“But in my distress, I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)
Zach was a first-year freshman who ended up being thrown out on his own at the Frontier League Wrestling Tournament. Being a rookie and making rookie mistakes, he was down 14-1 in the third period of a key match for our team. It looked grim, however, and there wasn’t much time left on the clock. With just under 40 seconds left in the match, he was in danger of giving up a technical fall or a major decision. Yet this is one of my favorite stories to tell coaches at clinics and my own athletes at practice. Zach found the inner strength to fight off his back one more time and then hit his trademark move, the headlock, which he’d learned earlier in the season. In dramatic fashion, he won the match by pin and gave our team a shot at winning the dual.
There’s no better way to put it: wrestling is a humbling sport. There’s nowhere to hide when you’re on the mat and in the spotlight. You are truly the center of attention, and every mistake is witnessed by all who may be watching. Human nature threatens to take over at every moment of the match. When you’re on your back, a voice tells you that the end is near. When the score is seemingly insurmountable, something whispers in your ear that it’s okay to give up. When your opponent has the edge with experience, a previous win, physical advantage, etc., your instinct impels you to seek protection.
It’s what I love about wrestling. When you’re flat on your back, you can still fight off. If there’s time on the clock, you can still score. And if you focus on your self-attitude and effort, you can still do something to find victory.
Unfortunately, the hand of God, the deus ex machina, will never sweep in to save you on the mat, nor will it do so in life. However, your cry for help will still be heard. God will hear you from His sanctuary.
Wrestling, like almost any other sport, is a perfect analogy for the struggles of life. Legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable said in an interview, “When times get tough in the family, in the work place—and they’re going to get tough—you don’t let them walk away.” This is our mission as coaches. Rough waters are the reality of sports and of our lives on this planet. As coaches, how do we make our athletes resilient enough to be able to successfully navigate these waters? How do we train them to resist that instinctual voice telling them to seek comfort, safety, and ease while navigating rough waters?
I try to teach all of my athletes the cornerstone lesson of sports: belief is the key to finding success. For those who are Christian, they can easily make the connection to their faith in God enabling their ability to find success. When you’ve been knocked down, you’ve been laid out flat on your back, or you’ve fallen upon your knees, you must stop and lift up your head. Look up and remember that in your darkness, you can still count on the Lord to hear your cries.
Not to diminish the value of any other sports, wrestling is just my way to teach this valuable life lesson. If there’s time on the clock, you can still win, unlike other sports. In soccer, if you’re down 4-1 with 3 minutes left and the other team is playing keep-away, there’s not much you or your team can do. In football, if you’re down 14-15, on the defensive side of the ball with 40 seconds left, and the offense just made a first down, you’re forced to stand by helplessly as the clock winds down. In the final stretch of a mile race, if you’re 100 yards behind the race leader, it’s easy to give up and accept your finish. Not in wrestling though, and not in life. These rough waters are merely the cause of distress and all you must do is cry out to the Lord to give you the strength you need to not only survive, but find your best chance at victory.
Moment of Kaizen:
Related Passage: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
With these three impossible commands (always be joyful, never stop praying, and be thankful in all circumstances), can we truly do them at all times? Remember that joy means trust or faith in God. These commands from God are the keys to being able to successfully navigate the rough waters not only in sports, but in life.
November 7, 2021
This article is a part of a series of Coaches Devotionals that I will be writing over the course of the next year. Please click here if you would like to receive email notifications when a new devotional is published.
Tag(s): Coach's Blog