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At ten years old, I didn’t know why the process of carrying coal in buckets was important. But my father (and coach) did.

By Robbie Waller, 01/27/14, 12:30PM EST


A Coal Hearted Lesson

A Coal-Hearted Lesson

By Robbie Waller


In 1949, my father was born in Iaeger, West Virginia in the heart of coal country.  The coalmines were a way of life but they also taught those tough-minded and thick-skinned people like my father valuable lessons along the way.

Although my hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania was hundreds of miles away from Iaeger, I would come to learn those same lessons taught in the mines of the West Virginia Mountains. 

In my pre-teen years, a coal furnace heated our house.  Anyone who has had a coal-burning furnace will testify to the relentless and unending work it takes in the Pennsylvania winter months to keep the house warm. 

A large truck would arrive periodically and dump in front of our garage door what could only be seen as a black mountain to an eight-year-old boy.

As the only boy in the house (yes I had four sisters), I was charged with bringing the coal from outside and into the furnace room under the house.  This seemingly simple task would become one of the staples in the development of what I refer to as lessons through life.

My father handed me two five gallon buckets and a small shovel.  “Fill these buckets up and carry them into the furnace room.  Unload them into the coal bin until the bin is full.” he would demand. These were simple instructions for a simple boy.

Little did I know that this chore and these instructions would linger with me long after our coal furnace was replaced by oil heat.  I decided at some point (maybe ten or eleven years old) that it would generally be a good idea to move the coal on my snow sled rather than in the buckets.  I would shovel the coal onto my orange sled and drag it into the furnace room and simply tip it over into the coal bin.  Reason you ask?  Well, it hauled more coal per trip, and was easier than carrying the two five gallon buckets, which along with shoveling can fatigue an eight year old’s arms pretty quickly.

But my father had other ideas.  One day he observed me initiating my new coal moving method and promptly halted my ingenious idea.  “That’s not the way I want you to move that coal.  Get the buckets out and fill them up and bring the coal in like I showed you.”  At eight, you don’t question your father aloud.  With head down and lower lip protruding I made my way over to the buckets and began the task of filling and dumping as originally “coached” to do.

What does this have to do with wrestling you ask?  Nothing.  But it has everything to do with what this experience taught me.  Throughout your life, you will be asked to do things both on and off the mat that will test you.  They will test your willingness to listen to detail, your intelligence and your intestinal fortitude. 

In today’s society, children have begun to ‘grow up’ faster than in recent decades.  At fifteen, they know it all.   Most people, adults even, deceivingly convince themselves at some point in their life, that they know what actions will bring what results.  Especially when it comes to athletics.  It’s simply not true. 

One crucial ingredient to success on the mat and in life is the ability to be “coachable”.  This means being able to follow instructions and demands given by someone else to the best of your ability without knowing the ultimate outcome.   Some may call it a bind-faith.  You will often hear coaches describe their best wrestlers as “very coachable” along with a myriad of other characteristics.

Finding someone who can help you achieve your goals means finding someone who has already achieved that goal or helped others to achieve that same success you desire.  But in the end, it is your willingness to adhere to that individual’s instructions with great detail and without hesitation that ultimately determines your progress and success. 

At ten years old, I didn’t know why the process of carrying coal in buckets was important.  But my father (and coach) did.  A relentless and unending work ethic is a vital component to success on the mat.  He knew that then.  I do now.  And I’m sure glad I listened.