The wrestling coach and the spelling bee: a heart to heart talk with a 9 yr old


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

Mommy called me a few days ago while I was at work.

“You need to talk to Izzy when you get home,” she said.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

She explained that you had gotten 3rd place in the spelling bee at school and had come home and broke down into tears. Part of that is your 9 year old hormones, Izzy. But another part of it may be that we’ve found the area of your life where you feel competitive.

We’ve had you involved in swim team, gymnastics, and triathlon from 4 years old. But win or lose you’ve always seemed indifferent to the outcome – so long as everyone was having fun. You’re our sweet, caring child who serves others first. That carries over to how you deal with your classmates as well.

You’ve always helped the special needs kids in your class in selecting library books, reading them, making friends, etc. I’m very proud of your heart.

But it turns out that your competitive side comes out when it comes to grades and academic competition. You’re a straight A student and almost always get top honors on tests, projects, and the like.

That evening I sat down beside you on your bed while you were reading. I asked about the spelling bee. You downplayed it’s significance.

“Mommy told me you were upset,” I said.

“I got 3rd place dad,” you replied softly.

“Izzy, that’s great!”

“Dad. Seriously. 3rd place. That’s not great. I misspelled ‘Divine'”, you said.

I offered some odd obviously wrong spelling of the same word. You smiled. I nudged you with my elbow.

“At least you spell better than your daddy,” I said. “Wait here,” I said.

I went and got the framed medals that hang in my office. I brought them back and sat back down on the bed beside you.

“Izzy, you know what these are?” I asked.

“Your state wrestling medals.”

“Yep. You know why I framed them together?” I asked. You shrugged.

“Because they both represent a part of me. Part of the story of who I am. How I grew. And how I learned that when you want something so badly, you have to work for it. And even then it doesn’t always work out. Its never as bad as it seems. There’s always something you can learn from it.” 

You sat and looked at your book.

“Look Izzy. One silver. One gold. When I was a little boy all I ever wanted was to win the state wrestling tournament. I dreamed  about. I imagined it in my head everynight when I laid down for bed. When I was 17 I came so close. I lost by one point. That’s the silver medal. And I had worked really. I cried. I did. A lot. I was devastated and didn’t handle it very well.  But eventually I got busy improving myself – because I loved the work. I worked even harder because I knew I had another chance. And guess what?”

“What dad?,” you said with an eye-roll.

“See the gold medal? That’s what I learned. I won the next time. You’ll do the same. And if you don’t that’s okay too. Hard work. Belief. Dedication. Those are the things that matter. You get straight A’s everytime. You’re a smart kiddo Iz.”

We sat in silence for a few seconds. I felt a little proud. It was a toned down version of some of the talks I used to give kids when I was a wrestling coach.

“Dad, I just got 3rd in the spelling bee,” you said and laughed.

“Do you homework,” I said and left the room.

I love you,

– Daddy


Mon: rest

Tues: Swam 1100 / Ran 3 miles

Wed: Spin bike 45 minutes

Thurs: Ran 3 miles

Fri: Swam 1100