Let’s Wrestle: Thinking about Teams

It won’t surprise anyone that knows me well to learn that in high school I lettered in Academics. Yes, that is a thing, with the jacket and the patches and everything. I tried to play basketball my freshman year, but as it turns out, there are not many schools with a girls freshman “C Team” so there was more practicing than playing for a 5’2″ fifteen year old with a size 10 shoe. I hung up my athletic shorts and sneakers for show choir, band, and musical theatre.


My extra-curricular activities definitely shaped the way I have always viewed the make-up and function of a successful team.

In band and choir, you belong to a section, you have a part to play or sing that makes up the whole. The music isn’t the same without each part, in harmony, on key, all together. There is choreography and coaching, direction and duty, but at the end of the day the success of the group depends on each individual person or section doing their individual job. You need to listen to each other, watch the director, and show up ready. The skill of each player is important, but the craft of the conductor can not be underestimated.

My first year or two of teaching felt like a well orchestrated chorale of English instructors. We had a phenomenal conductor (department head) who gave us our parts, taught us the fundamentals of our craft and directed the music of a successful school year. In a small school, I was usually the only teacher singing my part, although I occasionally had a duet with another content area or grade level. For the most part, I got to choose how I “sang my song” as long as I contributed to the beautiful music, stayed on key, and managed my volume.

Being part of a cast is a completely different kind of team experience. It requires collaboration, as your fellow actors help you develop your character, give you feedback on your delivery of the lines and execution of the scene. This shared ownership of the end product creates a deep bond in a short amount of time. There can be some odd dynamics with leads and understudies, principal actors and those in the company, and at times there is a definite hierarchy happening backstage. Together you have an end goal, a performance, and when the curtain falls, the success of the ensemble depends on the individual success of each actor on the stage.

Into the Woods-Fall 1996

There have been many times in my career that I have been blessed to be cast in phenomenal roles. As part of the cast, I gave and received feedback, rehearsed with other members, knew when my scene was coming up, interpreted the lines I was assigned, and did my job. There were times I was the understudy, times I have been a part of the company, and times I was more of a stage manager than in the spotlight. What is always true is that I am more successful as an individual player because of the input of those around me.  However, the success I experienced still began and ended with me-what I brought to the work, how much time and effort I committed, how willing I am to incorporate feedback.

Recently my youngest son, the 5’11” giant who I refuse to EVER stop calling my baby, joined the wrestling team in November. (I am seriously proud of this kid!)

This is a team experience like I have never seen before (remember I am limited in personal athletic experiences, so be patient). There is no bench on a wrestling team. There is one guy in each weight class and they all wrestle at every match. When you are out there on your own, you are literally fighting your own fight, for everyone on your team.

Let’s pause here. When this piece of the wrestling rules was explained to me-I was floored. It is a similar construct to singing your part in the choir but with crazy intensity and pressure. There are no other sopranos to carry you, no second chances, no one to hide behind, and no director to signal volume changes. You may walk into the match by yourself, but not you are not alone. If this isn’t a parallel to teaching, I am not sure I have ever seen one!

It gets better. You may walk into your match on your own, but your team is in your corner. Literally. That is where this term comes from. Your coach and your team are seated around the mat giving you tips, yelling what they see, shouting out your blind spots. It is a little wild to watch them watch each other, equal parts cheerleader, fan, coach, and student.

And then there is this: Win or lose, every match, I watch my son walk to the edge of the mat, get eye to eye with his team-mates and debrief. “What can I do better? I haven’t seen that hold before. Can you show me how to counter that move? Did you see how I got that point in 2nd round?” They talk it through, celebrate the successes, make a plan, then  together they go to watch and learn from the next match. They regroup at practice. They challenge, they mentor, they push, they require so much from each other. Improvement only comes through a series of intentional supports and resistance.

Another key element of wrestling is the weigh in and the uniform, or singlet.  Can we talk about transparency? Vulnerability? Accountability?

I have decided that I want to be a wrestler.

I commit to walk into every day dedicated and determined because my outcome impacts everyone-and there is only one of me. I will show up for my team-mates in practice, but also be ready to be fully present in their corner. I want them to know that I am fiercely committed to them-as a cheerleader, a fan, a mentor, a coach and a student. I will be committed to open, honest debrief and the cognitive conflict, mental wrestling, push and pull that will make all of us better in the end-even if uncomfortable in the moment. I am going to weigh in on my weaknesses, putting it out there and staying accountable for my growth.

I have been blessed to wrestle with some amazing teams. To those that I am on now, to the ones that are in my future-I promise to show up and wrestle with everything I have…but I won’t wear a Singlet, because…#safeschools.

Shoutout to my favorite and forever teammate.

Still Learning