Burroughs: Time is short, don’t waste opportunities to be great

Updated: October 10, 2017

Editor’s Note: The following column by Jordan Burroughs appeared in the Oct. 10, 2017 issue of WIN Magazine.

There is no substitute for hard work. No talent, no special move, no natural abilities or athleticism, nothing. Hard work beats talent every time when talent doesn’t work hard, and even sometimes when it does.

You may not be the best in the world, but I guarantee that you will have no regrets. Those words ring in my head each time I step on the mat. There are no promises in wrestling or in life for the matter. The only promise is that at some point your life will come to an end. However, that shouldn’t affect the way you encounter things. In fact it should fuel a fire inside of you to do the best you can at every moment.

As an athlete, your window of opportunity to be the best is very small. You only have four years to be a high school state champ. Another four years to be an NCAA champ. Maybe another seven to eight years to be an Olympic or World champ after college and that’s if you’re making enough money from wrestling to hold off from getting a real job to support your family.

The average world-class athlete retires at 33. The average World-class wrestler retires at 24. Your clock may have already started. Have you started training hard yet?

Being good at anything is a responsibility. Expectations arise. People expect you to win. Coaches expect you to work hard. When all eyes are on you, lead by example. When no one cares who you are, and you’re just a squirt trying to make the varsity line-up, lead by example. Every champion starts somewhere. Don’t become discouraged and quit. Work harder.

I was the 52nd-ranked senior coming out of high school in 2006. Not anymore. I made it my job to outwork all my teammates. To prove to all the colleges who didn’t recruit me, all the wrestlers who had ever beaten me, anyone who had ever doubted me, that I would become a champion.

Just because you don’t start at the top doesn’t mean you can’t finish there. Remember, once you’ve reached halfway to your destination, it’s the same distance to reach your goal, as it is to go back home.

Of course, there are times when you want to quit. You go through them. I go through them. If I only practiced on days that I felt 100 percent, I would probably never practice. But these are the days that make you into a champion. These are the days where you push through the pain and soreness, the weakness from cutting weight, and keep your eyes on the big picture. Here is where you make the biggest gains. It’s easy to wrestle when you feel good, easy to win when you have the lead.

Can you overcome adversity? Only you can decide whether or not you train hard. You still have to be at practice in the wrestling room for two hours. Why not make the most of it? The choice is yours. You have the rest of your life to party, years to nap and eat pizza. These are the days where you become a fighter. Embrace these days.

No regrets. Realistically, everyone won›t become an Olympic or World champion, but that shouldn’t stop you from dreaming. Dreaming is setting your goals, visualizing what it takes to get there, then doing just that. Don’t just tell everyone you want to be a state champ. Show them.

Have you ever heard the story of giving 110 percent? Impossible. 100 percent usually does the job just fine. How can you give more than your all? The key is, be willing to give your all … on every sprint in every drill and every match. Winning doesn’t just happen on competition days. It begins at practice. Compete fearlessly with no regrets.

The problem is not everyone is willing to give 100 percent. You tweet it. You Facebook it. You tell all your friends how bad you want it. But are you living it? It takes hard work to be the best. If being a wrestler was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Success is what you make it. Take comfort in knowing that if you gave your all and still didn’t win, it wasn›t meant to be. If you do win, recognize that hard work helped get you there. Win or lose, your family will still be your family. Your friends will still be your friends. Anyone who matters will still be by your side just because you had the courage to go out and fight; the courage to put your foot on the line under the lights with no helmet, no teammates, and no pads. Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear singlets.

I’m not the most exciting wrestler to ever step onto a mat — not by a long shot. However, I take risks. I score points. I am interested in more than just the personal satisfaction of getting my hand raised. I want everyone watching at home and in the stands to enjoy the show they’ve just witnessed. I want my matches to be talked about long after spectators have left the arena.

We have grown up in an era where winning is all that matters. The mentality is: “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning is winning.” But is it really? Doesn’t it matter anymore how we score the points, and how exciting we make it to those who are watching?

When wrestling was preliminarily dropped from the Olympics, FILA was revamped and immediately they went to work on making the sport more appealing to non-traditional wrestling fans. This meant changing many of the rules. My question is: What about the actual wrestlers? What if we, the wrestlers, worked harder to make the sport more appealing, more exciting? What if the responsibility was ours?

There have been a number of exciting grapplers in the past — wrestlers who had the crowd’s satisfaction in mind when approaching the mat. We need to take a page from their book, and it starts with preparation.

I believe wrestling is an art. By definition, art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Emotional power. How could you better describe wrestling?

Few appreciate art, but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. Nor should it take away from the level of passion and commitment each wrestler should put into their work. Have you ever seen an all-out battle, where both competitors fight to the whistle, for every point, every position, and every second? That’s art, a pure masterpiece. The wrestling mat is a canvas. Now let’s add some paint.

I ask wrestlers and coaches to encourage fearlessness. If you can dominate, do it. If you’re winning by one with 30 seconds left, get another takedown. Go for the big throw. Take risks. Reward yourself, and those in attendance. Show spectators just how entertaining our sport is — as is. As wrestlers, we hold the key to unlocking the door that shows the world how awesome our sport is. Don’t be afraid to turn the knob.

(Jordan Burroughs is a five-time World/Olympic champion, was the 2011 Dan Hodge Trophy winner and is a monthly columnist for WIN. He originally wrote this in the spring of 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @AllISeeIsGold.)