I am entering my second week covering the Duke wrestling team. This particular week I came to practices and workouts with a bit more frequency than normal, knowing that work travel will interfere with me coming out the next two weeks. This week I a mix of practices, weightlifting sessions, conditioning, and treatments. Early this week I was finally able to differentiate all four Finesilver’s brothers, and get their names correct, likely my greatest accomplishment of the week.
Slowly I am also getting to know the student athletes more, which makes covering them so much easier. It’s much easier to cover people after you’ve had a chance to strike up a conversation with them and you know them better.
I have years’ experience covering lacrosse on and off the field, but wrestling is quite a new sport for me. That was part of the allure; jumping into a culture and sport I was unfamiliar with, getting a chance to learn what makes these student athletes tick, what they have to dedicate themselves to, and what makes them love their sport so much.
The observations that I had this week are not revelatory for those more familiar with wrestling, but for me as an outsider, this is what struck me most:
- Practices are intense. The practice are more intense that I’ve seen in lacrosse or other sports. “Football players have watched wrestling practices before and said, ‘wow’,” said a staff member at Duke. The mat after practice is dotted and smeared with sweat. Vividly I remember one wrestler after practice sitting on the mat, leaning against the wall. After 5 minutes there it looked like someone poured a large glass of water on the mat as sweat pooled under him.
- Coaches are engaged. The head coach works out with the team and is involved directly in the practices, wrestling with the guys on the mat, not just directing from the side.
- Weight is a constant focus. I could not figure out why, during practice, some guys were wearing shorts and a light shirt, while others sweat pants and a sweat shirt. The answer: Some guys are trying to sweat to shed weight before a match. In other sports being constantly attentive to weight is not as important; in wrestling, just an ounce too much and you can’t compete.
- Individual focus. I also talked to a wrestler who noted how individually focused wrestling is. In team sports, your flaws can be compensated by your teammates. In wrestling, it is seven minutes of isolation where, while you do have coaches on the side talking to you, it is just you and the other person. Wrestling lays your flaws bare for all to see on the mat; there is no one who can help you compensate for them.
Below are a few photos from the week. Likely the funnier moment was going to the ice bath on Saturday. I discovered that the best time to get photos of this is when the guys are stepping into the ice bath, so you can get the expression on their faces as the shock of the cold water hits them. I didn’t get the best photo, but did get a funny from the ice bath. I’m hoping to get something a bit more solid later.