Zachary Wrestling Teammates after the State Championship match.
As many of you know, my son is a wrestler. Not the WWE kind of wrestling but high school wrestling. This means I have spent countless hours sitting in gyms all over Louisiana, waiting (you wrestling parents know what I am talking about). My entire exposure to this sport has come as a parent. My high school did not offer wrestling as a sport, so I did not know anything about it until Ashton started wrestling in the 6th grade. If I am being honest, I still do not know much about wrestling. However, I have grown to enjoy it.
The relationships that are developed between teammates and coaches are one of the things I have come to appreciate the most about wrestling. This is not to imply that meaningful relationships are not present in other team sports; they certainly are. However, there is something different about the way these relationships occur on a wrestling team.
I believe the primary difference can be found in the way wrestlers compete. Unlike other team sports, when wrestlers take to the mat it is just the two individuals. When I played football, often when I made a mistake, no one noticed expect my coaches after reviewing the film. This is not the case for wrestlers; when they make mistakes, everyone is vividly aware. Conversely, when they experience success, it is the individual who is praised and not the team.
Given our society’s tendency to hyper focus on the individual and the level of narcissism we tend to practice in our culture, it would seem natural to assume that the focus placed on the individual wrestler simply reinforces these cultural norms and promotes an unhealthy development of the wrestler’s ego. In my experience, this could not be further from the truth. Instead, wrestling seems to have the exact opposite effect on its participants. Which makes me ask the simply question, “Why?”
Why does a sport that is hyper focused on individual results tend to produce more empathy and mutuality within its participants, rather than producing more self-centered egos and narcissism? Although I am certain there are many answers to this question, I would suggest that any answer which is true, is in part, connected to love. The heart of wrestling is love.
Before I continue, let me clarify that I am not talking about Hallmark Channel, Valentine’s Day, ooey-gooey, romantic-comedy love. I am talking about the love we are called to have for our neighbor; the love Jesus repeatedly calls his followers to seek. The love for the other that genuinely desires to see one flourish, thrive, and grow. This is the love I believe is at the heart of team sports and is uniquely expressed through wrestling.
This understanding of love compels me to say, “the heart of wrestling is love.” This type of love promotes, encourages, and requires relationships that are founded on honesty and accountability, which is reflected on the wrestling mat. As wrestlers engage in their craft, the spotlight, focused solely on them, highlights their successes and failures in an extremely honest manner. If a wrestler wishes to improve, he must be willing to face the honest truth regarding his mistakes. He must be willing to be held accountable in order to grow and mature.
When a team of wrestlers engage in this process together, it creates a community of individuals who hold each other accountable with truthful feedback in an effort to grow and improve daily. Communities built upon these traits, whether it be a wrestling team, grief support group, church family, office staff, or any other group of people, are always founded on love. Relationships of this sort not only desire to see each person flourish, thrive, and grow, they empower those persons to do just that.
Furthermore, relationships founded on this type of love allow us to more deeply participate in the success of the other. To put it plainly, when we love each other in this manner, the success of others becomes our success. Our value as individuals is not measured against the other. Rather our value as individuals is measured with the other. When they win, we win!
Just take a look at the pictures above. Outside of wardrobe and sweat, can you really tell which wrestler just won the State Championship? Everyone in the picture is truly participating in the success of their teammate. The relationships they have developed, founded on honesty and accountability, has produced a community rooted in love. Their membership within this community encourages and enables these young men to sincerely support and foster each teammate’s success; while at the same time allowing each of them to flourish, thrive, and grow together.
The love we find in the example of these high school wrestlers is a wonderful example of the love Jesus calls his followers to pursue. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to engage with others in a manner that genuinely desires to see them flourish. As we faithfully seek to love others in this manner our tendency to focus on ourselves alone will give way. My prayer for you is that in its place you will discover the delight of finding God’s love and grace in the success of those around you. May the example of these young wrestlers be an ever-present reminder that when we are bound by the love of Christ, our need to measure success against the other will always pale in comparison to the joy we find in God’s beloved community.