The parallels between athletics and business have been well documented. The two share many traits including teamwork, perseverance, discipline and the innate desire to win.
Winning on the field or court is different, however, from winning in business or winning in life. On both the former and latter counts, Tim Nininger of Bug Man Exterminating in Roanoke, Va., has succeeded and is now sharing what he learned with the next generation of athletes.
Nininger, a former Division 1 wrestler at Arizona State University (ASU) and Clemson University, balances his day job as vice president of Bug Man Exterminating, a company founded by his brother, Chris, with the head coaching duties at Cave Springs High School in Roanoke.
Wrestling has been a passion of Nininger’s from the age of five when he followed his older brother into the sport. Following a stellar high school career at Christiansburg High School in Roanoke where he won a state title, Nininger earned a scholarship to Arizona State. When the coach who recruited him to ASU left, Nininger departed the dry heat of Tempe, Ariz., and headed to Clemson, S.C., to wrestle for the Tigers. But he never got too far away from the pest control industry and worked summers for his brother’s growing company.
Following graduation with a degree in secondary education, Nininger taught for one year before he realized the classroom wasn’t his passion and joined Bug Man full-time. He also embarked on a coaching career that has spanned 20 plus years and is marked with successes on and off the mat.
“I was making less in pest management than I was teaching but I was happy to be working with my brother and have the opportunity to return to wrestling as a coach,” he says.
Starting as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Nininger helped build one of Virginia’s most successful high school wrestling programs, one that produced multiple state titles and individual champions.
After nine years as an assistant, Nininger was ready for the challenge of running his own program and he left for the head coaching spot at Cave Springs. “It was a rebuilding project for sure as the team finished last in the standings the year before I arrived,” he says. “We had to change the culture and get the kids to believe in themselves on and off the mat.”
In the eight years since Nininger took the reins, the program has produced multiple state champions, including nine in the last four years, two class valedictorians, a team grade point average of 3.9 this past season and a slew of college-bound athletes. “We want to build champions on and off the mat, and teach character, discipline and the value of hard work,” says Nininger. “Our goal is to coach and guide the whole person, not just the wrestler.”
Before each practice Nininger shares a message about achieving success in school, sports and in life — guidance he hopes stays with his kids far beyond their days in the gym. “I tell them, ‘I get you for only two hours out of the day and there is a lot of hours remaining to make a difference,’” says Nininger. “I want them to give their best effort all the time.”
LESSONS LEARNED. Coaching has brought many rewards to Nininger, none more so than seeing the growth of his wrestlers from young boys to young men over the span of four years. “We hope to prepare them for life and make them better employees, fathers and husbands,” says Nininger.
He says one of the most rewarding aspects of his coaching career is having a former wrestler stop by practice or send him a text or email, letting him know they are using the lessons learned in the wrestling room to make a better life for themselves, their families and communities.
“There was a kid that had wrestled for us for a short time and had to leave the team to get a job who called me some years later to let me know how the time spent with the team had such a positive influence on him,” recalls Nininger.
Coaching also has taught Nininger a valuable lesson when it came to connecting with his own children, especially his son. He relayed the story of how his son, a talented wrestler in elementary school, walked away from the sport before he had a chance to wrestle for his dad. The reason? Nininger was more of a coach than a father and that turned his son away.
“I learned a hard but good lesson with my son and it has helped me work better with parents, as well as connect with my son in a way I didn’t before,” he says.
A DEVOTED MENTOR. The biggest wins of Nininger’s career didn’t come on the wrestling mat but in the lives of two wrestlers who needed more than coaching tips on how to escape a takedown.
Nininger and his wife, Jennifer, on two separate occasions, have taken young men into their home whose lives were on a path that was going to deny them success in life.
Adding another member to the Nininger family — he and Jennifer have 14-year old twins (a son and daughter) in addition to their 11-year old son — was not easy but things worth fighting for never are, he said. One of the kids arrived at Cave Springs and struggled academically, as well as got into trouble outside of school. Nininger considered removing him from the team until the mother of another wrestler talked with him and explained the student’s less-than-ideal home situation (one parent was incarcerated).
“I spoke with the kid’s mother and asked her permission for him to move in with us and told her we wanted to help get him on the right path,” recalls Nininger.
Before he moved in Nininger and his wife sat down with their would-be guest and laid out the rules of the house — there would be a curfew and academics came first. At one point during the child’s stay the student asked Nininger if he could take the coach’s son out for ice cream in the family car. Nininger said no because he did not fully trust him yet. But that eventually changed.
Following the student’s senior year, after becoming a Virginia state and national champion, he once again asked about that trip to get ice cream and this time Nininger handed over the keys.
It may have only been ice cream but it is one example of the culture Nininger hopes he has created — a culture not just focused on winning trophies and titles but one dedicated to building champions in life.
The author is a communications and marketing consultant with B Communications.