Wrestling with Winning, Losing and Everything in Between
Written by Rev. Steve Allen
I’ve been a wrestling coach for the past 33 years. I’ve been a coach longer than I’ve had kids (25 years), longer than I’ve had a paying job (31 years), longer than I’ve been married (32 years). I started coaching in graduate school after getting involved with a local high school wrestling team. I’ve been asked why I coach. Why do I spend long Saturdays away from my family with only a little extra pay and more bowls of chili than I can count?
More than anything, I suppose it’s because of the intersection between life and sports. It’s the unbridled joy one can experience from winning and the perspective one can gain from losing. As a chaplain, sport has taught me a few things about humility, redemption, grace, forgiveness, persistence and love; all things that’ll preach from a pulpit. In fact, sport is where I’ve seen some of the greatest sermons play out. I remember giving a referee some grief one Saturday at a tournament. He’d made a number of egregiously bad calls, and I was not shy in letting him hear about it. The next day I was guest preaching at a little country church I’d never been to before. After the service, one of the parishioners greeted me at the door with a smile on his face that said “surprised to see me?” It was that same referee. He extended his hand and gave me a pat on the back. I was humbled by that encounter and appreciative of the grace he offered me.
As my last child nears graduation, people have asked me if I’ll continue to coach after he heads off to college. I went home and mentioned that to my wife and she said, “Why stop now?” I sensed a bit of irony in her answer as if to say - the time to have stopped was when we had four little ones under the age of six. And yet, I think her question had more to do with the fact that she knows that coaching is part and parcel of who I am. If I stop coaching I might as well just go ahead and retire altogether, and Lord knows neither of us are ready for that yet!
One could make the case that sports play too central role in our culture, and they would probably be right. But I would counter that the wrestling mats are where I’ve experienced some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned, some of the closest relationships I’ve ever formed, and some of the best bowls of chili I’ve ever tasted.