You’re stressed. Use it.

TEAM – Some don’t think it’s too important in Track & Field. You’re in the circle alone. No one is with you on the runway. And for sure, no one helps you run your race. There are more than a few coaches who feel that you can just suit up a collection of talented athletes and the sum of the parts will be good enough.

Sure, they might be good enough to win a meet. But the irony is that by solely focusing on the individual, by abandoning a team-centric approach, you seriously risk that that the individual ever achieves their full potential. Ironic isn’t it.

And I don’t even mean this from an anecdotal perspective. I mean it from a physiological one. For brevity sake, I’m going to assume that you know that we want to avoid a fight or flight response when we compete or train. Blood moves less than ideally, hormones are out of whack, and is it really sustainable to constantly be fighting for your life.

So what’s the alternative?  What are our other options?  Well the body has a lot more at it’s disposal than simply fight or fight.  We’ve evolved.  We can respond to stressful situations in a number of different ways.

First up is the challenge response.  And yes, I’ll admit that it’s possible for an individual to turn his or her stress mindset into a challenge response. This can hook you up with the increased focus without the fear. The increased confidence, the increased power, they’re there too. But the biggest difference is in the hormones. Your ratios are a lot more conducive to a quicker recovery and growth/learning from the experience. And isn’t that what coaching/training is all about…work-recover-learn. Rinse and repeat.

But where the “collection of individuals” approach to developing great athletes fails the individual is by forfeiting the tend-and-befriend response to a stressor. Coaches, tell me if this is something that you’d like to see in your athletes during your championship meets.

“[This] response makes you social, brave, and smart. It provides both the courage and hope we need to propel us into action and the awareness to act skillfully.”

“In times of stress, both men and women have been shown to become more trusting, generous, and willing to risk their own well-being to protect others.”

“When we care for others, it changes our biochemistry, activating systems of the brain that produce feelings of hope and courage.”

The Upside of Stress – Kelly McGonigal

Act skillfully. Hope. Courage. Brave. Trust. Generous. Willing to risk. Seems pretty good.

This is where team-first mindsets take the individual to a whole other level. Because you only activate this stress response when you have bigger-than-self goals, by supporting others, and viewing stress as a shared experience. In other words…TEAM.

Stress will always be a part of the athlete’s life.  And we want it to be.  It’s the proverbial “shot in the arm” that give us the juice to produce.  Imagine what your LJ PR would be if you could go into “lift the bus off the baby” mode whenever you wanted.  We want stress.  As coaches, we need to teach our athletes how to work with it, how to harness it – not how to eliminate it or bury it.

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