Christian Faith

Gruenwald: The Difference Between ‘Getting Beat’ & ‘Losing’

james gruenwald
Jim Gruenwald -- Photo: Wheaton College

During his remarkable career as a Greco-Roman athlete, Jim Gruenwald managed to become a two-time Olympian and one of the unquestioned leaders of the US National program. He was an elite international competitor who was uncompromising and vicious on the mat; yet filled with a love for Christ and a willingness to passionately share his faith off of it. Today, he is the head coach at Wheaton College in Illinois, as well as a highly-influential voice pertaining to all matters of encouragement, devotion, and Christian servitude. 

At some point during the season, preferably early, a coach needs to communicate the difference between getting beat and losing. The coach should then reinforce these concepts whenever necessary throughout the season. But unfortunately, these concepts are not easily accepted by athletes who refuse to take responsibility for match results.

Match score isn’t always an indicator of, or distinction between, losing and getting beat. An athlete can lose a match by one point, ten points, or by pin, and the same can be said for getting beat. However, it is normally a good indicator. Getting beat is typically a ‘them’ issue and losing is typically a ‘me’ issue.

Getting beat happens when one wrestler is simply better than the other. His opponent is a higher quality wrestler/athlete be it short term (small difference) or long term (the opposing athlete is a superstar). Getting beat can also happen when, for whatever reason, the opponent wrestled above and beyond ability. Regardless, the following questions still need to be asked by the athlete:

Did I get beat with technique, power, positioning, conditioning, and/or flexibility?
What are my and his weaknesses?
What can I do to close the gap and win?

Getting beat can be fixed physically and intellectually. Make a plan to address the shortcomings.

Losing is less physical/intellectual, and more emotionally driven. A bad call, unexpected resistance, overlooking an opponent, and fear are reasons athletes implode emotionally.

Losing occurs during a match when an athlete cannot reset or adapt. At some point in the match, the wrestler became frustrated, conceded a position, broke, or quit. He or she found a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Losing also happens when we lose control of ourselves, not the situation. It happens when we are unwilling to meet or overcome the pressure that is the byproduct of the circumstances.

Secondly, losing can also happen after a match when an athlete is unwilling to take responsibility for the loss (i.e., he/she looks to blame everyone but themselves).

Again, questions must be asked:

What did I do to lose this match?
How can I change, so that this never happens again?
What high-pressure situations can my coach, training partners and I create, whether expected or unexpected, in the training room to simulate competition?

If you cannot control yourself, then how can you possibly learn to control someone else? If you cannot control yourself in the wrestling room, how can you control yourself in a match? If you cannot control yourself in a match, then how will you learn to control yourself in life? An athlete who will not take responsibility for a loss is not in control of himself or herself.

On a similar line of reasoning, how often are we really beaten by sin? As opposed to having buckled and lost to sin?

Any individual who is not willing to listen to their conscience, sound advice, and the Holy Spirit is not going to be in control of their sin nature and will thus continue to fall and always look to blame others or their circumstances for each stumble. This is hardly new to wrestling or humanity. It started with Adam blaming Eve, and then she in turn blamed the serpent. They did not get beat, they lost.

The next generation fell to the same blame game in Genesis 4:6-7, when ADONAI said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why so downcast? [Emotions indicating he is about to lose.] “If you are doing what is good, shouldn’t you hold your head high? And if you don’t do what is good, sin is crouching at the door; it wants you, but you can rule over it.” In the very next verse, Cain murders his brother. He lost to sin.

Finding a way to sin will always be easier than finding a way to win. Yes, we are born with a sin nature — but having a sin nature, an old nature, does not presume that we must lose, for we have a new nature to embrace. “Sin is crouching at the door; it wants you, but you can rule over it.” So let us find a way to win —  in wrestling, in life, and over sin.

If you would like to follow up with Coach Gruenwald regarding faith development, or if you are someone who is searching, or just someone who is looking for help navigating life, he can be reached directly via email.

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