Photo: Alvaro Tapia, Flickr Creative Commons
This is part of the reason we signed him up for youth wrestling. I thought it would be good for him to do something that wouldn't come easily for him and have to really fight to succeed. Of course, that wasn't the only reason. He also really loves play wrestling at home with me, so I thought it would be something he'd enjoy. I was right. He looked forward to practices. He talked about going to tournaments after the team season was over. His first match impressed us with the toughness and fight he had in him. After all, he's like me. We're both gentle souls and neither of us are really all that driven to beat other people. We both like to win, but beating others isn't the motivation. Despite that, here he was doing everything he could to not get pinned (he never did) and try to pin the other kids (he did a couple of times).
The problem was after that, the matches didn't go so well. First, the kid is only 6. He was the youngest kid on the team, just like he's usually the youngest kid in his grade. This is easy to forget with his size (he's usually one of the biggest kids in his grade) and his vocabulary, which surpasses that of some of my high school students. He's often tired after school, especially on the days he goes to gifted, which happened to be the same day as the matches. Like his mother, he doesn't always handle being tired with the most grace. He tends to get emotional and let things gets blown out of proportion late in the day. In two of the matches this season, he spent half of the evening crying about little things that he'd normally be able to brush off. It took me until the second of these matches, one last week where we actually took him home early because he couldn't control himself, to realize the problem. He was frustrated. In the regular season matches, they don't weigh in. He would often wrestle kids who were older, more experienced and 10-15 lbs heavier. He wasn't winning. When he was trying, he was holding his own, but he couldn't win. This frustration led him to freak out because someone stepped on his foot or got him in a hold that was too close to his neck. Never once did he actually get injured, but he didn't have the emotional strength to fight through it. It was frustrating for us too. He was the only kid there who cried. Trying to talk to him at the time didn't seem to help. He just wasn't rational enough.
We did keep talking to him for the rest of the week, however. We kept telling him that it's okay to lose. It's going to happen sometimes, but as long as he keeps trying, we're proud of him no matter what happens. We even made a deal that we'd buy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 if he'd be tough and really try at Monday's tournament. The tournament was the real deal. Instead of the refs just keeping the matches fair and safe, they'd actually be keeping score. Instead of a pin resetting the match and having the kids get up and start over, a pin would end the match automatically. The kids had to be weighed and put into weight classes. The winner got medals. This was the entire point of the whole season. I wasn't sure if that'd get him to really try or cause a freak-out.
In warm ups, I lost a little hope that he'd do well. While sparring with another kid on the team, he started crying. We're still not sure why, but after my wife talked to him, we knew he wasn't hurt. Luckily for him, the high school wrestlers who run the team and coach the kids have surprised me all season with how well they handle my son and the various other problem behaviors of the young kids they coach. They talked the boy down and by the time they lined up at the mat for their age and weight group, he was fine.
Then came his first match. The kid was shorter, but broader and seemed to be possibly stronger than E. The match started off not going in his favor. The short kid was controlling the play. E was taken down and never managed to take the other kid down. The score was close (4-6 before it ended), but all of his points came from getting out or reversing the other kid's moves. This kid kept going after E's head and neck, a trigger for his freak outs in previous matches, but I could tell he was really fighting to keep it together this time. He was also doing the moves we worked on with him on for the past week to give him more of a sense of control when the other kid had him locked around the neck or head. It was the last time that the other kid had taken him down, E on his hands and knees and the other kid locked around his neck that the match changed. E grabbed the kid's wrist, pulled away and reared back. The kid fell off onto his own back, E pounced, and within seconds, he'd gone from losing to winning by a pin.
I went down to to congratulate him and it seemed like his win hadn't registered yet. His response to my congratulations was, "I want to cry, but I'm not." He had been getting frustrated and it was that emotion that he still felt. The pin came so fast, joy hadn't had a chance to take control. It was a little sad to hear, but it made me proud. We've been trying to teach him it's okay for things to go wrong. It's okay to feel bad, but you have to keep fighting. Last week, he would have just quit and let the kid pin him, but instead, he kept working and got a win because of it. A few minutes later, I noticed he finally realized what had happened and he was grinning and celebrating with one of the teen coaches.
Of course, he didn't win them all. He lost his last match of the night. The other kid was closer to his height and after E deflected a few of his charges, the kid managed to get a hold on him and take him down. Instead of landing on his stomach, which would have given E a good chance to escape because he's hard to roll over, he landed on his back and the other kid was quick to attack. After an extended struggle, the other kid managed to get the pin. Oddly, he seemed less upset about this outcome than he had earlier, but I think the win helped ease the frustration of this loss. I went down to tell him how proud I was of him for working so hard and gave him a hug. After that, it was just a wait for the awards ceremony.
Turns out that he got second place. He's gotten medals before. He's gotten them for the reading program at school. He's gotten them for his running of the mile at local races, but this one seemed to be a bigger deal to him. He grinned like a madman on the podium with the other medalists. He ran up to us to excitedly show of his medal and then did the same to the coaches (who treated him like a star). When we got home, he demanded to be able to wear it to bed and he did (although under his shirt to keep it from tangling on anything). I think it's because he recognizes that this one was harder to get. Reading and school come easy for him, too easy, probably. Running the mile is almost as natural to him as reading. This, however, was hard. Things went wrong. He got upset. He fought through and was rewarded. That why it's important to him.
When I went in his room to see him this morning while getting ready he looked at me and said, "I don't deserve the medal or the movie."
"Why," I asked. "What did you do?"
"I just don't deserve it." He sounded dejected. We'd gotten home after 10 pm last night and his bedtime is normally 8. This is the moodiness I mentioned earlier. I worried that today was going to be a bad day.
"Yes, you do. Didn't you work hard for that? Didn't you keep fighting even when it was hard? Isn't that exactly what we wanted you to do?"
"Yes." He looked at his medal and paused. "Look at the cool flames on the ribbon. They're blue! Can we do those tournaments in Atlanta the coach was talking about?"