I want my kids to wrestle. But you know what causes me to pause in terms of when I will introduce them to the sport? It’s me. It’s my tendency as a parent to protect them, comfort them, and alleviate elements of pain and suffering. You see, wrestling is unlike any other sport relative to (among other things) its commitment and sacrifice. Of course, just like other sports, there can (and should) be an aspect of enjoyment. But difficulty is simply a part of the makeup of wrestling. And so I feel that there has to be a certain degree of mental and emotional wherewithal before allowing my kids to engage the sport. And yet, I want to introduce them early enough for them to learn and grow in the sport prior to their teenage years. So, with that said, finding the right (or ideal) age to provide that introduction to wrestling can be quite a challenge.
Wrestling provides an opportunity to experience real, tangible struggle. It provides the opportunity to encounter victory as well as defeat, and the important process in dealing with both in a way that builds one’s character. As I have written a number of times before, losing a wrestling match is not like losing a game; it’s much more real and personal. Apart from the physical battle that takes place on the mat, there’s a level of emotional fulfillment in the experience of victory that arguably holds no comparison; and the same is true for the level of emotional pain in the experience of defeat. I think that the process in growing as a human being requires us to learn how to respond to both. In short, a distorted response to victory can lead to arrogance; and a distorted response to defeat can lead to self-loathing. Wrestling, and the constant encounters with victory and defeat, allows a person consistent opportunities to face both, to control the temptations that wait on each end, and to learn how to overcome them with strength and integrity.
So here’s the thing: my tendency to comfort and protect my children can actually work against them (and me). Of course, in serious matters, I will always choose comfort and protection. But if I am so bent on comfort and protection, I can actually be so to the detriment of my children. You see, part of my role as a father is to help them grow into strong, well-rounded human beings. And any adult who has experienced the world knows that a person’s greatest steps of growth often come as a result of some level of difficulty. So the truth is that I have to let my kids experience difficulty; and wrestling is not only a fantastic sport, but it offers the perfect arena in which to experience difficulty. It offers the perfect environment in which to face it head on, and no matter the outcome, learn to respond to it.
As their father (and coach) wrestling will offer me frequent teaching opportunities. That is, opportunities to walk alongside their wrestling journey and impart love and wisdom when needed. Because, as much as I think it’s important to engage the life of a wrestler and the individual endeavor that it holds, I also think it’s important to engage a true sense of community. Wrestling community is something that transpires all around the competitor, but it starts behind the scenes – before and after the individual battles on the mat. The sport wouldn’t be the same without it. In many ways, I think the type of community that develops within wrestling is a great model for the type of community that should develop in life.
I’m not sure if there’s an ideal age in which to introduce my kids to wrestling. Perhaps I will just simply “know” the right time when it occurs. And while there is no guarantee that my kids will respond to the sport with the same love and passion that I have for it, I at least want to present the opportunity. My love for them is secure regardless whether or not they choose to embrace the life of a wrestler. But if they choose to press on toward such a journey, I will be with them every step of the way.