Stress, engineering, and football

I am both a mechanical engineering professor and a high school football coach. Because this is not a typical combination, it sometimes yields unusual analogies. It’s enabled me to share some engineering principles in the language of football (check out the Pigskin Professor video series), but it’s also provided applications beyond both engineering and the football field. Here’s an example.

This past Friday, our team lost a pivotal conference game in overtime. I do everything I can to prepare the players to be successful on Friday and, when they are not, I look back at myself to see what I could have done differently. In this case, we made some assignment and technique mistakes that I believe is characteristic of inadequate preparation; this is my fault. More importantly, I observed that we did not exhibit good character during the loss. We lost composure.

This reminded me of materials testing. Before using a metal in a structural application (like a bridge support or an airplane wing rib), we must determine its strength. We apply stress to the metal until it fails. Failure in this sense means yielding, or losing its original shape. To determine the material strength, we calculate the stress at failure. Simply put, this stress is the force we applied divided by the cross-sectional area of the material sample.

We are also stressed in our Christian walk. James 1:2-4 encourages us:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Just like engineering and football, you will find that your daily walk will include various challenges. Let these challenges harden and refine your faith so that others may see God’s new life through you. Increased faith in God will grow your “spiritual cross-sectional area” so that the force applied to you won’t cause you to “lose your shape” when under stress.

Praise God!


About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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