Sunday February 18th 2024

Well, it’s finally over, another high school season comes to end. Thirteen teams went into the finals with Loyola once again winning the Championship title on the boys side and Howard S. Blings winning the Championship on the girls side. It’s occurred to me that I’ve been involved in High School sports now, as an athlete and coach for over thirty years. A lifetime of experiences for some, for others just another aspect of their coaching as they occupy many roles in throughout their professional lives.

I have seen champions come and go, both team and individual. Some have stood out and some have not. Who could forget KSS’ dominant run in the 90s? Who could forget when Pierrefonds Comprehensive became the first school to dethrone them during that epic run? Who could forget seeing future Olympians such as David Zilberman, wrestling for Laurenhill Academy, coming through the GMAA ranks? Even now, as we come up on another Olympic Qualifiers in March, Alex Moore who competed for Selwyn House, and Stone Lewis, who competed for Heritage Regional High School, will also have a chance to punch their tickets to Paris this summer.

I’ve seen the effects of worsening work conditions on our sport. School strikes and work to rule have had a detrimental effect to the league. We saw the numbers go down and one could argue that we’ve never recovered. Likewise, I wasn’t there for the earlier strikes in the 70s but from all accounts, high school participation in wrestling during this period was immense. That strike, which saw the league regress for the first time and would begin a worrying trend for years to come. Lastly, I’ve seen coaches come and go, programs die and come back and athletes who competed return as coaches. So, with all that being said, what was my takeaway from this year’s GMAA/ RSEQ Championships?

I think that I can can break it down to a few things that I saw this year. This season had so much going on that I think that I need to separate them into several categories and here they are:

Some coaches and schools are tailor-made for the GMAA:

With Loyola winning yet another Boys banner and Howard S. Billings winning the Girls Banner, it occurred to me that some schools and coaches just have an inherent ability to get the most of their schools and their athletes. Loyola has had several coaching changes throughout the last couple of the years and yet they continue to dominate in the boys category. While being a private school, they’ve been able to have a strong showing in  many sports, not just wrestling, which isn’t always possible at a private school given nearly the unhealthy obsession with marks and results that they tend to have.

Looking at the case of Howard S. Billings, in a short amount of time, Coach Peter Montour and his staff have been able to create a strong team in the boys and win the Girls banner this year. When he was the coach of KSS, he had similar success. Do these schools create an atmosphere to recruit better wrestlers or is it based solely on the ability of the coach? I think both of theses examples are  a strong argument for both sides of the argument. I would also point out that I’ve never won a banner in the GMAA/RSEQ, coming only close on one occasion in 2014 to winning the banner with my girls team. Is this a reflection of my ability as a coach, or the school’s that I’ve coached in? Who knows?

My coaching journey at my new school has just begun (Photo credit Randall Deluao)

I have to keep reminding myself of the process:

One of the things that I keep reiterating, both to myself and my athletes is to focus on the process rather that results. After all, the good results can be misleading without the proper context. In coaching two teams this year, we finished dead last in both the boys and the girls. Does this represent a failure, given a lack of results? I think not. While the results weren’t there, most of my team were beginners or at best, casual athletes. The results reflect both their ability as well as their commitment. And yet, nearly all of them wrestled personal bests at the finals. For many it was their first tournament and because of this, I have to remind myself of the process and that I need to keep building for the future. I’m currently in Year Two of my four year project so I have to remind myself that this will take time.

While slightly discouraged, many of my athletes wrestled their personal best at the finals

The process doesn’t always go as planned:

With that being said of the process, it doesn’t always go as planned. Though in my mind, I’m always planning and making arrangements in order to get where I want to be in the next four years, it never goes the way I see it. Relying on young athletes is hard as they rarely stay committed, find other things to do or just quit outright. Things change in their lives and wrestling doesn’t become a priority for them and though I may try to hold on as tight as I can, it never works out the way I want it to. Kids these days don’t deal as well with pressure as a whole and finding different ways to keep them motivated in such a pressured-filled sport is always a challenge. The process will sometimes go through several iterations in the same year and constant adaptability is the key. Sometimes the best laid plans will have to be scrapped and remade several times throughout a given season and the process becomes nearly forgotten at that point. At that point, it’s time to begin anew.

We do it for the kids:

I keep saying it and it’s something that I tell everyone that I speak to as to why I coach, “I do it for the kids”. Many coaches do this so my situation isn’t unique. However, something I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s becoming rarer and rarer as finding quality coaches becomes harder amidst worsening work conditions. Likewise, coaching seems to be getting harder and harder as the breach in between average athletes and good ones seems to be getting larger and larger as kids become more sedentary and sports becomes more of a recreation rather than a focus.

Coaching is a love and a passion but it’s definitely taking years off my life!

On to next year:

With our season soon coming to a close in a couple of weeks, I think that taking a critical look at what we’ve accomplished this year will have a more positive outlook after further reflection. Building a program takes time and I’m essentially starting from scratch, trying to instil a wrestling culture in a school devoid of it for over thirty years. I have to also remember that though my old program produced some great individual results, it never was the strongest team and we were always a upper to mid-table team at best. Lastly, things change from year to year and that next year, things may go very differently either for the good or bad. I just need to keep moving forward and hope for the best.