WIN ARTICLE #129 “Leave us alone and let us wrestle.”


“Leave us alone and let us wrestle.”
By: Ben Peterson

If we do not learn to deal with the extra issues of life we will never be able to give our full attention to the most important task(s). Whenever someone gets really focused on completing a task, like wrestlers do, there are going to be times where other pressures, responsibilities and distractions will frustrate and pull at our thoughts, time, and energy.

Every wrestler has to deal with issues just like my brother, John, and I did when we were competing. Note as I explain an issue we faced. Today we often help younger wrestlers deal with the extra issues just we did.

After we won Olympic medals in Munich, Germany, we started our first jobs out of college. Our new world in Madison, Wisconsin, included an efficiency apartment, regular salaries, new friends, a new church, and new workout partners at the University of Wisconsin. The assistant coach, Russ Hellickson, changed from my rival to my workout partner. We were good for each other. The university wrestlers were also good. But Russ, John, and I all knew freestyle and so we were pushing each other at an ever higher level.

Our condition was good and confidence still strong from the previous summer. So John and I were interested when a call came from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) which sponsored our National Teams. They wanted John and me to be part of the US team going to Tbilisi, Georgia, which was part of the Soviet Union. We knew no other Americans were better prepared at that time to represent the US than us. After definite discussion we decided we would go, as long as our bosses approved. I am sure they hesitated because of the effects on John’s high school students and my brand new work as an architectural draftsman. But they both must have understood the significance of the timing for this new opportunity. They said “yes” while they most likely wondered how often this kind of event would take us away from our employment responsibilities. We continued our daily training after work with new intensity.

But then the calls began! The newly-formed US Wrestling Federation (USWF) called asking us to wrestle for them in Tbilisi. They wanted us to back their new organization to become our new national team sponsor. We appreciated some of the concerns over the limitations and failings of the longstanding AAU, but we were not sure we should turn our back on the AAU at that point.

A day or two later John talked to the AAU people by phone. I remember John asking them many questions. They talked to me as well. Various times we received calls from both organizations after work and practice while we were preparing and eating supper. Our high school and college training looked so simple compared to the new issues in international competition.

One night both organizations called and talked for 45 minutes each. It was well past bedtime when John put the phone down and plopped himself in the chair sitting next to the foldout couch. With disgust he blurted out, “Why don’t they just leave us alone and let us wrestle!” John’s desire was to avoid extra stress and decision making and just put his attention on his wrestling training, particularly in the final days.

That phrase has come back to our minds many times since. John just wanted to concentrate on wrestling and winning against the Soviets. He did not want, and knew he could not; solve the AAU versus USWF issues. And in reality it should not have been made our issue, particularly just days before we would fly halfway around the world to compete.

In the end the US Wrestling Federation told us they could not assure us they would be approved by the Soviet Wrestling Federation. We went with the AAU. But, we were being pulled into

what would become a long standing battle between the two wrestling organizations. Our credentials in the wrestling world were being asked to be used as political pressure to strengthen a group’s position. John and I knew we were in a whole new arena and would need to fight harder than ever to keep our attention on the quality of our wrestling or we would be easily eliminated as competitors.

Our night flight brought us to London. We were tired and needing sleep. I remember us being a mixture of joking with each other one minute and impatience the next. The team manager and his wife wanted to put an AAU patch on the navy-blue blazer they provided for us. I remember reacting with disgust. All the phone calls had wearied us. I did not want to represent the AAU. I wanted to represent the USA. Later I realized my immaturity that day, but the truth was I got little if any motivation from the AAU, but I definitely did from representing the USA. I think our patient coach and team leader probably cooled me and others down.

Our wrestling: John lost in the early rounds of the tournament and was eliminated, but did well in the following duals. I lost early to the wrestler from Poland whom I defeated in the first round of the Olympics. That woke me up to reality. He lost to two Soviets and was eliminated in the round robin bracketing. Meantime, I beat the Soviets and won the weight class.

This story reminds me of the many things that can drag at all of us and take away our energy and focus. When I see young men training and yet distractions and decisions are pressing on them, I want to say, “Leave them alone and just let them wrestle.”

Coaches, a key part of our job is to organize and handle the extra issues so our team can focus on their matches. Parents you also help greatly in this area. The more stable our homes are the easier it will be for our young wrestler(s) to concentrate on school and wrestling.

Wrestlers, you must work at learning to be focused and say “no” with grace and earnestness. Handle your responsibilities and learn early to set distractions aside, permitting only select issues to take your attention.

Find other articles and a new book called “ROAD TO GOLD” by Ben at: Today Ben & John Peterson run Camp of Champs Wrestling Camps. Contact them at: PO Box 222 Watertown, WI 53094 800-505-5099

The Competitor Asics USA Wrestling
National Wrestling Hall of Fame
USA Wrestling
"The COMPLETE camp encompassing top notch technique, awesome food, incredible spirituality, and just plain old fashioned fun! Camp of Champs not only teaches these boys how to wrestle, it teaches them how to live."
... Carl Skeps

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2022 Camp of Champs, Inc. All rights reserved Admin