Why wrestlers are forever in debt to the sport

“I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck”
- Zeno of Citium (336–221 BC)

The dichotomy between wins and losses are simple: achievement & failure — yet that is the empowering nature of competition, there is much to be achieved through the failures.

I’ve heard many times before that as wrestlers, as competitors, there are only fourteen guys in high school and ten in college that are truly fulfilled at the end of each season. They earned every inch of the tangible reward of a gold medal and the privilege to gracefully cheese for the cameras on top of the podium.

The remaining use the feeling of those unaccomplished goals to keep them moving and fuel their drive to be one of those ten or fourteen guys.

Yet, the individuals who left with gold don’t lose that drive once they’ve manifested their vision. They grow more confident, strive to improve, and work to earn another championship.

However, the gold medal is an unsustainable tangible reward. The fruits that come with it such as media attention, and praise will fade. What each competitor reverts back to subconsciously whether he was the 0–2 wrestler or the champion is the intangible virtues they’ve developed through their journey. Those are sustainable.

The common ingredient which sparked the development of these virtues was the pain that we felt throughout our time as competitiors. That uneasy feeling. It was that pain, it was the enduring of those struggles that developed our minds, our bodies, our characters. The kind of pain that would be worth so much if we bottled it up and sold it.

Those intangibles are what kept us going when we suffered. It was the discipline we developed that kept us moving, not the aspirations to win a gold medal. Sure, we want to be the best. Achievement is important, extremely important, however the gem lies in the will we developed and exhibited as we aimed to build excellence in our lives. Wrestling helped us recognize the depths of human will. It’s a beautiful reality when we realize we can harbor and unleash a tremendous amount of strength by believing we can.

We were never in a fight to win a title or a spot on the podium. We were in a constant fight with ourselves.

We fought with our depleted will after constantly getting taken down in practice. We fought our heavy eyelids when we’re running on little sleep and still prepare ourselves to hone our skills and get the most out of a workout. We fought with our rational mind that told us to quit because it just doesn’t make sense to put ourselves through more wear and tear on our bodies, more weight cutting, more agony.

Through all the pain, we never quite realized how our characters evolved from mustering up the courage to honor our opponent and say “great match” even though you were disheartened about getting beat. You assured you left no stone unturned to beat him, despite your best effort, the sport revealed there was more ardous work left to be done in order to achieve that breakthrough victory. Which in retrospect, were moments we would not trade as the those great moments of self-discovery often revealed themselves in the form of defeat.

As competitors we get upset when we lose because we always focus on what we did not achieve or the trivial accolades we won’t be able to highlight as part of our credentials. We grow more grateful for the sport when we shift our perspective towards all of the internal value that the process brings.

The mindful eating habits we acquired, the ability to get out of our own heads and execute a game plan, the knowledge on nutrition, the unparalleled bonds we built with our teammates as we battled every day — these skills we acquire through wrestling serve as a rite of passage as we transmute that energy into the next walk of our lives.

The training is not just in the physical — The training is in the losses, it is in the adversity we experience, it tests us, hardens us. It’s all training.

The defeat served as a vessel for us to be honest with ourselves, that honesty that creates discomfort, and that makes us check in to see if our actions are aligned with our values.

That disappointment led us to recognize a sacrifice had to be made — It came down to sacrificing who we are for who we want to become.

We realized the behaviors we displayed needed to exemplify those of who we aspired to become. We had to change the beliefs that drove our behaviors. Once we heightened our beliefs, and got to the other side of the struggle, that’s where we met our better selves.

That was when we evolved.

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living — if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
— Denzel Washington

We formed transformative relationships with coaches who enabled us to make smarter choices. We recognized the value our mentors provided every time they pointed out a flaw in our character. Initially, we took it personally rather than accepting it and knowing that he is saying that so we won’t be crippled by entitlement and mediocrity. They helped us realize we foolishly believe that our own limitations are not a proper measure of limitations and that we have much more in us. They did not want us to be victims of self-sabotage and take the easy way out.

They made us believe in ourselves because when they commended us; we knew it wasnt a fallacy as when they told us we were good at something, it held weight because their statement is rooted in years of knowledge and experience. They know what they saw. We saw they were accomplished men because they could be loving husbands, fathers, and mentors.

“Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”
— C.S. Lewis

Let the sport make you feel the pain, that pain is a feeling that you will crave and cherish when you are at a period of non-growth because the pain and struggle is what proved you can be resilient and persevere. The virtues that we can take with us, the virtues that will allow us to check in with ourselves when we are not aligned with our core values as people. The honesty of the sport will allow us to be honest with ourselves and become the best version of ourselves.

What we learned on the mat is a prerequisite to aid in us dealing with the bigger issues in life.

Wrestling has blessed us with abundance.