... on Wrestling with Stress
by Art Jones, Guest Columnist
Wrestling is a tough and demanding sport. Just the thought of two individuals competing in front of thousands of spectators (you and him, alone, and nobody else) is to me, as a former wrestler, the greatest challenge in the athletic arena. Often, however, as coaches and parents, we fail to realize the pressure that we apply on the wrestlers, and the effects that stress puts on them. I have seen coaches and parents mishandle this sport (as well as others), starting at a young age and reaching to college. Yes, I have often seen happy a young wrestler competing to have fun, win or lose, but after a year or two losing that same positive zest for the sport.
For example, this wrestler begins to look unsure, afraid to make mistakes, unhappy, not relaxed, and his slow reactions to situations are due to this stress. This most likely has been brought on by either the coach or parent, or both. Afterall, I have seen parents react verbally violent to their sons who have lost a match. Of course, the boy-wrestler feels that he has failed, and the more he loses the more he will begin to believe he's a failure. In truth, wrestling is pressure enough without having to deal with the stress being added by coaches and parents.
I have observed wrestlers competing, and the loser hearing negative words yelled to him or saw the expressions on his coaches' and parents' faces. The wrestler, after experiencing this reaction too often, slowly begins to hold back out of the fear of losing--and ultimately loses out of the fear of this failure. This may seem contradictory, but it happens.
Now consider this sad commentary. I have even witnessed wrestlers who have won, and then being told they didn't beat anybody who was worth cheering about. I'm sorry, but wrestling or any sport was not meant to be this way. As a matter of fact, the older I get the more I realize that winning is not always having your hand raised. Think about this. A wrestler could be 0-10 and wins his first match, jumping up with joy. In reality, this may be more important to him than if another boy won his third state championship. The intuitive coaches understand how proud these wrestlers are, and take pride in their accomplishments.
Yes, stress affects wrestlers in different ways. Believe it or not, some wrestlers can use stress to their advantage. As for myself, when I competed (which I admit doing with natural talent), I thrived on stress. Why...because I was unnoticed at home. Thus, competing in public was the only place where anyone truly noticed me, and stress was my motivator on the mats. For me, the pressures of weight loss, studying for passing grades in high school, and the long, hard practices were pressures I felt and enjoyed. They kept me striving for individual success because for me stress was good. Such, I have learned, is not the case for many others.
Since graduation from high school, I have coached smallfry, junior high, and high school. During these years, I have noticed young wrestlers trying to cope with stress. The most common reason for this self-induced pressure is the desire to win, which often works against them. They think about what will happen after the match, instead of the match itself--"What will my caoches and parents do if I lose?" Why is this occurring? It is because we place too much emphasis on winning. I have come to believe that success isn't always winning.
It is important that our coaches also begin to realize this point. Furthermore, we can coach them, talk to them, work with them, however, we can't perform for them. But if we view success in terms of effort, rather than winning, I believe our wrestlers would be less up-tight and would compete out of enjoyment, not fear.
Another source of stress is dieting. I have witnessed drastic weight loss that made wrestlers quite tense, and they ultimately performed poorly. They also flew off the handle at the slightest disturbance. Too many wrestlers view dieting as synonymous with victory; they couldn't be further from the true. I believe this problem could easily be solved if the coaches made these wrestlers move up a weight class.
A final factor that causes stress in wrestling are the parents of the matman, especially the fathers. Yes, the way a wrestler views success is not so much how he handles losses, but how his father handles them. Unfortunately, too many fathers try to live their lives in their sons. This does the off-spring much more harm than good ...and must be stpped for the good of the matman.
In closing, not every wrestler is blessed with natural talent. For the majority of matmen, just giving their all should be the true indicator of their success in wrestling. Having coached my two sons, I only wish I had changed my coaching tactics earlier. I learned that how pressure is applied can make all the difference in the world. Remember, no two wrestlers are alike. So, teach them to enjoy competing, not to worry about winning or losing...and they will be champions in life as well!
(Welker's Note: Art Jones is a two-time OVAC Champion for Bellaire High School, who was the outstanding wrestler of the tournament in 1972. Coach Jones was also inducted into the Bellaire High School Hall of Fame in 1990.)
Updated December 6, 1997