Emotional Intelligence: Stress Tolerance

Lou Holtz had a long and highly successful career as a college football coach at several prominent institutions. In that capacity he had a responsibility to attend press conferences and, in general, act as the face and the voice of his university’s football operations. Suffice to say, few in the history of the sport were more informative, inspirational or entertaining fulfilling that role. There are many documented examples, but here is one that I believe cuts to the chase in its description of the Stress Tolerance dimension of Emotional Intelligence.

When Coach Holtz was at Notre Dame, his team was practicing for a season-opening big game. He was on the primary practice field observing the offense and defense and decided to make an impromptu visit to an adjacent field to check in on what was happening with his special teams. As he approached, he noticed a placekicker that was apparently taking a break of some sort. This garnered his focused attention, so he continued approaching. As he arrived, he walked up to the freshman kicker who was noticeably uncomfortable, and had the following exchange:

Coach Holtz:       “What’s going on over here?”

Kicker:                  “Just practicing, Coach”?

Coach Holtz:       (Impatiently) “So, let’s see some practice!”

Kicker:                  (Timidly) “Coach, I get really nervous when you are around.”

Coach Holtz:       “OK I can appreciate that, I guess. But I do have news for you. I plan on attending every single one of our games this year along with 70,000 other highly interested observers!”

The message was clear in that setting, and I would suggest it has applicability to all of us. Effectively responding to stress and mounting pressure distinguishes people with talent or potential from people that are currently performing at a sustained and acceptable level. And when you find yourself in a discussion with any top performer from any field, the one thing they typically have in common is their ability to perform under pressure. It’s like they welcome the stress that accompanies trials of many kinds, because somehow, although difficult, they know that those trials are the true tests that will distinguish their contributions.

Putting yourself in situations where you can respond to escalating levels of stress can have ancillary benefits as well. If nothing else, it decreases the number of people in our increasingly connected world you need to pay attention to! No one has brought this reality to life more effectively than Brené Brown.