Sitting With The Losses

My son is a wrestler. Over the years, he has seen tremendous growth, experienced hard work pay off, and celebrated many well-deserved wins. But he also experienced adversity, disappointment, and soul-crushing loss.

When he is on the mats, he is alone. For 3 solid rounds, he struggles physically, mentally, and emotionally to put into play everything that he has learned in training to defeat his opponent alone. Sure, his coaches, parents, and teammates are shouting out directions and encouragement from the sidelines, but he alone is responsible for executing it…or not.

And while he may celebrate his wins or be comforted in his losses by his team, in the moment right after the match when he and his opponent stand alone on the mats and the referee raises one of their hands in victory, he stands alone. And that moment is very emotional.

There is a lot to be learned in that moment and the moments that follow for the wrestlers. Loss is an important part of any sport and in life. But, it has also taught me a lot as a parent. It has taught me how my son processes loss, what he needs and what he doesn’t, and where we both still have room to improve.

My son trains hard. He loves the sport. He makes sacrifices for the sport. And when he shows up to a match, he shows up to win. So naturally, when he loses, he is upset. And that is okay. But as a parent, I struggle with how much upset is appropriate in this very public setting and in what ways is it appropriate for him to display it?

When our son was younger, he couldn’t tell us what he needed. Instead, we learned through trial and error. Mistakes were made. Often our good intentions made his reaction worse. We found he does not need encouragement and pep talks. He does not need critiques and coaching. He does not need us to make excuses for his loss. He actually does not need anything from us for a while, other than to tolerate our own feelings on our own.

My son needs space.

He needs to choke back tears as he shakes the hands of his opponents and his opponent’s coach, put his sweatshirt on, pull his hood up, and find a quiet spot to take a few minutes to himself.

Truth be told, I hate giving him space. I have to fight every instinct that I have to give him those few minutes that he needs, rather than to say all of the things that I want/need to say. But, in those moments right after a match, it simply isn’t about me. It is about him, and what it will take for him to regroup so that he can get back out on the mats and give it 100% again. And he does regroup. Every single time.

Loss feels bad, but it isn’t always bad. It can be what propels us forward…what motivates us. Often he leaves a match more aware of what he needs to work on in practice.

And, maybe … just maybe … understanding how it feels to sit with his losses is exactly what he needs to stand up so straight, so confident, and so proud every time he wins.

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