Tyler is a gifted athlete.
He’s fast and agile.
He’s strong and aggressive.
And he’s competitive. Very competitive.
All his life he’s been able to excel using the simple formula of combining his familiarity with that sport and his natural talent. Whenever he tries a new sport, he thrives after only a few practices. Granted, techniques and skills need to be refined and improved, but that usually happens seamlessly. Easily. With little effort.
Then he joined wrestling.
The first day Tyler walked to the wrestling room he was at a loss; he knew absolutely nothing about the sport. Oh, he had all kinds of prejudicial assumption swirling around in his head, but no actual knowledge about it. He knew none of the techniques, holds, or rules. He was clueless as to how to win a match.
Yet, there he stood outside the door, strange new shoes on his feet and headgear in his hand.
“What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here. What have I agreed to?”
He was there because his mother (that would be me) encouraged pushed him to be there.
See, Tyler didn’t make the basketball team. (Read more about that here.) After he was cut, he assumed he would shoot hoops with his buddies, participate in a summer camp, and try out again next year. The problem is, this is a different type of competition than he’s used to—either you make the team, or you don’t, thanks for playing. And to close the gap between himself and the boys who made the team; he was going to be required to eat, sleep, and breathe basketball. He would need to get onto as many league teams as possible, get extra coaching, and forsake everything else, just in hopes of getting on the team.
Don’t get me wrong; he would go full throttle. He would work hard. He would do well. But soon the sacrifices would mount up, and the cost-benefit ratio would be too far out of balance for a non-guarantee. He would miss sleepovers and hangouts with friends. He would have to neglect other things he loves like fishing and camping. And he would have to skip youth group and boy scout activities…And considering he likes playing basketball, it’s not his passion. Eventually—his drive would deflate. He would quit.
Plus, he loves to play football!
Tyler’s switch from soccer to football in 8th grade put him a little behind his peers who’ve been playing for years. But he’s done very well catching up, and therefore has a much better chance of making next year’s football team.
And I’m convinced wrestling will help him get there.
There aren’t many other sports that can match wrestling’s intensity or are better for conditioning.
- The ability to read your opponent and anticipate his/her movements
- The development of a strong mind
Though these are all crucial for football and good reasons for me to push him toward wrestling; there was more to it than that.
Before basketball tryouts, I felt God encouraging me to point him in that direction even though it made no sense to me. Tyler’s NEVER shown any interest in wrestling—EVER!…But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first month of practice was brutal. Despite his years as an athlete, he’d never experienced such intense training before. His everything hurt. He was exhausted. And he was grumpy.
Tyler had no foundation to build on. No crossover from other sports he’s played. Nothing. He’s not accustomed to starting from ground zero, building a foundation, and THEN finding victory. And his frustration was growing.
Two weeks into the season, Tyler wrestled in his first tournament. He still had no idea what he was doing. But he walked onto the mat for his three matches anyway.
- He was pinned in seconds—match over.
- This match was a little different
- He dominated his opponent in strength. Halfway through the first period, he got his opponent immobilized, but didn’t know what to do with him after that, so he held on for dear life. The following period, he ended up getting pinned only because of his lack of skill.
- Afterward, his opponent (4th year wrestling) asked him about his wrestling career. He was shocked to learn Ty had only been wrestling a few weeks. He told Tyler to keep it up—had he known a little bit more, he would have kicked his butt.
- Ty lost his third match by points at the end of the third period.
- He said he wrestled mad and with pure instinct
- He had no idea what he was doing.
For a competitor like Tyler, this was humbling. But he learned a lot that day. And the encouragement of each of his opponents gave him just enough confidence to keep going.
In the midst of this, Tyler was getting to know his teammates—and their habits, lifestyles, and addictions. It didn’t take long for him to learn he is the only follower of Jesus on the team. And for a newbie who was already feeling isolated, he now he felt alone.
In short, Tyler was wrestling as much inside as out. I knew he wanted to quit but didn’t want to be a quitter. I also knew he was tired of losing but didn’t know how. And he knew I was going to make him stick it out for the whole season. I’m sure you can imagine his frustration.
