During his remarkable career as a Greco-Roman athlete, Jim Gruenwald managed to become a two-time Olympian and one of the unquestioned leaders of the US National program. He was an elite international competitor who was uncompromising and vicious on the mat; yet filled with a love for Christ and a willingness to passionately share his faith off of it. Today, he is the head coach at Wheaton College in Illinois, as well as a highly-influential voice pertaining to all matters of encouragement, devotion, and Christian servitude.
There is a common misconception that wrestling is an individual sport. Granted, the direct competition is one verses one; yet, to discount the team component or support from others misses the beauty of wrestling, which can lead to an egomaniacal attitude and a lack of accountability.
No individual can develop alone; and rarely, if ever, does an individual represent just himself or herself. Even in a sport that is considered individual such as wrestling, there is a ‘significant others’ impact on one’s performance and development. Every wrestler needs to grasp, embrace, and appreciate that their success will never be maximized in a vacuum. Who can grow without parents to support them? Teammates to train with? Trainers and doctors to mend, a college or club host, and a coach to teach and mentor? We are just a single variable in the equation that is the road to success. And it is a road that is largely evaluated and determined by whom we blame.
The athletic world all too often has a culture that tacitly allows us to blame others for losses and to take sole credit for our victories. The counter philosophy is to demonstrate, teach, and encourage young people to develop an important life habit — to blame others for victory and take responsibility for loss. After each victory — whether it is the state championship, the Nationals, the Olympics or World Championships — blame others. When interviewed, “I blame God for my victories. Mom and Dad, it is your fault I won. I blame you. Coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, teachers, training partners, friends, supporters, I blame you. It is your fault I won.” For without them, winning would not have been possible.
The second part of the counter is to take responsibility for the losses. Blaming poor or corrupt referees/officials, cheating opponents, or bad circumstances justifies our excuses for losing and does not facilitate a teachable spirit. When I stepped out onto the mat, I wanted all to know that they must bow to my will, and that the only will greater than my own on the mat was God’s will. I respected the referee, the fans, the opponent, the coaches. In the end, if I lost it was my fault, even if the referee or my opponent did cheat.
Evaluate the losses. What needs to improve? Is it strength, cardio, muscular endurance, flexibility, strategy, grit? Will? There’s an answer — and it isn’t blaming others. Blaming others for our shortcomings gives them too much power over us. Blaming others leaves us ill-prepared for the next tough or big moment.
Lastly, taking sole credit for the victories or any success cheats those who have invested so much of their lives in us. Taking the time to say “thank you” to significant others is the high road, the narrow road, the road that must be traveled, and the best road to maximize.
Remember that we represent more than ourselves. Each time one competes on the mat or any other field of play or competitive arena, our actions can damage or enhance the reputations of others. As an international wrestler, I represented God, the United States of America, my family and friends, my spouse, my coaches, the Sunkist Kids, and lastly myself. This concept holds true in more than just sport and can be applied to most, if not all areas of life.
So, who are you blaming? And for what?