One of the most charismatic and memorable personalities to emerge from this past summer's Olympics in London, freestyle wrestling gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, continued his post-Games rounds of giving back to communities across the country by hosting aclinic for youth organization Beat the Streets Los Angeles on Friday, December 7. The session encompassed the expected photo ops and autograph signings for the participants, who ranged in age from early middle schoolers to soon-to-be high school graduates, to stories about how Burroughs got involved in the sport and his career thus far, to, of course, teaching the students a few of the physical fundamentals that helped him enjoy such an illustriously decorated career thus far.
While learning winning wrestling maneuvers from one of the world's best was clearly the main drawing card for the youths in the gym that day, watching them in action as they broke into smaller groups after each lesson revealed the deeper purpose beyond mere grappling. One might understandably be led to expect, even in an organized situation such as this, that the younger kids would mostly fall into more disorganized horseplay that would be less at home on a wrestling mat than a playground. However, everyone made sincere, and quite often impressive, efforts at actually performing the maneuvers taught by Burroughs as well as throwing in some from their own solid repertoire. Everyone's naturally rambunctious, youthful energy was, in large part, channelled with a clear sense of control, engaging their respective opponents with the proper tools within the rules.
This rather revelatory observation underscores what Burroughs and the Beat the Streets organization clearly set out to do in their work with youngsters and reinforces the effectiveness ofo their methods. Wrestling may not be the first sport to come to mind as a tool to teach and guide any American youth, let alone potentially at-risk youth in underserved communities, most especially given its fairly low mainstream profile outside of Olympic years and the ongoing "sports entertainment" circus of pro wrestling. But what Beat the Streets does with its various chapters in cities nationwide is rather clever, if not downright ingenious. The sport and art of wrestling teaches one to harness one's strength (especially the rapidly maturing strength of an adolescent)--and with that, possible aggression--with a sense of mental discipline and focus. "Mind over matter" is such a trite cliché, but it's all too truthfully applicable in this case. Beyond the obvious physical requirements and demands, it is the how most quickly, sharply thinking grappler employs the right moves and strategies while constantly standing his or her ground that ultimately wins the matches and the medals. Who knows how many of the youths who participated in the clinic that evening will continue to pursue the sport in any formal manner in the years to come, but whatever lessons imparted by Burroughs and the Beat the Streets teams nationwide will certainly in some way be applicable to their worlds beyond the wrestling circle and in adulthood--as certainly exemplified by Burroughs, still quite young and playfully energetic at the age of 24 but possessing a mental poise and no-nonsense work ethic that belies his chronological years.