USA Wrestling Wrestler for Life St...

Wrestler for Life Story of the Week: The middle ground

By USA Wrestling/Wrestler for Life | Dec. 03, 2020, 10:18 a.m. (ET)

Photo courtesy of Jim Gruenwald.

USA Wrestling’s “Wrestler for Life” program is accepting submissions for “The Story of the Week”. It can be about anything wrestling related, whether it’s a particular wrestling match you’ll never forget, or a life lesson that the sport taught you. If your story is chosen, it will be featured on, and winners will receive a USA Wrestling t-shirt.

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This week's submission is by two-time Greco-Roman Olympian and Wheaton College head coach Jim Gruenwald. It originally appeared in the Wheaton Wrestling Newsletter.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” is a quote by General George Patton which led to a Gruenwald Corollary that “Everyone is looking for a reason to quit, give them one.” The statement may be a bit hyperbolic, for the rare wrestler that isn’t looking for a reason to quit may exist. However, for the most part, once that fatigue sets in, wrestlers start making excuses which inevitably leads to conceding positions and the match regardless of any late match urgency or desperation.

Matches don’t start that way. We start matches feeling like a hammer, or at least we should. Every match should begin with the confidence, whether realistic or delusional, that we are about to “Enjoy the Battle (Steve Fraser, 1984 Olympic Champ)” and finish victorious. Furthermore, matches don’t end that way. While winning or losing, a well-prepared athlete has a sense of urgency, or at least the less reliable last act of desperation to finish a match respectably.

The downfall happens between feeling like a hammer and having a sense of urgency. The danger is in the Middle Ground – the time between Hammer and Urgency. The Middle Ground is the place of excuse, feeling sorry for yourself, conceding the small moments, and quitting – the great concession. How do you avoid the hazards of the Middle Ground? By squeezing the Middle Ground with the advice of my college coach, Ben Peterson (1971 and 1972 NCAA Champion, 1972 Olympic Champion), who demonstrated as an athlete and preached as a coach “start hard, finish harder”.

From a purely physical standpoint, the advice is impossible, but with the addition of the mind and spirit impossible vanishes. When the body starts to fatigue or is nearing collapse, the mind and spirit take over and occupy the greater role in driving through the tough moments. The training to squeeze the Middle Ground happens in the Dark Place, the place of strain – exerting yourself to the utmost. As mentioned in the Season 10 Newsletter 4 Coach’s Corner, an athlete needs to visit the dark place but cannot live there.

Knowing the dangers of the Middle Ground helps prevent cowardice but also allows you to take advantage of the opposing wrestler - “Everyone is looking for a reason to quit, give them one.” The deeper we get into a match wrestling like a hammer shortens the time the Middle Ground can exist. The more seamlessly we transition from Hammer to Urgency, ensures we will never be on the verge of entering the Middle Ground. A smaller Middle Ground not only provides safeguards, but also gives us a better chance to expose and enlarge the Middle Ground of our opponents.

The Middle Ground is also a life hazard. The Middle Ground is where sin creeps into our life. Being more Christlike protects and defends us from slipping into personal sin or being corrupted by the world.

How big is your Middle Ground?