There are many different vehicles that a parent can use to teach a boy (or a girl) the valuable life lessons that they will need to make the transition into manhood (becoming a man is not about gender. It is about becoming responsible for yourself and your destiny, learning personal accountability, becoming the true captain of your ship; there are young women who possess this quality and grown men who do not).
In tribal cultures they give young boys hunting knives, send them into the jungle, and tell them not to return until they have killed a lion. It is simple: grow up or die. This is the way of the world, like it or not. A boy leaves camp and days later a completely different person returns.
There is ultimately no protection from the wild, no matter how hard we try to deceive ourselves. The world is not safe. The situation is like this: thrive or die. It’s more comfortable to live in naivety, but more responsible to acknowledge reality and live accordingly; incredibly more so if you are a parent.
Our culture has no equivalent to the go-out-and-kill-a-lion awakening of tribal societies. What event in a boy’s life will make him wake up and become a man? In America we have the unrealistic expectation that adolescents will make a gradual transition into manhood. As a result, boyhood often persists decades past puberty; this is an epidemic that gets little attention. Worse, it is widely believed that girls do not need to make this transition. I’m sure many single mothers can attest to how foolish and dangerous this belief is.
Since we don’t have lions or jungles in America, and child protective services would frown upon that sort of thing even if we did, how can a concerned parent teach their child the lessons and values he will inevitably need when he inherits full responsibility of his own life? What tools do they have at their disposal?
There are many options: school, team sports, academic competition, religion, chess club, etc. All of these are vehicles that can serve as preparation for adulthood, but some do a better job than others… In my experience, the absolute best teacher available in America for turning boys into men is competitive wrestling.
I am biased, I build champion wrestlers for a living. It is what I do with the majority of my time. With that said, I want to make it clear that wrestling is not my favorite sport. There are so many sports that are more fun than wrestling.
I don’t promote wrestling as the best because it is what I do for a living, I do it for a living BECAUSE it is the best form of preparation a child can get. There are easier and more lucrative businesses out there, but I am forever grateful for the lessons wrestling taught me, and I give back to others through my involvement and promotion of the sport.
When I was 16 I made enormous sacrifices and began focusing exclusively on wrestling. Wrestling was not even close to as enjoyable as many of the activities that I gave up, but I knew that it was far more important for my personal development and growth. I would become a better person, learn hundreds of essential life lessons, and change who I was. This wasn’t a game, this was training; it was intense preparation for battle. My coaches slowly brainwashed the identity of a champion into me, they changed my habits, my outlooks, my way of thinking, and my plans for my future. It was an overhaul of my entire personality. I competed hundreds of times in 1on1 combat, achieving amazing victories and enduring soul-crushing losses. It was intensely emotional. I don’t know who I would have become had I not gone through the trials and tribulations of wrestling. It was my journey to becoming a man.
You don’t have to become a national champion to learn the lessons wrestling teaches. One season will have a life-lasting effect. Ask anyone who has wrestled whether or not they consider it an important part of their life. The answer will be unanimous. The most notorious American wrestler in history, Dan Gable, famously said, “once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
No kid comes into the wrestling room their first day and wants to become a national champion. Those dreams are cultivated slowly by good coaches who help athletes set achievable goals one goal at a time. A good coach makes it fun first. He gets them to enjoy practice and look forward to the next one. He slowly gets them addicted to the success hard work brings, and slowly phases out the fun until nothing is left but the heart and gut-wrenching determination of the athlete with a champion mindset. This takes years and many get it wrong by making it too hard too soon. It must be fun first, and only get hard once the athlete is ready to embark upon that journey. I’ve seen this moment happen countless times. You can see a fire in their eyes, and it is obvious that they are ready to get serious. It usually happens after a crushing defeat. There is a fury in their demeanor that says never again. They make promises to themselves, real promises, which they keep with fanatical fervor. It is always very impressive.
I strongly suggest all parents get their children involved in wrestling. If not wrestling, try grappling. Any type of 1on1 combat sport will do. Don’t worry, they will make it out alive. Yes, they will get boo-boos, they will cry, from time to time they will feel humiliated and defeated; just like in real life. Do not be scared! They will emerge stronger and more prepared for the world.
Here is a list of some of the lessons I learned from my experience wrestling:
Wrestling will teach you to love hard work.
It will get you addicted to achieving your goals BECAUSE of the hard work you put in.
You will form a strong mental association between SUCCESS and HARD WORK. To become successful, you need to work HARD and SMART, there are absolutely no shortcuts. I can say hands down that this was the single most important lesson I learned from wrestling. I had been told this countless times, and knew it to be true, but there is a difference between knowing it because you were told, and actually living it and experiencing the lesson for yourself. This has been my largest source of self-confidence. Hard work = Success.
It will teach you how to fail, gracefully. To get back up again. To face your fears over and over again.
It will instill the self-confidence to set lofty and ambitious goals that most people wouldn’t dream of setting due to fear of failure. Would you rather be the type of person who shoots for the moon, or the type of person who plays it safe? The only reason people play it safe is due to fear and a lack of self-confidence.
A wrestling match is harder and scarier than public speaking. There is an enormous danger that you will be humiliated. This danger is real and will always exist anytime you have to “put it on the line” in your life. Competition desensitizes you to fear of failure.
It will push you beyond your known limits, both physically and in terms of stress management.
The discipline and self-sacrifice you learn will carry over into all other areas of your life. We live in a fat lazy society. All of us are guilty of laziness. The younger that you establish the habit of exercise, the more likely that will persist throughout your life.
You will learn respect and how to command it from others. Bullying is not an issue.
You will learn the power meticulous goal setting.
You will surround yourself with other like-minded individuals.
You will get into the best shape of your life.
You will learn to make healthy lifestyle choices concerning what you put into your body and your mind.
Find a local wrestling club, many will accept kids as young as 6 years old. Spend a few hours a week there learning the basics. Start getting them matches immediately against equally experienced competitors and let them test their mettle. Both winning and losing are important. Losing is even more important as it carries with it an emotional response that cultivates a burning ambition to improve. I hate losing. I hate it! I want to win and I will do whatever it takes… Even if it means not playing video games and going to parties, sacrificing my free time, being deadly serious at practice, putting my body through brutal workouts, maintaining a strictly healthy diet and giving up my favorite sweets, changing and becoming the best possible version of myself.
Wrestling is awesome. It will do wonders for your life. It will cultivate you into a man. Get involved!
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