Is failure better than not trying? Andrew Books, father of a high school wrestler, shares how losses teach as much, or more than, wins.
From early November to March, our family is consumed with wrestling. Our Saturdays are spent at all-day high school tournaments watching our son go against other grapplers looking to both quench the thirst for independent victory and to celebrate the joy of team glory. Years ago, when my junior high school age son Brandon wanted to join the wrestling team, my wife and I were concerned. Wrestling is a rough sport, but we supported his decision. And, so far, we have been happy; he enjoys the sport, the competition, and comraderie. His journey has been a positive one.
Five years have passed with one to go; he’s a high school junior now. Wrestling is exciting and invigorating, as well as hopelessly nerve-wracking, both for spectators and participants. Over the years, we have met many great people. Brandon has new friends, and as a family we have forged relationships with other wrestling parents who share our same enthusiasm for our childrens’ successes. We also commiserate when there are shortcomings. Expectations are high in this sport, most often self-imposed by the mat-men themselves.
As a parent, there is no greater pain than one inflicted on your child, physical or mental. Any loving father or mother would gladly trade places with their child just to ease their agony. Of course, it’s part of maturing to accept our failures, our pains, and challenges. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier to take when you’re watching from the sidelines and it’s happenning to your child.
Last week, I was at a sectional tournament after which each weight class would send its top two wrestlers to the next level of competition. This is the culmination and holy grail of high school wrestling: the state tournament. Wrestlers fight long and hard to get to this point at the end of a season.
Although Brandon was not competing, six of his teammates were fighting to advance. In total, eight schools had multiple athletes trying to for spots where only the top twenty-five percent would advance. These athletes would then face off against winners from other schools. For each who was to compete, only one would go, three would go home. Their road would end just short of the goal.
Where there is jubilation in victory, there is also crushing sadness in season-ending defeat. Sometimes, all the preparation in the world cannot get you into the winner’s bracket. That’s a tough for anyone, no matter your age. And, sometimes the frustration and emotional toll is simply overwhelming.
As the tournament was ending, I went to stretch my legs. I passed through the gymnasium lobby and noticed a wrestler who had obviously just suffered a crushing defeat. He was now at the end of his wrestling journey for the year, and quite possibly for his high school career. He was sobbing and inconsolable in the arms of his coach. All he could say between gasps for air was ”Why coach? Why?” And all his coach could do was gently acknowledge his grief.
On any other day, this coach is an imposing hulk of a man whom I would steer clear of in a dark alley. On this day, he was fighting back tears. He embraced his athlete and gave him comfort; it was all he could do, but it was what the boy needed. I don’t know that there was anything to say, or that he even knew what those words might be. I thought, “You did all you could do. You gave it your best. That’s all anyone can ask for.”
That was a tough moment to witness. It wasn’t even my child, but my heart went out to him, because I’ve been there.
Conventional wisdom says there are two things in life that are certain, death and taxes. I’ll add a third: Failure. You will fail in your life and you will fail more than once. What’s important is how you use failure to better yourself. That’s a message lost on people often more interested in blaming circumstance than on overcoming adversity.
It’s not an easy lesson for a teen-aged boy in front of hundreds who are cheering you on to victory, or even worse, cheering for the other guy. However, part of the beauty of wrestling, and any spectator sport, is learning how to deal with wins and losses. The hardest part of life is the failure, but the victory is about getting up and conquering the defeat.
Photo Credit: Kaverkev Goodman Photography