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ANN BAILEY: Lessons from the wrestling mat

When I became a “wrestling” mom, I thought that as time went on, it would become easier to watch my sons when they stepped out on the mat.

I was wrong.

With every passing year, it has become more difficult. Now, five years after Thomas, then a fourth-grader, and Brendan, then a sixth-grader, decided to wrestle instead of play basketball, my stomach is churning so much as I watch them that I sometimes wonder if I should leave the gym until they are finished.


But, of course, I don’t. No matter how hard it is to watch them, it would be even harder not to know how they are doing, so I sit on my bleacher seat, digging my fingernails into my palms and swaying to and fro with every turn of my sons’ bodies on the mat. I am not a vocal fan, instead remaining mostly silent as other parents shout out advice or encouragement.

However, just because I don’t scream out loud, does not mean that there are not a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head. Other moms tell me they cannot believe how calm I am, and I reply that it only appears that way on the outside. On the inside, I am an emotional wreck.

I have to confess that, while some moms say they don’t like watching their sons wrestle because they are afraid they will get hurt, my reasons are less noble. It’s hard for me because I want them to win, and I have no control over the outcome of their matches.

I don’t worry about them getting hurt because I was an athlete, and I know that any time you participate in sports there is a chance you can get hurt. Just as there is no benefit to worrying about what the future holds in life, in general, there’s not any use wasting time thinking about what injury might occur on the mat.

Obviously, I don’t have any more control over whether my sons win than I do over them getting hurt, but it’s harder for me not to worry about them winning because I am so fiercely competitive. In everything I do, I want to be the best and I want my children to be the same.

Stepping back

I know, though, that my sons’ wrestling is not about me, it’s about them. One of the many good things about their involvement in wrestling is that it reminds me that they are separate individuals and that their wins or losses are their concerns, not mine. I do not want to be a parent who lives vicariously through my children and, when I find myself getting too worked up about their wins and losses, it’s a reminder that I need to step back and tell myself, it’s not “my stuff.”

I am proud to note that while my sons are competitive and desire to be winners as much as I want them to be, they are gracious in both victory and defeat. There are no pumped fists and jumping around when they win, and no headgear thrown or muttering under their breaths when they lose. They simply shake their opponents’ hands and walk off of the mat as their coaches taught them to do.

Being good winners and losers is another valuable lesson they’ve learned in wrestling that supersedes winning, and I remind myself of that when I find myself getting too caught up with the numbers in my sons’ wins and losses records.

Another thing wrestling reminds me is that you never know from one week, or even from one match, to the next, what will happen. I just have to watch them one match at a time and not try to guess what the outcome will be when they wrestle this opponent or that one.

The art of self-discipline when it comes to cutting weight is another lesson that Brendan and Thomas are learning in wrestling. At the same time, they are teaching me that while I can make suggestions about what I think is the proper way to diet, they are individuals with the right to do it their way.

Learning how to win and lose, taking life a day at a time and “letting go” and seeing my sons as separate people are just a few of the lessons that my sons’ participation in wrestling has taught me. And though I may be competitive, I recognize that those things are much more important than winning and losing.

That’s one of the reasons you will continue to find me, stomach churning or not, in the stands at wrestling matches for several more years. The other, and most important of course, is whether they win or lose, I will always be there for my sons. 

Reach Bailey at or (218) 779-8093.