Every year, around 400,000 college students sign their name on dense compilations of written rules and regulations issued by the NCAA. These rules essentially state that the NCAA, and in some cases the university for which the students compete, will be the only recipients of any revenue that is produced by the athlete.
To someone that is not familiar with the NCAA, the choice of an athlete to give up these rights in order to compete under a big corporation that limits athletes' freedoms and financial incentives may seem absurd, especially when there is an extremely small margin of individuals that ever get the opportunity to become professional at their sport and compete for money. However, every year, hundreds of thousands of student athletes choose to sacrifice small freedoms and financial opportunities for the satisfaction of competing at the highest level of amateur sports -- and they aren't the only ones. Millions of people around the world participate in amateur and club sports just for the experience of competing and training. Of course, sports are enjoyable and provide many opportunities for successful athletes, but there has to be a greater driving force that leads competitors who will never be premier athletes to compete and spend significant amounts of time training. This is the true value of sport: the character built from participating and the experience and rewards of being part of a team. These lessons often serve as a guide and platform for the success of an athlete in the real world. Those who are able to translate what they have learned in sport to real life situations are able to achieve and progress swiftly because of their teachability and experience.
As a wrestler who has been competing at an elite level for 13 years, with state and national titles, and as current Harvard student with a few jobs under my belt, I have certainly reaped the benefits from athletic pursuits. The lessons I have learned from my sport have allowed me to accomplish some of my major goals off the mat and keep me focused in my day to day life. So far, wrestling has helped me gain acceptance into an excellent university and even taken me around the world to compete. I can't imagine dealing with the rigors of an academic schedule at an Ivy League institution without the values I have gained through wrestling. There have been times when I have been in tough courses that require exams that seem as if they were written in another language, and many students panic or shut down because succeeding on the exam may seem like an impossible feat. However, because of my experience as an athlete, I am able to concentrate on my preparation for the test and perform to the best of my ability while understanding that if I don't end up with the grade I want, then I will simply work harder for the next exam.
Perhaps a more relevant and relatable example of how sports have impacted my life can be seen through my experience as an intern, or even my current focus of taking care of my grandfather suffering from Alzheimer's disease. In my time spent as an intern for a Massachusetts-based real estate company, I realized for the first time just how much of an impact wrestling has had on my life. There were days when I walked into the office and the pile of work in front of me seemed unbearable and simply too much to complete, but when I compared the amount of office work I had to the work I have always put into wrestling it seemed like a breeze. As an intern, I had a lot of tedious work and even some challenging physical labor at times, but it isn't comparable to the work it takes to be a division one wrestler. Are dozens of spreadsheets really as difficult as dozens of partner carries up football stadium sections? I can tell you from experience, the answer is an easy no.
More important than any advantage wrestling has given me in the working world, however, is how wrestling has shaped my character. I've been in California for about a week now looking after my grandfather and spending time with him. I have always looked up to him as a successful businessman and, more importantly, as a man with integrity and a huge heart.
Though his disease causes him to struggle at times and leads to confusion in his daily life, the patience and perseverance I have learned through wrestling help me to aid him and be there for support. In fact, the responsibilities of looking after an Alzheimer's patient are comparable in a lot of ways to the responsibilities of being a camp counselor, a job I have taken on many times. An Alzheimer's patient, much like a young athlete, must constantly be reminded of their current goals. Although the actual goals may be different, the role that the coach or caregiver takes on for each is actually quite similar. It takes patience and understanding, and concepts must be reinforced many times before the individual actually learns them, and sometimes it takes failure or errors to truly learn or arrive at a goal.
The other day, I left my grandfather alone for an hour or two while I went down the street to workout. When I returned, the car had been moved, and I was locked out of the house, as my grandfather had the only key and for whatever reason had left with the car. Instead of panicking in this situation and focusing on the potential negative outcomes, I was patient and made a set of minor goals to help me with my ultimate goal of finding my grandfather and the car. A few calls and about thirty minutes later I was able to find him near the house and together we walked around the blocks surrounding the house until we found the car. Without my experience teaching youth wrestlers and my goal-oriented nature thanks to wrestling, I am sure I would not have handled this situation well. Times like this allow me to realize the real benefits of participating in a sport.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have learned from exceptional coaches and teachers in my life, and will continue to utilize the skills they have taught me in real life situations. I am confident that throughout the rest of my college wrestling career I will continue to grow on the mat, but more importantly as a person. Wrestling is a huge part of my life and I cherish the sport and truly enjoy training and competing, but the values it has instilled in me as a person mean much more than any accomplishment the sport has to offer. I will always encourage young people to participate in sports and allow their character to grow from the lessons sport has to offer, and no matter where my life takes me, I will depend on what wrestling has taught me and use it as a guide for success.