Wrestling and the Meaning of Life

Here’s how I parent when it comes to sports: I act like I don’t give a shit if they win. I love a win, but I make sure they know my support is the same regardless of the outcome. I tell them all I want is for them to try their hardest and have fun.

And that’s the party line, right? That’s what you’re supposed to say; those are the official parent talking points.

But is it right?

Here’s the deal — I watch parents who don’t take that approach. There are parents who are training their kids to win. And it works. As a parent you have immense power over your kids. You control access to everything they need. (You didn’t win because you need to practice harder — so you can’t have a friend over today).  Your opinion of them is everything to their little hearts. (It makes me so proud to see you trying harder than any other kid out there.) Plenty of parents use this to make their kids better.

I could make Jack a winner in wrestling. I could exert that power and let him know that winning is what is rewarded. Him being a winner is what’s important. In sports (like life) there are winners and losers and your job is go out there and win. That’s an important lesson in life.

I know that sounds awful, but is it so bad? I see parents with that attitude, parents who are successful in business and in life. And they’re successful because they’re winners. Just like they’re training their kids to be. You can feel the winness hanging in the air as one of these kids stands with their parents before a match. You can feel it in the attitude after a win or a loss.

And here’s a messed up admission: I sometimes find myself hoping these kids will lose.

Well, here’s the deal: I don’t have it in me to be that dad. To exert my will and drive Jack to be a winner? It’s not gonna happen. He’d be a better wrestler if I did, and maybe better off in life, I guess.

I lost him in the gym for a while. Zillions of kids and wrestling matches and all the kids wearing the same uniforms. And where did I find him? He was down on the far mat cheering like hell for one of the little kids he knows. The kid won and Jack leaned down, patted him on the back and said “good job” with a bright smile. In fact, that kid’s dad told me at a party this weekend that the little boy looks up to Jack.

My Aunt Mary once told me something about parenting that I take to heart. She said: “They’re going to be who they are. All you can do is make it easy for them or hard for them to be that.”

Well, if who they are involves being awesome at parallel parking, cooking home fries, taking road trips, and hurting themselves on a mountain bike — I can teach them that. But if Jack and Alex want to be born winners, they’re gonna have to figure that out for themselves.

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5 thoughts on “Wrestling and the Meaning of Life

  1. Greg P

    Your definition of a successful parent is much different than mine. I feel that letting kids be kids and letting them find their sport/niche, win or lose, creates well rounded kids and shows that their parents are successful. As a parent and coach, think of the successful parent you describe as a PITA and feel sorry for them. i always think this type of parent is trying to make up for something they missed out on earlier in life. Most of the kids I have watched with parents as described, would throw his best friend under a bus to win whatever event they are participating in. These children will most likely need anti-depressants and counseling to interact with kids their own age and will never be able to meet the high expectations expected by their parents. In my opinion, the way you are handling your boys will make them much more successful then snot nosed Johnnie down the road.

    Look back at your Psycho Coach piece, he was considered a successful parent by many people before that episode. Luckily I always thought of him as an A

  2. Peter Dimas

    If you train your kid to always win. your setting your kid up for a big disappointment, You can’t always win, but you can compete well. And when did sports become a job? Isn’t the point to have fun? I always liked playing ball with my loser friends in the street , than the winners of organized sports. Probably because of the dad’s . You keep being you Mike kids like that.

  3. Markus

    “Better in life”. I think that is what you _are_ teaching your kids to do, Mike. Sounds to me like you are raising kids that know how to live in each moment and savor it (like you do). You are raising kids that know how to try hard and appreciate a win, but also how to fail gracefully, get back up, and try again. You are raising kids that know how to encourage their fellows, not tear others down to get ahead. Seems to me people who know these things are “better in life” by any measure I value.

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