I suspected we were fast coming to the end of wrestling season.
My nine-year-old Tyler and I were at the district tournament, which is the end of the line, unless you place first or second (thus being propelled on to the regional tournament). Tyler had lost his first match by two points and — since there were only three kids in his weight class of 85 pounds — if he didn’t win his second match, it would be all over.
Unfortunately, that one went worse than the first. He was clearly overmatched, got manhandled pretty well, and ultimately was pinned in the third period. His season was over, and so I watched him closely for any signs of distress. Luckily, what I saw was the same stone-faced kid I’d seen all season after his matches — win or lose — shake the other wrestler’s hand, walk over and shake the opposing coach’s hand (which is customary) and then come back to talk with his coach.
Now, to those unfamiliar with wrestling, this may sound like an uninteresting anecdote, but to others who’ve been in these particular trenches, it’s definitely worth taking note. That’s because kids are emotional, and wrestling is a very emotional sport — you’re out there in front of a hundred or more screaming people (some strongly urging your physical decimation), while another kid tries his best to contort your body in ways you do not wish it to go. For these reasons, I have seen many youngsters burst out in tears during matches, freak out after them, and generally go on temper tantrums which include slamming their fists on the mat, throwing their headgear down, and even verbally accosting the referee for some perceived injustice.
So when my son lost his final two matches of the year and merely did what he was supposed to do, I thought it worthy of taking him aside.
“Hey buddy, you did a great job. You fought really hard,” I said, to which he gave me a post-match deer-in-the-headlights look.
“But do you know what I’m most proud of you for?” I asked.
“It’s the way you act when you lose. I see so many of these kids act really badly. They throw tantrums and totally embarrass themselves, their parents, and their teams. You just do what you have to do and get off the mat. I am so proud of that,” I said.
It’s quite true. I am very pleased with the track my son is on when it comes to knowing how to lose, and that’s because I think it’s a very important skill. Interestingly, it is just as important as knowing how to win. I have always taught him, for example, to hand the football to the referee if he’s ever lucky enough to score a touchdown. I think I’d be horrified if he did any kind of touchdown dance, because I find the practice of celebrating in such circumstances abhorrent. I have a suspicion that the kids throwing their headgear are the same ones choreographing their celebration moves.
I like the fact that he loses well, because I believe one of the most important criteria for success is the ability to, as quickly as possible, move from defeat back to effort. Namely, after getting knocked down, how quickly can you get back up? This is not an abstract or inconsequential concept. We all get thrown for a loop, but I will do better than you, I will go farther and achieve more, if I can get back up and moving within, for example, 2 hours versus your 2 days — just think of the head start.
So I will keep urging him to greater effort, to more focused practices and to mentally connecting that effort with outcomes (more wins), but I will also continue to teach that his conduct be the same of poise and composure win or lose, so that he can be all the more prepared for the next contest.