Fun, play and performance

Over the last 5 months, I have been subjected to many hours of play including lego, frisbee, paddleboarding, skateboarding and hide and seek for hours on end with our three very energetic young boys. Most of the time I have loved this although it took a while to really get into and reap the benefits my slightly distracted mindset says ‘you should really be doing something productive.’ The realization of these moments has been crucial in developing a better relationship between work and life while highlighting the importance of play in adulthood.

Play is well known to be a vital component in children’s abilities and opportunities to learn at their best. Chinese and Japanese students, who are among the best achievers in the world, attend schools that provide short breaks every 50 minutes. These breaks are opportunities to play freely without any particular goal or outcome where the primary objective is fun. There is also plenty of evidence that the playful environment is being implemented in the adult business world too.

Google offices are famous for their creative playful designs in order to inspire innovation and wellbeing in the workplace with most new offices being built in similar ways. Gone are the days of the dreary, grey workspace with all desks and chairs in a line. It’s easy to see why adults often lose the playful attitude to work and life as they get older due to conventions, habits, and sometimes just plain laziness. This is bad for mental health and performance.

Having coached age ranges from 3 to 70+ over the years it has been fascinating to see how different age groups require such varying types of delivery. One of the most impactful and difficult areas to teach adults is how to let go, whereas young children don’t even understand what not letting go is! In order to reach full potential, we need a level of physical and mental freedom to unlock high performance, and minds and bodies which are stuck in a state of methodical and repetitive control are doomed to underachieving. The creative brain is vastly faster than the cumbersome thinking brain. Think of those moments when your keys slip off the table and your hand shoots out and catches them before you have time to think. This is an intuitive response from a non-thinking state.

Play breaks us out of our regular thought patterns and lets the imagination run free to go wherever it wants. Children thrive in this place and adults need much more of it. It is incredible to see the impact of just changing the attitude in a session on the court from too serious and over-focused to light, playful and self-aware. Sometimes just a smile can unlock all of this. This is not to say that we just mess about with no goal or purpose or that hard work is not an essential part of success, but more that just discipline and effort is not enough without inquiry, creativity, variation and fun to unlock the true potential of the individual.

Try breaking up sessions with random tasks that have no purpose other than fun. Then return to the focus of the session and notice the shift in mindset and performance. Research shows that between 5 and 10 minutes is most effective for this kind of break and helps increase learning capacity and productivity.

After all, we all deserve some lightness during such a challenging time!


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