The following guest post, “Losing is Necessary,” is from Coach Ned Campbell, head wrestling coach at James Madison High School, NYC, where he also teaches American history. http://madisongoldenknightswrestling.com/coaching-staff/
A little boy was asked how he learned to skate. ‘By getting up every time I fell down,’ he answered. (David Seabury)
Every year I find myself talking to a complete stranger about losing. Not just one stranger, but dozens of strangers. This is the life a high school wrestling coach, recruiting kids to make a choice to take a chance, at the expense of having to lose in order to get better. Not an easy sell.
The average 14 year old does not have the long view of life, that ability to see themselves way off into the future. Without that perspective, there is no up-side to losing. That means kids can give up quickly, or in some cases, not even try.
Losing can make one realize they have things to learn, to improve upon. Knowing what you do not yet know, what you, as of yet, cannot do, that sets the stage for self-improvement. It is the early stimulus to further develop a work ethic.
In a typical conversation with a freshmen, and I am approaching the little guys, the kids weighing less than 100 pounds, typically the kid chosen last, or maybe never chosen, for a team, the issue of “what if I lose?” comes up. I try to lighten the mood by jokingly telling him, “It is not ‘if you are going to lose,’ because you are going to lose, no doubt about that.” Everybody does when they start out. I tell them all I did my first year of wrestling in high school was lose. I didn’t start winning until my second year of wrestling.
I go on to tell him he will have some tough days, but those are the days that make us stronger, and better. Those are the days that teach us lessons, and motivate us to work harder and do more. The memory of those bad days are also what makes the good days you will have all the more sweeter.
Once the season begins, and the losing happens, the young athlete may begin to doubt himself. With a shaken confidence, they are likely to start acting more discouraged, and their resolve to keep trying may begin to wane and weaken. It is at this time when we, the coach and the parents, have to step in and help them stay strong, and to persevere. We can remind them of the long haul, but we must also focus on the positive accomplishments, and areas where there is improvement. However small it may be, improvement is a positive good and deserves to be talked up and commended.
One example I have of this took place just this past season. A freshmen and 1st year wrestler was having a difficult time. He was not wrestling much, and when he did get a chance, he lost quickly. He was looking dejected and I took a moment to speak with him. I asked him if he remembered his first week of practices, how he could not do the push-ups, keep up on the run, and how sore he was the day after practice. He said yes, and then I reminded him how today he was doing the push-ups, and keeping up on the runs. I let him know he had already lost almost 20 pounds, while getting stronger. As a smile started to creep across his face, I saw that he got it. He got the idea of the long haul of work paying off, over time. He could see the progress and make the link to his hard work all season. He liked it.
His improvement over time was not only limited to his physicality. He has opened up more among his peer group. He is walking taller, smiles more quickly, and is improving academically with much better grades than the prior term.
Life is not always easy. There will be some tough times, but that doesn’t mean life is complicated. Believing that “If you fall down, you get back up,” may not be easy, but with the support of positive adults, it can be quite simple, and it can make all the difference in the world.
For more on what you can do to help the young athletes in your life, please visit the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA): a national non-profit with the mission to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience. http://www.positivecoach.org/our-tools/tools-for-parents/