Encourage kids to follow the formula of Ayala the person, rather than chasing the footsteps of Ayala the wrestler

Photo by Sam Janicki, SJanicki Photo Fort Dodge's Drake Ayala squares off with top-ranked Richard Figueroa during the “Who’s No. 1” wrestling challenge in Austin, Tex. on Saturday night.

Young wrestlers are working in rooms across Iowa right now, with dreams of becoming the next Drake Ayala.

And parents everywhere are pondering a similar notion: “if a kid from Fort Dodge can do this, why can’t mine be next?”

The Dodger senior reached an almost-mythological level of achievement with his victory last Saturday night over the nation’s top-ranked overall high school wrestler, Richard Figueroa of California, during an exhibition match in Texas. Ayala was already a Top-10 prospect for the Class of 2021, pegged by many publications to be the best at his weight in the entire country. This win not only solidified his reputation, but sent his stock soaring nationally.

Honestly, our town has never seen something quite like this in the high school ranks — and that’s no disrespect to an iconic list of wrestlers and athletes who have graced the halls at both Fort Dodge and St. Edmond. Ayala is a household name now. We’re not just talking about a generational talent in our community. It’s unprecedented.

This is going to sound oddly discouraging — especially given it’s a column on the sports page — but I’m going to ask the adults in the room to tuck those dreams of your child being a similar prodigy away. You want your kid to be the “next” Drake Ayala? Here is the real formula to follow:

1) Develop a routine. Ayala sticks to his script, thanks to both good parenting and steady coaching. He learned and developed the right habits, then made it a part of his everyday life. And sacrifices? He’s made a laundry list of them.

2) Foster a work ethic. This one isn’t easy. Parents often make the mistake of wanting something more than their kids. There are different ways to create expectations in student-athletes, right down to a chore list at home, and it doesn’t have to be about sports or skill. Find ways to motivate and build structure, hoping they latch on and take off from there.

3) Encouragement, with a dose of realism. Ayala’s mom and dad, Sam and Angie, have never treated him like a star. He hasn’t been a phenom from day one. There have been tough losses and difficult moments along the way, which everyone goes through. Stay positive, finding ways to offer constructive criticism when necessary. Pick your spots.

4) School comes first. Ayala is a two-time academic all-state honoree who sports an overall grade point average clear of 3.9. School comes easy to him, but that doesn’t mean he just coasts through it. Ayala prioritizes his work and attacks the books with the same mentality he would an opponent or challenge on the mat.

5) Perspective, perspective, perspective. Never too high, never too low. Ayala shrugged off all the attention he received after Saturday’s big victory, the way he shrugged off a loss in July to University of Northern Iowa recruit Adam Allard that sent a lot of people into a panic. Every athlete will experience highs and lows. Memorable days, and moments they’d like to forget. The idea is to never let success go to your head, or failure go to your heart.

The odds your kid will follow in the footsteps of Drake Ayala the wrestler are slim to none. But if you want your young boy or girl to take school seriously, respect others, learn the value of an honest day’s work, show modesty, sincerity and humility — all while becoming a genuinely productive member of a community — take notes. Your kid may never be a championship-level Div. I athlete, but they could easily develop into a well-rounded human being, using Ayala and his family as the model approach.

When this wild ride is over and Ayala’s wrestling career ends, he thankfully has the rest of his life to fall back on being a good person. Make sure the same can be said about the children you’re raising once the fame of athletics fades away.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports


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