I love the sport of wrestling.  The practices, the athletes, the competitions, the life / skill development that you see week over week are amazing to see.  I still study the sport voraciously and love the characters and stories that this great sport has helped create.

Technology has allowed for an incredible way to consume the sport now.  Flowrestling technique and live matches, Twitter updates in real time, blogs and podcasts all add fuel to a fire of fandom.  Those of us who grew up in an era where you had to wait a month to see college dual meet results in Amateur Wrestling News or waited until mid-April to see the NCAA finals on a one-hour delayed and edited CBS broadcast, know how far we have come. Currently, one of my favorite podcasts is from Ryan Warner, called Wrestling Changed My Life.  In each episode, Ryan interviews wrestlers who share war stories and relate life lessons they learned from the sport.  It is an amazing series, with some great known and unknown characters of this sport.

Ryan just released a fascinating 7-part series on John and Pat Smith that he produced for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.  If you are a fan of the sport, I highly recommend listening to the entire series. If you are a crazy fanatic like me, you will find the matches on the internet and watch them as they are highlighted in the podcast – it makes the stories that much better, and you get a chance to see how good these guys were, while in their prime.

In episode 4 of the series Pat Smith discusses his performance at his first USA Wrestling Junior Nationals, a few months after winning his first Oklahoma State Title as a sophomore in high school.  In that event, Pat went 1-2 and was not close to placing.  He tells a story of retreating to the back hallways of the arena and crying his eyes out.  About an hour after his match, his father Lee Roy finds him in the back still crying.  According to Pat, Lee Roy knelt, picked up Pat’s chin, looked him in the eyes and said, “that boy that just beat you will tell his kids someday that he beat Pat Smith.”  Pat emotionally tells the story in the podcast and stressed the impact that that simple comment, at that moment, had in his life.   Pat said, he never forgot his Dad’s confidence in him, and that feeling helped propel him to ultimately become the first ever four-time NCAA National Champion.

Listening to that comment and reflecting on my competitive then coaching career, helped orient me to the importance of my words and attitudes regarding coaching my son.  Being a parent of a wrestler can be amazing and challenging.  Being a coach is amazing and challenging.  Being a Dad/Coach is amazing and difficult and has the added complexity to grow or poison the relationship with your son/daughter, if you do not choose your words carefully in specific situations.  

Before I left for college, my Dad had a fake newspaper made and framed for me.  The headline ran, “Shipman Earns Fourth All-American Honor,” and he asked that I bring it to West Liberty with me in the fall.  To anyone that knew my High School background- the headline was laughable.  I never qualified for the Ohio State Tournament and was thrilled beyond measure to be offered a walk-on spot to a well-respected, transitioning NAIA/NCAA D2 College.  When I left for West Liberty State College, my biggest hope was that I could eventually get in the line-up and potentially earn a podium finish before my career was over.  I hung the newspaper on the inside door of the closet in my dorm at West Liberty and was able to look at it every day.  In all honesty, I put it there so no one else would see it and did not move it out to public view until the start of my third year in school.

My dad and mom spoke to me often about that newspaper and their belief in my abilities and work ethic throughout my college career.  Thanks to some amazing coaches and teammates, I went on to become a 4X All-American and an NCAA D2 Champion in my collegiate career.  I never would have reached those goals without my parents unwavering confidence in me.  I was amazingly blessed throughout my wrestling career to have parents and coaches that spoke and demonstrated belief in my abilities, and I know my ultimate modest success in the sport was built on this foundation.

I am now navigating the challenges of being a youth club coach and a dad of Midget 60-pounder.  I am working on balancing my role as coach with the more important role of dad.  The Warner Podcast and subsequent trip down memory lane have brought out some renewed perspectives for me regarding the Dad/Son/Coach relationship. Here are a few specific items that I will continue to focus on when relating to my son:

  • – Dad role is more important than the coach role.
  • – Related to sports – correct sparingly and instill confidence whenever I can.
  • – Focus heavily on attention to skill and practice details.  Discuss at length with athlete.
  • – Be a consistent calming presence pre/during/post-match.  This includes interaction with other athletes, coaches, officials, and parents.
  • – Follow a consistent post-match routine.  For me – Hug or handshake with no match compliment or critique until son is composed (usually 10-15 minutes).   The only outlier here would be around match or post-match actions (handshakes, not grabbing gear, overtly emotional response).
  • – Allow son to experience the sport without a buffer from me.
  • – Consistent messaging of joy in watching him compete and being on the adventure with him.

More than anything, I want my son to learn about life though the sport of wrestling.  I want him to have a great experience, to know that I believe in him, but also to use this journey to let him figure a lot of things out on his own.

Enjoy the ride.