Roadblocks

FEMA_-_40322_-_Road_Closed_signHigh school wrestling season is almost over in Indiana. We’re in the regional week of the state tournament, and that means that anyone who didn’t advance past sectionals is done. Boys not moving on don’t have a lot of motivation to continue practicing with the team.

An injury, rehab, and some extenuating circumstances have kept my son on the bench for the latter half of the season, so he is not one of the boys still wrestling. Of course, he’s disappointed (read: heartbroken), and initially I found myself concerned about his commitment to the sport.

Silly momma shouldn’t have worried.

When I asked Wrestler Boy whether he planned to continue to go to practice (a lot of guys beg off when their season is done–not cool, but it happens), his answer stopped me in my tracks.

I have to, Mom. The guys need me.

Not completely getting it, I probed further. What do you mean they need you? To cheer them on, you mean?

Mom, they need me on the mat. If no one shows up to practice, they won’t have anyone to wrestle so they can keep getting better for state.

What a selfless response.

All season, that kid wanted nothing less than to advance to the state tournament. When he found out he couldn’t, he was crushed. I even thought he might want to quit.

I forgot that he wrestles because he loves the sport. I forgot that he wants to keep getting better. I forgot how important it is to him to see his friends succeed. I forgot that he’s resilient.

Not only did he prove me wrong, but he also taught me a lesson: the world is bigger than me. When my own path to success meets a roadblock, I can still help others find their way.

And the next time I hit the road, I’ll be that much better for it.

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Varsity blues

Varsity_LetterBefore I start with the “real” content of this post, I want to say that I am unbelievably proud of my son, who earned his varsity letter for wrestling this year–as a freshman. He worked really, really hard and took at least his fair share of bumps and bruises–to his body and his ego.

Now, onward.

Talking to my son’s wrestling coach the other day, I asked him his thoughts about the program. As much as he appreciated how hard those boys worked, he lamented the team’s lack of depth. Although there are 14 varsity weight classes, they could only fill 12 of them this season, and several of those spots only had one guy. That is, the guy who got the varsity spot took it by default; he didn’t have to wrestle off or prove he was better than anyone else.

Where I come from, said the coach, freshmen and sophomores wouldn’t even be sniffing at the varsity line-up. When I pushed for clarification, he went on to say that underclassmen would be working hard and paying their dues, getting better and stronger in the hope that they would be good enough to earn a varsity spot as a junior or senior.

Of course, as the mom of a freshman who had wrestled varsity almost all season, my initial (internal) reaction was to go all mama-bear and protect my son’s accomplishments. The more I thought about it, though, the more I respected the coach’s position.

After all, if no one is challenging those boys for their spots–if they don’t have to worry about others rising through the ranks and threatening their hold on them–what’s their incentive to get better? They’re already “good enough,” right?

I thought back to some of the opposing teams our kids had faced this year, and the toughest ones always had huge programs. In fact, one team we wrestled even had an A-team and a B-team–both considered varsity–with an even larger number of JV guys hungering for their spots. No wonder they were so good–they just naturally pushed each other upward and onward.

I’m not saying our kids didn’t work hard. Oh, they did–they really did–and I’m proud of them all. But I also know that things look different when you can see the forest beyond the trees, and for our guys, that forest was a long way off. No wonder the coach thinks that the secret to the success of the program is to get more kids interested and participating.

Some people have an incredible internal drive and push themselves to improve no matter what. Even those people, however, need to see where the bar sits. That’s why when I was running in a lot of races, I not only looked at my time and strove to improve it, but I also looked at the winners’ times to see where I needed to go.

Competition can be healthy for all of us. It helps us get better individually and as a team. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser, either. After all, I might never make varsity but end up vastly better than where I started. Or I might lose my varsity spot to someone who has surpassed my ability–and I have to step it up to get it back.

Sure, there’s unhealthy competition, too. But when I look at this kind of situation, how does it make me a loser if I end up better than where I started? I shouldn’t be afraid of more people on “my” turf; I should use them to spur me on. The more the merrier.

More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Camp notes

jrobA little more than a week ago, I delivered my son to wrestling camp three states away. For a month. I know it sounds crazy, but unlike many moms, the idea of separating myself from my firstborn for a month never gave me pause, even for a second. Truthfully, I was just as excited about it as he was.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not looking to get rid of him. He’s actually a pretty cool kid–the kind I’d like to spend more time with, not less. But I digress.

This camp is pretty hard core. When my son didn’t check in with me as promptly as I thought he should have the first couple of days, I poked him a little via text message. His response? Sorry, Mom. I’ve been sleeping every possible chance. They work the kids hard. They teach them the real meaning of hard work, dedication to a cause. Alongside the intense physical sessions (running/lifting twice a day, four times a day on the mat), they also provide classroom instruction on topics ranging from goal setting to time management to handling money. And they expect the kids to learn life skills along the way by having to take care of themselves for a month sans parents. In fact, as my son and I approached the registration table, the parents were told we had to step aside. For the duration of the camp, the kids have to be responsible for themselves and their actions. *gulp*

So what’s my point?

