I have been coaching Palmyra Junior Wrestling for 13 years, ten of those as head coach. I do it because I love it, but make no mistake, volunteer or not, it’s a part-time job. Some weeks I put in about 25 hours, and my total time commitment must be over 3,000 hours.
My older Son Wrestled for several years. He was good, and it was a mostly enjoyable run, but it wasn’t the sport for him — I could see it in his eyes — and he decided in middle school to stop wrestling.
My younger son wrestled too. He has a different attitude about almost everything, and this was no different. The losing wasn’t as tragic for him, nor was the winning as significant. He had a good amount of success, and then he’d move smoothly to soccer. So I was a bit surprised when, as he entered sixth grade, he said he didn’t want to wrestle.
I believe thou must not compel kids to participate in youth sports, especially a sport like wrestling, but his decision left me stuck. I had already committed to being head coach again. I couldn’t walk away from some of the kids anyway. But how was I going to venture out of my busy house four or five days a week without a kid in tow? I ended up doing it, and that was a tough family winter.
Seventh grade rolled around, and he said no wrestling again. I tried to cajole him saying things like, “You’re going to win your 100th match in your next season.” Nope. Luckily, we have a strong infrastructure in our club, and coaching-wise, a great guy named Stan Young stepped in as head coach, so I could move into an assistant role without the club missing a beat.
After last year, I figured it was all over, but out of nowhere, this summer, Zachary announced his eighth-grade “comeback.” Now, while this might not have been the equivalent of some Muhammad Ali-esque return, he — and I — felt it was big news. However, I said little.
I just let it sit.
Sure enough, last month he stepped back on the mat. We’re a few weeks in, and instead of being a 13-year-old who is burned out and can’t wait for it to be over, he wants to be there. We don’t have our own at-home wrestling bouts on Practice nights of my prying him out the door, yelling whether he forgot his Gatorade and shoes (sound familiar, folks?). He’s ready to go.
Last week, we attended his brother’s soccer banquet, so we missed a practice. Our friends the Butlers have transformed their basement into a mini wrestling room, and I mildly suggested we go over to make up for the missed practice. After all, we had a big tournament that weekend.
I didn’t have to ask twice. We ended up having a great workout – I say “we” because he’s big enough that I can be his partner for most things now. Several times I asked, “Enough?” “Not yet,” he said repeatedly — he wanted to work on a few other things.
Where will this season end up? Who knows? Wrestling is difficult. His first match back in our tournament was against a state champ. I thought he did fine, even though it didn’t end well.
In the practice room, he’s interested in finding ways to get better. Conversations we have about wrestling have been largely driven by him, not me sitting in the car, beating his ear about a match while he’s thinking, “How do I get my dad to stop talking about this?”
It took a couple years of patience, but we’re now doing what we should be doing: Enjoying the ride together.
When I saw him take the mat Sunday in our Palmyra black singlet, I was proud to see him out there. He was enthusiastic, enjoying the experience.
It’s exactly what it should be.