For some reason the International Olympic Committee put wrestling on their drop-list for 2020 to eliminate wrestling from the Olympics after 2016. Wrestling is a core Olympic sport not only because of the tradition that dates back to the Ancient Greeks, but also because the core values that create a world-class wrestler in the first place are perfectly consistent with the original intent of the Olympics.
Maybe a personal example can illustrate how my experience extrapolated over thousands (or more) of others has an impact that reaches much farther than the IOC currently realizes.
I finally got around to wrestling in 11th grade. Coming from a huge wrestling area in Pennsylvania with remarkable athletes, coaches, parents and some very engaged teachers, starting at age 16 was kind of late. A win completely escaped that entire first year. A few teammates would encourage the summer tournament scene where much of the competition was the best there was. There was something intrinsic about the pursuit even though “throwing me to the wolves” like that was pretty funny at times.
There were some minor successes the following year in high school and I really felt the need to continue. I didn’t yet know why, but would soon discover that wrestling initiated a chain of events similar to the path of countless others.
I had the honor of being able to continue after high school, but couldn’t quite close the gap between my motivation and (lack of) skill. Being exposed to the inner workings of greatness, though, had a magical effect. I noticed that the top wrestlers shared the same exact characteristics of humility, intelligence and integrity. There was simply a culture of ethics that created a champion on the mat as well as off; a culture that’s hard to replicate elsewhere that highlights how persistent people begin their success right where others end in failure.
Having seen the results of good values had me searching for how to acquire them for myself. The next logical step was Marine Corps Officer Candidate School where it all came together.
Specifically, leadership (as learned from the best) can be defined by the following:
Set an Example
Keep Your Word
Have the Courage to Stand Up for What’s Right
Be on Time
Do the Job Without Being Told
Be Friendly and Respectful
Treat Everyone Equally
Be Enthusiastic and Let Others Do What They Do Best
Be Neat and Clean
Share Unpleasant Tasks
Put the Needs of Others Before Your Own
Privately Correct Others When They’re Wrong
Help Someone Who’s in Trouble
Weight the Facts With Good Judgment
Corruption, greed and depravity do seem to be the norm of today, but maybe that’s because not enough have seen the results of good ethics, solid values and total honesty firsthand. The Olympic values of unity, sportsmanship and human decency that transcend politics, race, nationality and economics are at risk; I think, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to participate in their demise.
Probably not much one can do about the whims of a governing body, but wrestlers at every level can continue to demonstrate the character that defines them.
Maybe wrestling should drop the Olympics and maintain its own clarity of purpose making it impervious to anyone’s drop-list. We might just find that the Olympics needs wrestling more than wrestling needs the Olympics.
The most important thing of all, though, is to support local youth and school programs to build leadership from the ground up so that debacles like this will eventually resolve themselves or not even happen in the first place.
The world clearly needs wrestling now more than ever and the challenge ahead is likely the greatest opportunity of all. Some say that wrestling’s a throw-back, but it’s truly the ultimate throw-forward to what we all need to restore.