I hate hearing the phrase “If you come in second, than you’re just the first loser”. Athletes are always pushing themselves to get to their ultimate goal. Obviously they don’t train with the intention of finishing behind other people, but in any sport or contest there’s someone that falls short. There are people that put their blood, sweat, and tears into their passion. This can be the football player that wakes up at five in the morning with barely any sleep to go for a run or the guitarist strumming for hours even if his fingers are bleeding. But if they don’t win that championship ring or succeed, than all that hard work wasn’t worth it. I used to have that mindset for a big part of my wrestling career. I would get so upset when I lost a match that it would deter me from putting in that much effort with my training. I didn’t want that feeling of defeat after I probably put in as much time or more in my workouts and lifts as the kid as I was wrestling. This way of thinking really crippled my potential. I was so scared of losing that I couldn’t even focus during my match. It felt like I was about to have a heart attack before the ref even blew this whistle. This problem wasn’t getting any better until something happened before one the biggest matches I had ever wrestled.
It was my junior year and I had just made my way to the finals of the county tournament. It may not be a huge deal to some people, but one of my biggest goals for the year was to win this event. Growing up with all these kids, it would be amazing to be crowned champion and be known as the best in your area. I was wrestling a good tournament, but I wasn’t used to the pressure and intensity of the finals. There is only one mat in an enormous gymnasium crammed with screaming fans. All the lights are shut off in the building except the lone spotlight shining on the mat. That means every single person is focused on you. There isn’t another teammate to rely on like in other sports. It is just you out there. If you make one mistake, it won’t go unnoticed. The nerves began to kick in, and I could feel all the intensity get to me.
I was doing my usual routine to warm up before my match. I’d stretch out and just pace back and forth thinking to myself. About three matches before I was going to step out on the mat, my assistant coach pulled me over to the side. He asked me how I was doing and I just shrugged saying I’m fine. He could see right through my guard and noticed I was nervous. The next thing he said to me I’ll remember for the rest of my life. He told me about what his dad said to him before he wrestled in his county finals match. Don’t worry about if you win or lose. Don’t think about how people will react if you do this or don’t hit that move. Just go out there and leave it all on the mat. It was like a light bulb just went off in my head. I suddenly didn’t have the prematch jitters I could barely shake off. I actually felt excited to go out there and wrestle. I stepped out on the mat and my whole style changed. I didn’t hear any fans blowing their lungs out cheering. I didn’t think about what will happen after the match if I lose. I didn’t even see my opponent. I was going to wrestle my match and leave everything I had out there. If I wrestled like this, I would have nothing to second guess later on. This new found mindset propelled me to win my first county championship. All the five o’clock runs in the mornings and sacrifices finally paid off. I was overwhelmed by so much joy and happiness that the only thing I could do was cry. I left it all out there on the mat and no one could say anything about it.
I haven’t ever thanked that coach for the little bit of advice he gave me, but that one speech probably changed not only my wrestling career around but my life as well. I was so caught up in the cat and mouse game of life that I never let myself go. It felt like my whole existence was measured by the amounts of wins and defeats I had. This stopped me from really going after what I wanted with a clear mind. After that speech, I could finally be in the moment and focus all my attention on what I was doing. From friendships to school and especially wrestling, this outlook on life gave me a whole new perspective on everything. And I did lose after my victory at counties. But this time I didn’t storm off the mat upset. I actually had no regrets because I knew I gave everything I had in all my matches and shouldn’t be disappointed. I began to learn more from my losses and it helped me become a better wrestler and person. Life shouldn’t be a tally board or record, it is a journey that should be experienced in the moment. Sometimes you just need to let go and everything else will fall into place.