SportsLeader is a virtue-based mentoring and motivation program for coaches. This blog shares stories from coaches all over the country transforming lives. For more information contact Lou Judd -

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Art of Sacrifice

SportsLeader has a new season of virtues that is ready to go - SEASON II - Sacrifice, Respect and Perseverance. This is a great introduction.

More to come. Attached is a photo of our new commitment card.


By Jim Gruenwald - a 2x US Olympian in Grego-Roman Wrestling and is the Head Wrestling Coach at Wheaton College

The concept in the title is most times associated with Chess. The stereotypical image of two nerdy looking individuals intently studying a board or a couple of old-timers enjoying a casual game in the park may come to mind. Not that I have anything against chess, for I enjoy the game/competition and value the lessons it can teach many wrestlers. Furthermore, I have many times referred to wrestling as a chess match where one’s pulse is between 180 – 210 bpm. Strategy, tempo, anticipation, and more importantly, for this article, sacrifice is an immensely valuable concept that every wrestler needs as a part of his repertoire of skills. 
With that said the idea of sacrifice is that at some point in the chess game a player sacrifices a piece for greater gain and potential victory of the match. What is the application to wrestling?  The sacrifice of parts of our personal life for the potential of greater gain or possible Olympic Gold in our wrestling careers must be weighed. The question is what are you willing to sacrifice in your life to become a better wrestler? Please note, I said better wrestler.  I am making no promises of greatness or victory. Sacrifice, like many other aspects of the sport, cannot guarantee greatness. Flexibility, strength, technique, conditioning, etc. can make you a better wrestler but will not make you a great wrestler. 

The difference being that the sacrifice requires you to lose some part of your personal life whereas the other qualities offer measurable or tangible benefits. If I stretch, I get more flexible and am less likely to become injured and will be stronger over a greater range of motion. If I lift weights, I become more powerful. If I train more intensely and push for longer periods of time, my conditioning improves.   If I take what coaches demonstrate and make the technique my own, my skills improve. But again, none of this guarantees greatness. So why do it? The answer is obvious, because if I get better, and combine it with certain inner qualities such as an iron will, I have a chance at greatness – at that Olympic or World Gold - to be the best. Despite the loss rather than gain, the same is true for sacrifice.

At this point let me preface the remainder of the article by clarifying intent. It is not my intent to give a lesson in morality. This is a lesson in human physiology which includes understanding the body and the mind. After observing the habits and choices of many wrestlers over the last 30 years, I have noticed that more often than not what we do outside of training and competition inhibits or disqualifies our ability to maximize our potential. I am not about to list all sacrifices, negative effects, or positive replacements, part of getting better is self correcting, being a self-learner, and knowing your own body. So role the ugliness - What are you suggesting we give up? 

Sacrifice #1: Junk Food. 
Refined sugars and processed foods are low in nutritive content, and high in empty calories. A few of the negative effects include a suppressed immune system, inhibited vitamin and mineral absorption, and a decreased ability to recover from training or competition. Each person is unique, so find high quality foods and beverages that will build your machine. Learn not only what to eat and drink, but when and how.

Sacrifice #2: Late night movies, gaming, or partying. 
Staying up late and suffering from sleep deprivation prevents recovery. Athletes require 8-10 for optimum body revitalization. Cheat sleep and you cheat your body's ability to recover. This can affect the way you think, your mood, and your ability to train at best levels. Poor sleep affects agility and coordination negatively. Poor sleep can also depress body's ability to fight and recover from sickness. Poor sleep habits also contribute to weight abnormalities. Get to bed early, just because you can operate on 6 hours or less of sleep does not mean you will be operating at your best.

Sacrifice #3: The Buzz or High. 
‘Recreational’ drug use is illegal and drinking is illegal depending on your age. I am not opposed to a person sitting down and having a beer or glass of wine to relax, but as an athlete getting to the point of a buzz means you have replaced necessary fluids in your body with alcohol. This state inhibits your ability to recover, provides empty calories, and does not do much for other decision making processes. I am not going to provide a list of athletes who have self-destructed and wasted talent or missed opportunities, but I have observed this from high school to the Elite level. 

Sacrifice #4: Bad Relationships. 
Who we associate with affects our outlook. Surround yourself with people who have an entitlement attitude, are negative, irresponsible, undisciplined, etc. and you will most likely adopt those same qualities to varying degrees. Surround yourself with self-correcting, motivated, responsible, disciplined individuals, etc and you will most likely develop those qualities. Evaluate all relationships, dating, family, friends, teammate, coaches, etc. to determine how they are influencing your attitude and career. 

Granted, we have all heard the stories of the occasional superstar who has been able to win despite a less than disciplined training regimen or lifestyle choices. Most of them are freakishly gifted, and even they suffer the consequences at times. However, for most of us, we have to do everything as near to perfect as possible to achieve the ultimate goal. Most of us have to scratch and claw our way to the top, so trying to emulate a lifestyle that is adopted by a genetic superstar is counterproductive at best and is a first class ticket to failure at worst.

When I speak to groups I often encourage them to evaluate decisions on how it will affect them and those they represent. Ask the questions, Will it make me a better person, friend, son or daughter, employee, spouse, student, athlete? In the end the correct choice is ours to make. What is the value of an Olympic Gold Medal, or the value to even have a chance at one? What are you willing to sacrifice? In the end, is making any of the suggested changes a sacrifice at all or just a smart move? 

A real sacrifice is leaving wife and kids, family and friends, missing class and having to make up work so you can travel for a tournament or training camp. A real sacrifice is going into debt or redoing a budget to pay for one more wrestling trip to get in extra competition. A real sacrifice is staying for the entire USAW training camp regime rather than leaving early or coming late to make extra money at other camps.   Giving up junk, late nights, binges, and bad relationships is hardly a sacrifice. There is pain in sacrifice, but pain fades on the podium.

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