Something the camp founder said during the incoming parent meeting really stuck with me and really explains everything. In a hoarse voice, he boiled 36 years of camp experience into this:

Everyone has a PowerPoint these days, but you don’t get tough sitting in a room talking about getting tough. To get hard, you have to live hard.

And that’s it. If you want to become something, you have to live it. You can talk about it and plan it all you want. You can learn the technique and study the experts, but you’ll never, ever master it until you do it yourself.

Forget the wrestling part. I’m excited to see the character changes in my son when he returns from camp. I expect to see a more confident, more capable, more wizened young man when he returns. I’m already seeing it in his communication with me after a week; how will he look after another three?

You don’t change by talking about something. To get hard, you have to live hard.

Your first day

wrestling meet2I called home from a business trip to check in with my kids. It was the day my son had intra-squad matches, wrestle-offs, to determine who would claim the varsity positions on his team. The conversation went like this:

Me: How’d it go?

Favorite son: Mom, you missed it. Today was the first day of my undefeated season.

Not only did I love the clever way my son had told me he had secured his varsity spot, but I REALLY loved his attitude. He wasn’t being cocky or arrogant; he was telling me that he had marked the first day of working toward his goal–and his first success in that measure.

If we don’t go in expecting to win, our chances of actually doing it plummet. We don’t often win by accident. We win when we identify a goal and work hard to get there.

Will he have an undefeated season? I can’t tell you that, but I do know this. If he loses a match, the next win that follows will be the start of his undefeated rest of the season.

Today’s your first day. Believe it.

Sleep well

I picked up my son this weekend at wrestling camp, where I found him exhausted but content. At 13, he’s already a pro at independent living, so I didn’t worry too much when the only communication I received from him–with prompting on my end, of course–consisted of two text messages. The first read, “Doing fine, but I have to put my phone away. Love ya.” He followed the next day with, “It’s cool. Tough, but I like it.” Maybe it wasn’t as prolific as I would have liked, but I knew he was okay.

Since he wasn’t talking, I had to rely on the camp brochure to know what he was doing. The camp featured a tough schedule of extended workouts and practices, commencing at 6am and shutting down for the night with lights out at 10:30pm. Even the limited free time revolved around sportsmanship, when the kids could play basketball or watch inspirational sports movies. The discipline of it all sounded perfect for a 13-year-old boy looking to train hard.

Only one thing made me shudder: the sleeping arrangements. Because the camp took place at a high school, the luxury of dorm rooms and beds didn’t exist. Instead, all the campers–104, to be exact–brought sleeping bags and pillows and sprawled en masse on the wrestling mats in the gym each night. Miserable, thinks my spoiled self.

Naturally, when I arrived to take him home, I asked Jake if he had minded sleeping with the others in an open gym. I wanted to know if he had been able to get much rest. Yeah, he said, it was fine. That surprised me, until he added, One kid got up and wandered around a lot. He must not have been working very hard during the day, because I don’t know how anyone could have trouble sleeping if he had really been working. I was so tired that I fell asleep every night before they turned off the lights.

What my son threw out as an offhanded statement made an impact on me. I hope that someday he realizes the true profundity of his words. There are many reasons a person might not sleep well, but a full day of going all-out isn’t one of them.

Work hard or play hard, but give it your all. You’ll sleep better.

So sue me

About a month ago, I took my he-man wrestler son to the emergency room for only the second time ever. He had bent his elbow at an odd angle in practice, and though I was fairly sure the prescribed remedy would be ice, immobilization, and ibuprofen, I went through the motions of having it checked, just in case.

Three hours and a pile of forms later, we walked out of the hospital with an ice pack and a sling, as well as instructions to take ibuprofen. (Told you so.) After a few days, my son’s arm was back to normal. Case closed on a normal adolescent rite of passage.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Last week I received a form from the insurance company to be filed in cases of an accidental injury. Although a bit puzzled (shouldn’t most injuries be accidental? and if they are instead deliberate, shouldn’t THOSE be the ones requiring explanation?), I attacked the form with my pen, eager to move on.

I quickly observed that the form was intended to help the insurance company determine where it could lay blame, i.e. who else might be able to pay for the charges. There were sections that requested the name and address of the responsible party and homeowner’s insurance information. My hackles really started to rise when I reached the question about whether I had retained legal representation, but I didn’t completely lose it until question number 9.

If a lawsuit or claim against the responsible party will not be filed, please explain.

Wait, what? I have to explain why I’m NOT filing a lawsuit? I guess that means the presumption is that we should always be looking for someone else to blame, and I find that appalling. It should be the other way around. People should have to justify the lawsuits they do file, not the ones they don’t.

Whether we play sports, get behind of the wheel of a car, order a hot beverage at a drive-thru window, or [fill in the blank with your own example], we bear responsibility for our own actions. My son chose to participate, with my blessing, in a physical contact sport. Sometimes people get hurt, and we both knew that going in–and accepted the risk accordingly. Now that it has actually happened, we can’t look for somewhere else to shift the blame.

That’s my not-so-humble opinion. If you don’t like it, sue me.