So the night before his next tournament I opened the door for him to vent. And he did. It was one of the most incredible heart-to-hearts we’ve ever had, and as he talked, I prayed. He spewed his frustrations with the wrestling, losing, and his teammate’s life choices. He spouted about how sore and tired he was—physically and emotionally. Everything he said was legitimate and valid. And it broke my heart to listen to him.
First, I told him that he couldn’t expect his unsaved teammates to live as Christians or exhibit our morals, values, and priorities—no matter how self-destructive some of their choices are. That’s not only an unfair expectation, but it will give him a hard heart and make him judgmental.
Next, we talked about him choosing to love his teammates like Jesus—with kindness, tenderness, and grace. And that judgementalism will only repel them more from the Truth. Instead, he needs to ask Jesus: to give him His heart for his team, for wisdom on when to speak and when to keep it shut, and the right words to use in the right way when it’s time to talk.
I reminded him we are called to be salt and light to the world around us—but our light is useless unless it’s used to illuminate the darkness, and our salt is pointless if it doesn’t preserve God’s Word.
I also addressed his desire to see a soul harvest. “Tyler, we are called to plant seeds of the gospel (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8) and to water them with our love, compassion, and prayers. But only God can make them grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
But I took it a step further. I told Ty for anyone on his team to listen, really listen to what he has to say, he needs to earn their respect. And that starts with his attitude. About the workouts, the training, the early morning lifts, the losses, the future wins, everything. They have to know he genuinely cares about them individually and the team as a whole. They need to know he’s committed—win or lose. But first, he must choose his attitude.
I reminded him wrestling is a sport-family. Teammates bond like few other sports teams do, and often the brotherhood (sisterhood) lasts a lifetime. No, not all the wrestlers will be his friend. Not all of them will like him nor will he like all of them. That’s ok. He can always allow God to love them through him regardless of his affinity for them. And they can still respect him without liking him.
How would he do earn their respect?
- By choosing a positive attitude while with the team, no matter what kind of day he had
- By showing up and giving 110% in every practice and every match.
- By not focusing on what he doesn’t know and utilizing what he does know to the BEST of his current ability. That will change as he goes.
- By not complaining. EVER.
- By encouraging his partner when he’s tired. Rundown. Gassed.
- By being honest.
- By pitching in.
- By cheering his teammates on rather than glumly sitting in the stands, occupying himself with his phone.
- By making it a daily practice to—
- not judge his teammate’s choices and behaviors
- pray for his team and coaches
- keep his Sword sharp
- ask for God’s wisdom
- become a student of wrestling
But it all starts with his attitude. And only he can choose it.
Finally, I encouraged him to give every practice, every training session, every match to Jesus. To wrestle—win or lose—as though he was wrestling for God and His glory. To offer his time on the mat, weight room, or track as a holy sacrifice and ask God to work through him.
Tyler took everything I had to say to heart. I have no idea what he talked to God about, but the change was immediate! The next day he came out as a whole new wrestler and would have won his first match had it not been for two technical penalties. He lost all his other matches that day, but he was different. Positive. His perspective utterly transformed.
And a few weeks later, he got his first win…and his second!
But more important than that, Ty’s attitude change changed him.
He grew significantly in his faith and as a young man. Learning to lead with love and not judgment opened his heart to care for and invest in people like he never has before. And their poor choices affected him for the first time in his life.
Ty’s attitude change also had a positive impact on his team and opened up the door for several of his teammates to ask questions about his faith.
The hardest part for Tyler was not getting influenza that turned into a sinus infection and double ear infection, but it was getting injured at one of his final tournaments. Initially, we thought he’d sprained or strained it, but now we’re suspicious of micro tears. (Prayers for healing welcome.)
A week after his injury Tyler tried to practice and tweaked his knee again.
He was angry. He was crushed. And he was in tears. Not because of the pain, but because of not being able to wrestle.
See, something else happened when Ty changed his attitude…He fell in love with wrestling.
He fell in love with competition being between himself, the other guy, and the mat. He fell in love with his win or loss being his responsibility. My son became a wrestler who also plays football as opposed to a football player who also wrestles.