Archive for October, 2012

Choosing Constructive Discomfort

Four years ago, I started coaching my son’s football team. It was a position I didn’t want. I was quite comfortable up in the stands.

“I can’t demonstrate technique,” I told the head coach who was recruiting me.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Other coaches can do that.”

“I’m not sure about moving around on the sideline,” I said. “We’ll bring a chair, if we have to.” No matter what objection I offered, Mel countered it.

There was no doubt that I was signing up for discomfort, but I also felt like there was a reason that I was being called to this opportunity, so I agreed.

Life often makes it easy for us to avoid discomfort, especially constructive discomfort. We insulate ourselves in an identity that allows us to avoid challenges. We become that employee who consistently extends just enough energy to fulfill his requirements or that parent who keeps just enough distance from her child’s activites that she doesn’t have to get involved. When we do that, our world shrinks, and our potential remains just outside our reach.

Often, the reason that we don’t put forth that extra effort is because we want to avoid discomfort. Doing something new and unfamiliar exposes us to constructive discomfort – one of the most powerful tools for personal development. Growth requires discomfort. In order to grow, we have to leave behind comfort. We have to take on new quests, respond to new challenges, face down our fears. We have to live to grow, and grow to live. That’s constructive discomfort.

Like I expected, coaching football was completely uncomfortable and awkward at first. The 20 boys on our team were 10-11 years old, and they came to us with varying degrees of football-playing experience. Some could run and catch at levels far surpassing their age, while others had a difficult time even getting their pads on. None of them were capable of putting together an offensive or defensive plan, or drawing up a play. If you are old enough to remember that board game where you placed figurines that resembled football players on a field that vibrated, that’s what the first couple of weeks of practice felt like. Our goal was simply to get our players moving in the right direction before they spun around and fell over.

I quickly learned that I didn’t have to be Vince Lombardi to do a reasonable job of coaching at this level. All I needed was an understanding of kids, some organization and energy, and a cursory knowledge of the game of football. In addition to setting line-ups and helping with strategy, I organized the practices and parent communication. At practice and games, I helped where needed. My body didn’t allow me to be a “rah-rah” type of coach, but my involvement helped other coaches do that.

Because Patrick is in eighth grade, the final year for club football, this was the last year of my coaching career. Over the last four years, he and I grew quite a bit together, as we shared the highs and lows of athletic competition, as not only father and son, but as coach and player as well. It was a unique and precious opportunity that I would have missed out on had I not exposed myself to constructive discomfort.

Life is full of opportunities to experience constructive discomfort. It’s also full of opportunities to avoid constructive discomfort. Which option you choose often determines the fullness of your life. Start or continue choosing constructive discomfort today.

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