Stretching as a Life Skill
co-authored with Elias Ellefsen
I’m sure you’ve thought about or been taught why we stretch for sports, or any athletic endeavor for that matter. Things like warming up muscle tissue to prevent injury, preparing the body for training, increasing muscle pliability and blood flow, and others. All make sense.
So have you ever been an athlete and asked for someone to help stretch you out? Or have you been a coach and ever had an athlete ask you to help stretch them?
Next, did you ever wonder why you asked/they asked? I’m guessing it’s because they have confidence in your ability to help prepare them for whatever athletic skills they’re about to practice or showcase. After all, it might be easier to get into a zone of optimal arousal when someone else is stretching you out. It gives you the chance to put on headphones and just be in your own head getting prepared.
Another less commonly thought of reason is because perhaps there’s something else to it – making a deeper connection through human contact. There’s a level of trust that comes with allowing another person to manipulate your joints and muscles, oftentimes flirting with discomfort.
And a lot of damage can happen when stretching goes bad, I’m sure you’ve heard your share of horror stories. Athletes can get hurt by physically straining or pulling a muscle during stretching; or if proper stretching technique was lacking, it may end up as an injury on the field/court. But another thing happens – the loss of trust between the athlete and the coach who did the stretching, particularly if injury occurs during stretching.
To avoid injury and loss of trust, there are a few things that can be done prior to stretching to maximize effectiveness and avoid damage. Things like being warmed up, having the athlete be in a calm head space (proper stretching requires the ability to relax), and the athlete should be prepared to relinquish control and avoid the body’s natural inclination to resist some stretches.
I’m sure at this point you’re wondering what stretching has to do with anything, but here’s where I challenge you to think of stretching not just in the athletic sense, but in the life sense. Getting stretched helps prepare us for obstacles and challenges in the future. Difficult situations or scenarios we go through can be considered a stretch.
For example, consider what happens when a coaching staff gets stretched thin… Mistakes get made, details get overlooked, communication fails or becomes negative, and both staff/team and individual coaches stop growing.
But on the flip side, there are ways to see stretching as preparation for future challenges. So how do we ensure life is stretching us properly? aka to our advantage? Just like with an athlete giving up control and being in a headspace to be stretched, we, too, have to give up control and put ourselves in proper positions and mindsets to be stretched.
Stretching is more than one thing. Some people freak out when they get “stretched”. They need to relax. It can be uncomfortable to talk about things you don’t have much experience with or knowledge about, but this is another situation when the stretching occurs. We are all athletes in life. We need to understand the benefits of being stretched. We need to be able to stay focused and under control. Don’t put too much focus on the stretch itself and lose sight of why you are stretching.