The extraordinary life lessons learned through stress and discomfort
I’ve experienced a lot of different coaches with varied and sometimes bizarre coaching styles. Each Coach brought forward great learning experiences in my life, even though at the time they could be somewhat painful. What I’ve learned is that pain can be a tool and that stress and discomfort can reveal truth and self-awareness unlike anything else.
Nearing the end of my athletic career, I had a great coach who enforced the rule that you could never look like you were suffering or tired, even if you were doing the most intense and challenging practice or workout you had ever done; you had to keep your composure and act as if you were unfazed. I hated this rule; it was incredibly difficult not to turn beet red and groan in agony after a hard work out.
It took a long time to get the hang of it, but every day after our hard repeats and workouts I would abide by the rule. I would slow down my breathing, hold back any noises or grunts I wanted to make, and merely smile instead. After workouts, rather than whine to my fellow teammates, I would hop out of the pool, thank my coach and hit the showers. It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to understand the power of this rule, and how important it was in developing a healthy mindset.
I used to think that it was all about showing others I was tough, putting on a show sort of speak. I thought that when other teams or competitors were around the point was that they would see that I could do incredibly hard workouts without suffering. I was so wrong.
My Coach had a bigger plan. He aimed to force me to change my physical reactions to stress. He wanted me to focus on merely looking calm, so that over time my body would naturally react to stress and intensity with calmness. He believed that if my body could learn to be calm in the face of intensity and stress, that my mind would follow suit. He understood that by reducing any physical reactions to the hard work and difficult training that above else I would also be training my mind to focus on one thing: being calm. Genius.
In moments of stress and intensity, your mind will naturally focus on the pain and discomfort. You can, however, change that reaction through consistent training. By concentrating on slowing down your breathing, adopting a relaxed posture, and essentially faking that you are calm, you can shift your mind into focusing on being calm rather than the discomfort. Over time this process will become more and more natural, to the point where you naturally settle into high-stress situations as if they are a place of calm focus.
Sometimes our Coaches have what we think at the time are crazy and useless rules or practices. We don’t understand the long-term game, and sometimes our Coaches can’t even correctly verbalize what it is they are trying to do. Buying in and committing to the process is incredibly important as an athlete. Understand that the lessons might not come right away, but have faith that they will.
To my Coaches, thank you. All of you.