Leadership and Main

Bettering Others and the World You Live In

Taking the Mat

Taking the Mat

Taking the mat is a necessary step in competing as a wrestler.  Never has anyone won a wrestling match without first taking the mat.  Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world, tracing back to ancient times.  The sport of wrestling requires an extraordinary level of willingness to survive.  So does leadership.

The Tournament

I spent this past weekend at Allatoona High School watching my son Grant wrestle in the prestigious Cobb County, Georgia Wrestling Championships.  This was a tournament that I too competed in nearly twenty-four years ago.  While at the tournament, I was able to watch former football players and wrestlers that I once coached compete.  An equally rewarding aspect was getting to watch several kids that I coached, coaching other kids. 

There can be a lot of waiting during a wrestling tournament.  Ample time for reflection.  I watched Grant and many others prepare to take the mat.  It took me back to those feelings of what it was like taking the mat myself.  The emotions that it provoked. 

Taking the Mat

I learned the art of pacing in wrestling.  You are generally couped up in a small gym, with little space to warm up.  You either vigorously walk back and forth or in circles to get loose.  The pacing allows you to mentally prepare for what is to come, as you await taking the mat. 

As you pace, you wait for your name to be called from the scoring table.  A whistle blows to end the match before you.  The referee raises one of the two wrestlers’ hands, and then it happens.  It is time.

Here are four valuable, transferable leadership lessons from my experiences through taking the mat: 

Answering the Call

Every wrestling match has a number.  When that number is up, the table workers will call for both wrestlers by name.  At that point, you only have two options:  answer the call or not. 

We are all leaders, regardless of position, we just have to answer the call.  Too often, people confuse leadership for power and authority through position.  John Maxwell says that leadership is simply, “Influence.”  Influence takes place through our behaviors and actions, not our words.

Leaders and non-leaders are separated by one thing, willingness.  It is the greatest differentiator between a leader and someone who has chosen to flat-out forfeit that responsibility entirely.  Great leaders answer the call by first having a genuine willingness to better others.    

Identify As A Leader

A wrestling mat contains two circles, a large outer one and a smaller inner one.  Even if you are not familiar with the sport, most people would recognize those circles if they saw them.  What many people don’t know is, that there is a rectangle located within the inner one.  The shorter sides of the rectangle have different colors.  One is red and one is green.

Laying on each red and green line is a velcro ankle band that matches in color.  From that point forward, the referee refers to you as green or red.  Not by your name, not by your team’s name.  That is your identity for the remainder of the match.

Leadership is simple from an identity standpoint.  We identify as a leader or a manager, and there is a significant difference.  Don’t get me wrong, management is a necessary component of leadership.  It is the basis for which we build on, but leadership supersedes management all day long.  Those who desire to lead well leave behind their names, their titles, and the organization the represent and take on the identity of leader.  It’s the most awesome responsibility one can possess. 

Prepare for the Moment

For me, I generally went to the rectangle first, grabbed my assigned ankle band, and headed towards the outer ring.  I went to one knee, put the band on, closed my eyes, said a little prayer, and offered myself some affirming words (words that I will not repeat!).  Then I would rise back to my feet prepared as a competitor.        

Our life experiences prepare us for leadership.  Every single moment of our past prepared us for today, the big moment ahead.  The circumstances we walked through prepared us to rise to our feet and compete in life and leadership.  We return to the line, ready for the challenges of leadership that await us. 

Toe the Line

In addition to wrestling, I played baseball, basketball, and football growing up.  There is NOTHING in sports like toeing the line in wrestling.  Your heart races, adrenaline pumps.  The anticipation of the whistle blowing is deafening, you could hear a pin drop inside your head.  All eyes in the audience are locked on you and the other competitor.  There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  The whistle blows, there is no turning back.  It’s go time.

Great leaders toe the line daily.  We wake up, get dressed, head to the office, and walk in.  We place our proverbial toe on the line, the moment builds.  Pressures, deadlines, conflict, decisions, and chaos meet us at the line.  All eyes are on us, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  We punch the time clock, the whistle blows, we take those challenges head on.  It’s go time.     


The sport of wrestling taught me so much. The greatest lesson was humility.  Getting your tail whooped in front of a few hundred people will certainly do that.  It also taught me fanatical discipline by having to cut and maintain weight for matches.  The sport provided me with a level of mental toughness that I would never have possessed if it weren’t for the grind of it.  The conditioning, the physical demands, the nagging injuries to push through.  It taught me how to learn from losing, but it created an insatiable appetite for winning.

All of this prepared me well for leadership.  Just like wrestling, leadership requires an extraordinary level of willingness to survive.  A willingness to face the challenges of the day, to stay strong mentally, and to push through the circumstances that desire to take us down to the mat.

You can’t win in leadership without WILLINGLY taking the mat first.  So…answer the call of leadership, identify as a leader, prepare for the moment, and toe the line.  It’s go time.

Grateful for you taking the time to read this post!  Like what you read?  Share this post with your friends and followers with the icons provided below.  Are you interested in joining us on this leadership journey and having these posts delivered to your inbox weekly?  Subscribe here.  Would love for you to connect with us on social media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Share this post