"If I never pushed the envelope, if I never struggled, I would never get better. It's only when you step out of your comfort zone that you grow. Being uncomfortable is the path to personal development and growth." Nic Lamb, big-wave surfer 
The field lights sounded off before shining down on the fifty young men in red practice jerseys. I stood ten yards apart from my new practice acquaintance who snorted and pawed at the yard marker before exploding toward me. Holding the hitting shield like a fearful matador I awaited the collision from the speeding eighteen year old bull. WHAM! At contact I ricocheted into the air and landed what felt like ten yards away.
This was my first experience on the state of New Jersey all star team. The initial stress of that blow woke me up, as did nearly every practice and drill of the three-a-day practices we had on the boiling hot days leading up to our game. There would be no handling these opponents without stress as before. These were truly the best of the best and every single moment on that field hammered me like a hot piece of iron.
Stress + Rest = Growth
Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness in "Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive With the New Science of Success"  describe how top performers utilize both stress and rest to enhance their skills. Stress, as seen on the practice field for me that hot summer week, can be painful and often times weeds out the weak very quickly. However when we view stress as a primer for growth, these periods of challenge can develop greater mental and physical toughness than we previously maintained. Elite athletes know this as they train, push their muscles to near exhaustion and break down their fibers to soon regroup in greater bulk.
One of America's greatest President's, Teddy Roosevelt, learned the importance of stress as a young child. Known as a sickly boy with severe asthma for most of his childhood, Teddy's father challenged him to strengthen his body. His father built him a gym in their basement, yet it would be up to Teddy to take action. Choosing to stress his muscles and get a bit stronger every day, Teddy transformed his body and more fully utilized his mind. Without the stress of weights and eventually the outdoors, young Teddy might have never ventured toward the greatness that awaited him.
Beyond healthy stress lies another more toxic stress that you must also be aware of. Excessive stress without rest triggers our body to release cortisol and begin to break down. Finding a balance between the right amount of stress is key. Also having a "growth mindset" in seeing challenges as opportunities for improvement helps us overcome sudden spikes in stress.
I'd be lying if I said that the stress of those three-a-day practices didn't begin to wear me down. Fortunately I chose to rest and give it another go each day before giving up.
The Importance of Rest
"For me, not working is the real work." Stephen King
Winding down in the Rutgers dorm room I worked through my stretching routine one last time. Calves, quads, shoulders and muscles I never even knew I had ached even when just pulling the covers over myself.
The next morning I awoke refreshed and while tight, I felt a new sense of confidence. I now knew how good my defensive opponents would be and visualized my technique for delivering strong blows to them first. Throughout practice I made improvements from the day before. The thought of how strong I'd be by our weekend game against the New York team gave me renewed resolve. Rest had given me mental and physical rejuvenation. Post-stress it had helped me to grow.
How often do you allow yourself the proper amount of rest? 6-8 hours of sleep? A week off of work, phone and responsibilities? A day off from the gym? In my personal life I'm better at maintaining a regimen for stress than I am rest but both are equally vital for our success. Don't think so? Think your competition never sleeps? Don't buy into that false reality.
Roger Bannister is synonymous with breaking a seemingly insurmountable human threshold. At a time when doctors thought it was biologically impossible for man to do so, Bannister set his sights on breaking the four-minute mile. He trained vigorously. But he also rested. Just weeks prior to his epic running feat Bannister was far from the track. Understanding that he had stressed himself to the max in traditional training methods, Bannister instead rested by going into the mountains for two weeks of hiking. Not a traditional hammock style rest for sure, but imagine the mental rest of not putting on track cleats or seeing a stop watch for two weeks before your biggest trial ever.
As over-stress can be toxic, so too can over-rest. We see a tragic example of this in the Bible from King David. David, a warrior king who had led Israel's army to its most significant victories, decided to stay at home while his army went out to battle the Philistines. Resting while he should have been leading, he fell into temptation with another man's wife. While rest is vital, choosing to do so instead of what God is calling you toward can also be dangerous. Understanding when you will most benefit from both stress and rest is key. In not doing so though, calamity is more likely to occur than growth.
The night had finally arrived and the buzz of the crowd could be felt by all one hundred athletes out on the field. As the national anthem played I tick-tacked my cleats in nervous rhythm as we awaited the start of battle. The three-hundred and fifteen pound nose guard who opposed me carried nearly a third of an extra helping of my weight. But the stress endured and overcome that week gave me an unseen edge.
Outsmarting and outfighting him as a now stress-tested warrior, I helped our team to overcome our northerly opponents. Compared to the future Heisman candidate, pro bowler and D-1 starters I had practiced with all week on the New Jersey team, the mammoth before me seemed slow in body and mind. Without appropriate stress in practice it wouldn't have happened. Without rest I would have fallen apart. But with both applied strategically, I, and our team excelled beyond what was previously possible. And trust me, a much deserved rest was fully had after the final whistle that day.