messing off and I have to call them back from chaos all of the sudden.  Or the kids are downcast and struggling, but one or two of them get a determined look on their faces and decide to work hard and pay attention- then others join in.

Regardless of your position, you are probably much more influential than you think.

These are my thoughts for the week.  Comment below, and thanks for reading.

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