Scheduled ‘fits’ can help on and off the football field

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

Standing on the football field watching the university team stretch and warm up, my father saw the players do something he’d never seen before.

At a given signal, they started jumping, hollering and flinging themselves around on the ground. The exercise had no uniformity, symmetry or unity to it. Every guy did his own thing. Some looked joyful. Some looked angry. Some looked relieved to finally erupt.

When the assistant coach’s whistle sounded and the unorthodox activity stopped, a more traditional workout program followed.

“What in the world was that all about?” my father asked the head coach.

“That’s a 20-second fit,” the coach replied, laughing, and told his assistant to do it again for my father’s benefit. The players seemed delighted for another “20-second fit” explosion.

A 20-second fit — what a concept. And what a dramatic method to relieve tension.

I wonder what would happen in tension-filled offices if coffee breaks were replaced with a daily e-mail from the company CEO announcing, “It’s time for a 20-second fit!”

Perhaps we’d see secretaries pounding computer keyboards with their feet, clerks slamming file cabinets and senior executives launching their cell phones into makeshift trash can basketball hoops. And maybe the CEO himself (herself) would bang those walnut-paneled walls, jarring pictures crooked and sending tremors throughout the corporate structure.

Meanwhile, back at home, families would pause throughout the day for their 20-second fits. Parents would jump up and down on unmade beds while their children ran circles around the house, waving their arms and yelling.

The point is simply this: when tension builds, we do pitch fits — one way or another. And such fits are often destructive. People get hurt. Innocent bystanders are injured.

But what if we had these “organized fits?” That might be the answer. Then everyone would know what was happening. In our unorganized and unscheduled fits, we leave people guessing, unsure if our behaviors are provoked or just circumstantial. But if others know what we are doing, they can not only understand what’s happening, but also join us.

What would we address in our 20-second fits? What tensions would we relieve? The injustices we’ve endured? Our regrets? Our sorrows? Our frustrations? Maybe we have stressed ourselves, for unkind words spoken, never to be taken back. Or that criticism that would have best been left unsaid. Or a delayed conversation that is now too late to deliver.

Although my father’s sideline experience was almost 30 years ago, that coaching wisdom holds true today. Back on the gridiron, perhaps a few 20-second fits could help refocus the Super Bowl contenders, allowing them to tantrum-out all their nerve-racking thoughts — the fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles — to make room in their mental preparation for intensity necessary for the game ahead.

On and off the field, we can jump, holler, fling and fall until our energy expenditure wrings out that spirit-dampening stress. And when we purposefully discard that worrisome unfinished business, clear thinking and focused pursuits can prevail.

Have you had your 20-second fit today?