Why Tension is Great: The Proper Tension Creates Remarkable Results

In July 2014, I attended the USA Track & Field (USATF) Level II Coaches Education Certification Program, an intensive week-long training course which focuses on three – sports science,

technical-event specific instruction, and hands-on training. During the training course, I began to reflect on my own athletic career and the lack of biomechanics awareness that I exhibited early in my career as a discus thrower.  As a high school state track and field championship qualifier, my focus was rooted in activating technical instructions from my throws coach, the late Dr. Ira L. Judge.  In doing so, I never questioned physical mechanics and the resultant muscle tension that is required to execute a great throw.

I carried the same instructional driven approach into my collegiate years as an invited walk-on to the Purdue University Women’s Track and Field Team.  My throws coach at Purdue, Gene Edmonds, spent time familiarizing me with techniques that required me to stretch my body in a manner that would have my upper body flow in one direction while my lower body flows in the opposite direction – hence creating tension that would result in the discus whip (a whipping motion that creates a powerful, elongated throw). During my throwing tenure at Purdue, I medaled at the B1G outdoor track and field conference meet four times in the discus throw – earning second place, first place, second place, and third place, respectively. While, after disciplining my body, I was able to implement the proper taut and tight positions and receive extraordinary results, it was not until years later that I began to understand why tension created those great results.

The USATF Coaches Education program reiterated the effects of the discus whip presenting the idea of the stretch reflex. Why is this stretch important? One answer to that question was offered by Brad Walker, a leading voice on stretching, in his article, Understanding the Stretch Reflex. He plainly describes it this way, “the stretch reflex is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. This is designed as a protective measure for the muscles, to prevent tearing. The muscle spindle is stretched and the impulse is also immediately received to contract the muscle, protecting it from being pulled forcefully or beyond a normal range.”

Along with leading my consulting firm,  I coach track and field at Coker College, a private liberal arts institution located in Hartsville, SC.  I am responsible for guiding the improvements and success of the athletes that participate in the following throwing events: discus shot put, hammer, javelin, and weight throw.  Similar to other throws coaches, I stress to athletes the importance of creating tension during the throws. We use the stretch reflex to maintain a posture of separation within the throws. While this posture may not physically feel great, the conflictive positions only purpose is to produce the greatest possible throw in a brief time-frame. This separation then allows the athlete to yield significant results through creating and then discharging appropriate tension.

As a consultant, I assist teams and organizations with understanding that their organization can strategically grow and develop when the right tension is generated and then released. Teams that apply the proper tension can effectively solve problems, apply different perspectives to be innovative and successfully move on to the next project.

To support this idea, management author and founder of The Table Group, Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, advises that organizations which engage in productive (proper) conflict (tension) are aware that tension materializes to produce the best likely solutions in the shortest period of time for the organization. Lencioni advises that teams which utilize healthy tension are able to discuss and settle issues more quickly and completely than teams that avoid conflict. Additionally, “they transpire from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an interest and readiness to take on the next significant concern.”  The subsequent are strategies that will help your teams produce remarkable results when the proper tension occurs.

  • Acknowledge that tension is productive – don’t avoid it
  • Members of the team need to “shed light” on hidden differences
  • Encourage the team to stay in the course of civil debate
  • Understand each team members personality traits – utilize their strengths

When apt tension ensues, everyone can “be a championship medalist,” meaning, no one has to lose.  In fact, Laura Stack, in her article, Conflict in the Workplace: Conflict Can Be Positive and Productive, proposes when tension arises that the group should take an integrative approach to reaching solutions. Using an integrative approach manifests when teams work to cooperate with each other and incorporate individual goals into the group goal. This can be executed in the following ways.

  • Seek a common goal
  • Attempt group interconnectedness
  • Strive to eliminate manipulative behavior
  • Understand that individuals process and contribute information differently

My final thought concerning tension returns to the idea of activating the stretch reflex. Illustrative of this, author and leadership guru, John Maxwell, in his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, conferred the Law of the Rubber Band which says, “growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.”  In order for teams to continue making an impact, stretching is mandatory. We all have had to professionally stretch as a requirement to be successful over the course of our career.  Maxwell asserts, “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone, we go there by stretching.” Consider the rubber band, a rubber band is only useful when it is stretched, this is true for teams as well. The following are views to consider as it relates to the process of stimulating the stretch reflex, in this case – stretching professionally as a team to create remarkable results.

  • Stretching starts internally
  • Stretching necessitates modification
  • Stretching distinguishes you from your peers
  • Stretching gives you a chance to make impact

Special Thank You:  Takeisha Farmer, MS, Manager, Clinical Trials and Quality Assurance at Personal Genome Diagnostics, Washington D.C. Metro Area.