Wrestlers should also set standards in communicating

Updated: January 24, 2012

By Sandy Stevens

In the last issue of WIN, a column by Olympic gold medalist Ben Peterson carried the headline “Successful wrestlers learn from coaches, others who can help.”

Sandy Stevens

Ben stressed that young athletes can learn more than just technique from a variety of teachers, including officials, school administrators and spiritual leaders. He also declared, “Learn from teachers. Yes, even English teachers. They want us to win, also.”
And to that I say, “Amen!”
As a former English and journalism teacher at Waterloo East, Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Pleasant Valley high schools in Iowa, I’ve seen how supportive teachers can be of student-athletes. But I also know that for some athletes, the “student” part gets the short end of the stick.
Let’s start with the obvious: spoken and written use of the English language as it applies to wrestlers AND coaches.
No one expects you to talk like a Shakespearean actor and it’s OK to use casual English when you are with family or friends, but if you’re talking with people in the community, say, to wrestlers’ parents or to a newspaper reporter, you should be able to utter complete sentences instead of phrases strung together with myriads of “you know” or “like.” Like, you know, this win means, like, a lot.
You want to be an Olympic champion? Will you be ready for the onslaught of media interviews, with every word shared with millions of readers or listeners? Can you avoid sounding like a dolt if you’re interviewed by Matt Lauer or Jay Leno?
No one expects you to write like Shakespeare, either, but written comments have legs just as long as spoken words — especially with the popularity of Facebook and other social media.
If you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “there”, “their” and “they’re,” it’s out there for everyone — including college admissions representatives and current and prospective employers — to see.
Whether you like it or not, you are judged by what you say and what you write.
I promoted my journalism classes by pointing out that at its best, journalistic writing is writing clearly and concisely. A lot of people graduate from high school or college with the same body of knowledge in science or computers or music or whatever the subject, but few can relay that information to others clearly and concisely. If you can, you will have a marketable skill that few others have.
And you will write. Maybe not essays, but possibly job-related reports, analyses or requests, communications to co-workers or the public, press releases, applications, even a write-up on you or your business for a Chamber of Commerce newsletter.
Why do I care how you write or talk? Because I believe that the future of our sport depends on every one of us: current or former wrestler, coach, wrestler’s relative, official or fan. We must be ambassadors for our sport, and communication is key.
That’s also why I’ve been known to occasionally use what I call my “Judge Judy voice” to chastise wrestlers (and occasionally others) if their actions show lack of respect and/or inappropriate behavior.
After the Junior Nationals last year, I sat waiting in the Fargo airport due to a lengthy delay of my flight. The place was packed with people from the tournament, along with North Dakotans who probably wondered why their airport was suddenly so busy.
Seats in the waiting area were filled, so a good number of passengers-to-be sat or lay on the floor, playing games, reading or resting.
Or in the case of a couple dozen wrestlers from the same team, talking loudly enough to be heard throughout the waiting area.
Suddenly one of the wrestlers swore, using profanity not fit for this or virtually any other publication. Turning to the stranger next to me, I said, “Did he just say what I thought he did?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“I’m going over to say something,” I said.
“Good,” another stranger behind us declared, “because if you weren’t, I would!”
I did go speak to the wrestlers — whose coaches and team leader were sitting with them, by the way — and what I told them illustrates why I care.
Those two strangers had no affiliation with our sport, but now they were left with a negative impression.
That wrestler didn’t just represent himself. He represented his team; he represented his school; he represented his state.
He represented me. He represented you. He represented our sport.
Do you pick up after yourself at a tournament? Do you remember to tip a waitress? Do you keep your hotel room decent? Are the words “please” and “thank you” part of your vocabulary? Or do you add to a harmful stereotype?
You want to save our sport? Then realize that wrestlers must be better than those who allow negative images to trail after them. Talk, write and act in a way that will enhance what others think of you  — because in doing so, you will enhance our sport.  n