Friday, January 15, 2016

Dear Mr. Dad, You missed your chance to be a dad!

I had the pleasure of attending a grade 3-6 recreation league wrestling match between Granville and Watkins Memorial last night with my wife.  We live in Granville and my wife teaches in the Watkins school district.  We knew many of the kids competing.  I left practice at Ohio State where I get to work with a world champion, 4 time NCAA champion and many others that I anticipate being in the finals in Madison Square Garden this year, it was refreshing to go see the sport at it's seed stage.  Besides seeing some really cute kids win and lose, an observation of a parent really disturbed me.  Enough to write this.

Early in the duel meet a young boy walked out to what  I think this could have been his first match, if not he didn't have 5 under his belt yet.  He was excited, and I noticed his father helping him to prepare and sending him out.  The match started and the young boy was thrown directly to his back.  Now lets be clear, this happened to at least 10 kids that night, this is rec wrestling.   His father yelled to get off his back loudly, to no avail, tonight's match ended in a rather quick pin.  This is where Mr. Dad, you missed an opportunity.  The young wrestler was upset.  When he walked to you, he was not greeted with love and understanding, he was given a reaction of disgust.  You didn't want to console  or process the match, you pushed him towards his team mates and tossed his t-shirt at him.  It was obvious that you were disappointed and had higher expectations for your son.  

So, Mr. Dad, I hope you get to read this because I don't want you to miss out on anymore opportunities.  These opportunities come quickly and will pass amazingly fast.  My daughter began her athletic carrier the same as your son in Granville Rec wrestling, and lost in much the same way.  But the difference is that when she returned to her mother and I, there was no doubt in her mind that win or lose, we would never be disappointed with the outcome of an event.  Our love is for her, and we support her willingness to explore beyond her boundaries.  Losses are opportunities to coach and parent. As my daughter has grown, without-a-doubt, the greatest privilege I have is watching her practice and compete.  There is nothing I enjoy more.  The season in 8th grade when I was afforded the privilege to coach her and her friends, priceless.  As a coach, your athletes have to know you love them, regardless of outcome.  My daughter is leaving next year to attend a D1 school and compete athletically.  I'm confident, had I greeted her in the same manner as you greeted your son, she wouldn't be in sport today.

Another point of reference, I was privileged to compete at a D1 school in wrestling and was quite successful there.  The experience has defined my life.  But, my athletic career didn't start out like gang busters.  I didn't win my first varsity match until my junior year in high school.  In fact, I cried every day in practice as a freshman.  But while the experience on the mat may have been disappointing, I knew regardless of the outcome, I was loved, my parents knew losing was part of the growth process, and I knew that I was loved.  One time during my senior year in high school as I finished my warm up, to look up to the end of the gym to see my dad standing there in dirty Carhartt's covered in coal dust.  My parents worked opposite shifts in order to see that one of them was home with us at all times.  My dad was a coal miner and it would have been easy for him to miss my match, he was working.  But my dad would schedule his lunch break so he could drive to the school, slip in to see me wrestle, and then go to work and finish his shift.  I learned my love and true understanding of sport from the love of my mother and father.  I lost a lot, but my dad never missed a chance to be a dad.  Mr. Dad, you still have a chance.

I'm attending the funeral of my college coach this week.  It's been a difficult time reflecting on our relationship.  But as I reflect, and as I think, I want to pass along another story.  As I said earlier, I was quite successful as a wrestler in college, eventually qualifying for the national tournament my senior year.  I was the only wrestler on my team to qualify that year.  My coach didn't attend the nationals with me.  He choose to stay home and see his son compete in the state high school tournament.  I was quite salty about this for quite a while after.   It wasn't until I had my own child and began to watch her compete that it I was able to truly appreciate the sacrifice my coach made for me.  I can't imagine missing one of my daughters events.  But what dawned on me was that my coach was missing most his own kids events while coaching us.  What I've come to understand is that he was giving me more than his own sons and daughter.  He made a huge personal sacrifice for me and my teammates.  I was privileged to have great role models in parents and coaches.  The value of being that father who nurtures your son through life has nothing to do with the number of wins and losses.  It has everything to do with how you respond!  Please don't miss this opportunity again.  It's priceless!

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