Family & Education

Dear Next Generation: Lessons Learned as a Wrestling Coach

TIMEDecember 19, 2021

What I would like to share with you comes from what I learned as a volunteer wrestling coach for 20 years and 16 years for a local high school. I learned more over the years than my student-athletes did. I would like to share two lessons.

Firstly, I learned over the years that sports did more for the undertalented athlete than the one with gifts and talent. Instead of making champions out of boys, we were making men. The champions were always going to get the medals. They didn’t need to be encouraged as much as the kid who lost to the champions.

One of my favorite stories sums this up well. A young Blasian (of black-Asian heritage) man by the name of Warren Johnson came to join the team. Why? I had no idea at the time. Warren was short, overweight, shy, and lacked self-confidence. His weight put Warren in the heavyweight class. A class of giants. He didn’t stand a chance. Defeat after defeat, he suffered.

You see, this is the thing about wrestling, there is nobody to blame but yourself. After a match is concluded, you have to respectfully stand and shake hands with the victor and his coach. In front of God and everybody. Keeping your head up and accepting your outcome with class and character. This is no small thing to do, week in and week out. So this sets the stage.

Warren draws a champion for his first match. A giant amongst men. A 6-foot, 260-pound walking door of an African American. Huge hair, enormous muscles. Undefeated. This man smashed his opponents. I found Warren pacing with his hands clenched and tears in his eyes.

I asked him, “What’s up?”

His reply: “Coach, I am scared to death!”

My answer? What could I say?

“You’re going to win”? That would be a lie and he would know it. So I told him the truth.

I said, “Warren, you are the most dangerous man on the mat.”

“What?” he says. “How can you say that? Look at him.”

“That’s just it,” I said. “He thinks he has already won. You, on the other hand, have nothing to lose.”

Warren looks at me in disbelief.

“That makes you very dangerous. Throw caution to the wind and go all out, he won’t see it coming.”

So Warren walked out on the mat and looked up at this giant, who, in turn, flexed his muscles to intimidate. Warren didn’t flinch. Per the referee’s instructions, Warren reaches out and, looking him in the eyes, shakes his hand. They set for battle. An unknown coach grabs me by the arm and says: “How can you let this happen? Stop the match. The young man does not stand a chance and is going to get killed.”

I brushed him off. The whistle blows. You have to understand, this man towers over Warren by two feet. Warren doesn’t hold anything back. He springs into the air, grabbing his opponent with a throw we call a “head and arm.” This giant flies through the air and lands flat on his back. A count of three and the referee slaps the mat signaling the pin and win for Warren. The auditorium erupts with pandemonium.

From that day forward, Warren became a man. Confident, assured, athletic. Over the years, Warren worked hard, lost the excess weight, and built a body the Greek gods would be envious of. He’s a heavy equipment operator, husband, and father. A real man. He knows he is very dangerous, but he keeps the wolf within.

The second is a parable.

The 3 Evil Brothers Now Are 4.

Many wrestlers lose because they lack confidence. In other words, they fear. Fear of success, fear of making a mistake, fear of embarrassing themselves. Their fear causes them to do what they don’t want. My goal was to teach them to overcome their fears. To do that, you must understand that fear is evil and part of a process. I used to teach that fear was one of three brothers, Fear, Anger, and Stupid. I now teach four brothers, Safe, Fear, Anger, and Stupid.

Let me explain. Safe is the high ground. Who wouldn’t want to be safe? If you’re not safe, you’re dangerous. This is what we have experienced these past two years with the China flu. Safety is No. 1 in all workplace environments. To the point that it has created an unsafe work environment. People are so scared to make a mistake that they do nothing. They let others decide what is safe. Life is dangerous. There is no way to avoid it. Be aware and self-responsible or it will progress to its brother, Fear. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Stupid.

Think of how you react to somebody jumping out at you when you don’t see it coming. First, you are startled. This is un-Safe! Then embarrassed. Then Anger takes hold. Now, you have a choice. Master your Anger or it will become your master. Your pulse is racing, you’re pumped full of adrenaline. Fight or flight. Anger steps in and says, “I’ve got this, step aside.”

Once Anger has you, you are no longer in control but Anger controls you. Typically we then do something Stupid that we later regret. If we (the grappler-wrestler) can break the chain of the evil brothers and take just one of the brothers captive then we stand a better chance of victory, just like the previous story of Warren Johnson. He broke the chain of Safe, replaced Fear with resolve, defeated Anger with courage, and put Stupid behind him. Even a fool can be thought wise. David defeated Goliath.

Kevin M. Bigham Sr., California


I lost my father at age 14 and as sad as that may be, a friend’s father, who was friends with my dad from coaching baseball in the same little league, took me under his wing afterward, as my supervisor at the start of my career in mechanical design. He was a great Christian man and a very approachable mentor to many young men in the community. His name was Jack Dobson. He was a second father to me and sadly, he recently passed a few years ago. Some of the best advice he ever gave were these little trinkets of wisdom:

1. “What’s it gonna matter 100 years from now?”
2. “God has a way of working things out.”
3. “Keep doing the next ‘right’ thing!”

The latter is my personal favorite and I gladly share these with our next generation because they sure did help this lost little 14-year-old kid in his life and still do, as I’m about to turn 58 this January. (So here’s to men like Jack!)

Randy Hudgins, Virginia


What advice would you like to give to the younger generations?

We call on all of our readers to share the timeless values that define right and wrong, and pass the torch, if you will, through your wisdom and hard-earned experience. We feel that the passing down of this wisdom has diminished over time, and that only with a strong moral foundation can future generations thrive.

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