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How High School Wrestling Taught My Son Resiliency and Toughness

He didn't want to do it. But my son needs to know that sometimes, we have to do things we don't want to.

fatherly logo Great Moments in Parenting

Danny Ray has always believed that training his children to handle tough situations will help them become better, well-adjusted adults. The 46-year-old father of three, who lives in Florida and runs a life insurance agency, faced this situation head-on when his 14-year-old son, Danny, refused to join a sports team his freshman year of high school and started hanging out with the wrong crowds. Here, Danny talks about why he feels like sports are important, and why making his kids do things they might not be sure they’ll love will help them be able to handle the tribulations of adulthood. 

My son Danny is 14. He’s going to start high school this year. It’s a very, very important for the next four years for him to lay the foundation to become an adult. Danny has been in sports in the past, but this last summer, before high school, he was hanging out with certain crowds. They’re good kids, but they’re lazy. They just don’t have any focus on sports this year. He thought he was going to be with them and didn’t have to join sports for this year.

But I felt differently. I’m a big believer in the fact that ninth grade is the foundation of your high school years. If you go ahead and you just slack off and slide through 9th grade, it will set the tone for the rest of your high school career. So I was advocating hard for Danny to do three sports. Now, when I say that, it’s because if he says “No, I’ll only do two,” he thinks he’s won. But he’s still doing sports, so really, I won. 

His idea was that he was going to quit all sports freshman year. I said no. That’s not what’s going on. It’s not just about the sport to me. I want my son to learn about life, adversity, and that life is going to throw curveballs at you, constantly. I believe that sports gets you ready for that. It’s not necessarily about competing. It’s more about the lessons learned. Adversity. Learning how to lose — and that you learn from losing. How to be a good winner, when you do win. That’s what will come at us in life later on. 

Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. 

So I got him into wrestling, because he’s never done it before. The pushback, right off the bat, was ridiculous. I felt like he was 8 years old again. It was really, really, really dramatic. But I told him to trust me, that he’d love it. It’s not only good for his physique but it’s also good to understand sacrifice and what it takes to win. 

The first few wrestling practices were tough. Wrestling is at 6:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Like clockwork, at three o’clock on the day of practice, he’d tell me: “My stomach hurts, I don’t feel good.” You can set your watch — when he starts saying his stomach hurts, I know it’s 3 o’clock on a Tuesday or Thursday.

But I didn’t take no for an answer. It was definitely a battle before those first few practices. But after he’d give me so much pushback, we’d get there, I’d drop him off for an hour and a half, and then when he got back in the car, he loved it. Two days later, it was like Groundhog day. It was a cycle of him complaining again, starting at 3 o’clock, and having a hard time from the point of jumping in the car and driving 20 miles to practice, and the whole way he just didn’t want to do it. He was not happy at all. And then after practice he’d be happy.

You have to stick to your guns as a parent. You can’t let the tail wag the dog, so to say. You have to be very stringent, especially in this day and age. Kids push back a lot more than they used to these days. 

Anyway, to make a long story short, now he loves it. He likes it, he can’t wait to go again, he went to a clinic for three hours the other morning. And now he just loves it. I just had to give him a little push.

And I know it’s going to be so good for him. The other day he asked when he was going to get his wrestling jacket and wrestling season doesn’t even start until November. But I’m a brick-by-brick guy. I want to give my son a good foundation, to understand how to lose and to win.

There’s nothing wrong with losing. It’s okay to learn! To fall down and scruff your knee. And once he gets out of ninth grade, he’s setting the tone for the rest of high school years. 

Any situation like that, I always try to tell him that this is what life is going to be like down the road. Life is not easy. It’s not going to be easy. So these baby-steps we take, hopefully there are a thousand of them before he graduates high school and he can handle adulthood. 

I did tell him that if he actually hated wrestling, he only had to do it for one year. I said: “In the 10th grade, if you don’t want to do wrestling, that’s fine.” But I needed him to do it for one year. That’s how I handled that. I just didn’t take no for an answer. But I told him: “I know what’s best for you. You are learning something that you don’t even realize right now. It’s more than sports or wrestling, you’re going to use this in life.” Life is full of adversity. If you don’t know how to handle it, I think sports gets you ready for that. 

Kids do need to learn how to cope with doing something they don’t like. I always tell my son: “If you make a commitment, even if you hate the fact that you did it a minute later, you have to do it. You are only as good as your word in this world.” I’m really reminding him of that on a daily basis. But luckily, he loved it.