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All Points West: The worst way to lose was quitting
September 17, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
When I coached wrestling at Western High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, I suggested my team watch a film called “Vision Quest” because I felt like my guys needed a little more motivation than I could provide as we prepared to compete in one of Sin City’s premiere early season high school tourneys.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the movie tells a simple tale of a young grappler Louden Swain played by Matthew Modine, who conditions like a fanatic with a goal of beating rival opponent Brian Shute. Throw into the mix, Swain’s father rents a room to Carla, a young 20-something drifter – the proverbial monkey wrench, and typical romantic interest. Of course, tension builds, and it distracts Swain from his quest, but only temporarily. You might guess how the movie ends.

Thankfully, my team vehemently voted me down, and I was left with the impression my pep talks, and occasional five-hour practices would be enough.

Granted, growing up in Las Vegas presented quite a few distractions for my students. Many of my seniors and juniors already had fake IDs, and had seen more on the Strip than I wanted to know. However, keeping them focused on doing well at a sport they loved. That was my thinking. Otherwise, they never would have agreed to allow me to kick their behinds to get better. I mean, who purposely wants to roll around in their own blood, sweat, and tears?

Yeah, it’s like that. Sports are emotionally involving, and one of the things high school athletes remember most, not just the hallway antics and weekends (in my day it was cruising main street in Scottsbluff). I can say that about Coach Chuck Deter, Gering’s legendary wrestling coach, and 1998 inductee into Nebraska’s High School Sports Hall of Fame. If you visit the foundation’s web page, you’ll find the reason. There’s a quote, which so eloquently explains the Hall’s existence: “Honoring our past to inspire the future.”
If you are a high school athlete reading this, heed these words. If you are not inspired, get out of sports. If you are not interested in winning, get out of ways to develop character, leadership, determination, cooperation, all the qualities coaches and teachers preach.

I push this advice because, as a high school sophomore, I quit, much to Coach Deter’s bitter disappointment because he saw something in me I didn’t. I dropped out of the wrestling program when life seemed directionless. Blame it on teen angst, confusion and family matters beyond my control. If only I could say it was a beautiful 20-something vagabond. It wasn’t. Tough choices sometimes come at an age when we don’t know any better. If I had kept wrestling, I’m sure Coach Deter would have been an even greater influence in my life. As an adult, it was just enough, as I remember his coaching style, and some of the select phrases he barked at us, more importantly, the encouragement he gave us when we were down, or when we lost. He had his way, but most of all, he cared.

When one of my brother’s told him I was coaching wrestling, Deter responded by saying, “Tell Frank not to expect to hit a homerun in the first year.”

I realize quitting can be habit forming, not because it’s the result of a life choice, but because it’s an excuse. My college speech teacher frequently told his students, “The world is not interested in excuses; it’s interested in results.”

There should be no regrets in life. But, there was one for me. What was it like to be part of a championship team, like the ones Deter coached? I will never know.

If I had stuck to the plan, I might have discovered a few things about myself. And, it doesn’t matter how much athletes lose, or think they’re no good because they didn’t make varsity. Like Deter, I convinced some of my wrestlers they might be part of something great. Though, at the end of the season that first year, I had no state champs, just one who finished sixth at regionals. It was still something to celebrate.

In my book, my wrestlers achieved something even if most of them didn’t take home a medal. They achieved greatness in just being determined to finish a season full of ups and downs. All of them improved over the course of the year, including one female, all because of a three-letter word. Funny how one of the smallest words in the English language can have so much impact. TRY.

One good thing about quitting? First, I should tell you there’s nothing good about quitting. But for me, it kept a fire in my belly. It taught me that I would never quit on myself again. Let me repeat that. I would never give up on MYSELF again. It was just an extreme way of losing.

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