Updated on July 14, 2019
“You haven’t really played in a long time, have you?”
This is one of the most common things we ask when we enter many of the rooms we work in, most of the time getting confounded looks in response.
“How could play make a difference for us?”
“Why should we waste our time?”
“What’s the return on investment?”
The good news is that we can, and do, answer all of these questions all the time.
We can, and do, come in to areas where our sole purpose is to improve the performance of a high level team on the court or in the boardroom through the use of PLAY.
Many athletes understand the concept of ‘flow state’, which was named and really started to be heavily explored by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
As a former athlete, and current university basketball coach, I would most describe flow as being in a moment of competition where I no longer saw the before and after, but instead was completely connected to the right now of my competition.
In sport, this feeling is chased constantly in order to achieve peak performance.
Sport psychologists have textbooks of information and incredible tools that can help us get closer, more often, and even achieve it at times by training our minds and I have an immense respect and admiration for that field, which I follow closely.
Mindfulness and meditation continually show us the importance of entering a state that, though different, is not that far from a flow-like state. By connecting our bodies and minds to the present moment we are able to disconnect from what is not within our control, and release large amounts of tension.
Now, I am not a sport psychologist, and I am not nearly as well practiced in the art and science of meditation and mindfulness as I wish to be. But I do know one thing… The question that isn’t being asked enough is:
“How do we create cultures around these states of being?”
My answer to that is to play.
Play by definition has a wide range of uses if you go by Merriam-Webster’s breakdown. Play Therapy UK articulate play as: “A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective.”
Play As A Performance Tool
Now, this is where we often hit the brick wall in Performance Play here at Amped2Play because most people who want to WIN, make more MONEY, and/or generally PERFORM see those things as the objective.
At the same time, those who truly understand achieving greatness at something know that getting there involves a high level of emphasis on the processes along the way. They understand that the path is the goal.
Elite performance psychologist and sport psychologist for the Seattle Seahawks, Michael Gervais, talks to many of the best in the world at their craft about how they articulate mastery on his podcast Finding Mastery (I highly recommend checking it out). There are countless examples in his conversations of people stating something along the lines of:
“Mastery is a journey…”
“If you think you’ve mastered your craft, you now know how far from mastery you are…”
And many of us know this to be true.
When we study the best business practices, the best athletic performances, and the best cultures, we continually see a high focus on the steps along the way, the procedures, the process, the path.
This is where we make change by making the path one that’s travelled with a playful mind, and reaping performance results along the way.
Playing To Perform
When we play, we are free to be our most creative selves. We become more curious and more flexible. We move freely through the world without specific guidelines because what we are doing in this moment is the only thing that matters.
If this reminds you of something (Hint: the first half of this article) than you are starting to connect the dots here. By re-teaching adults how to play again, we make it easier for them to enter a state of high performance.
Yes, I said re-teaching.
There once was a time where we all danced and just moved how the music moved us, not worrying about how to do it right or looking good but we just moved.
There once was a time where we played sports. We weren’t on a team yet, but we shot a basketball and threw a baseball and we did it without concern for doing it to make a team or to please a coach.
And yes, there once was a time where employees synthesized ideas and just said them out loud or drew them on the whiteboard without fear of judgement, shame, or losing their job.
But somewhere along the way concern, looking good, judgement, shame, etc crept into our mind. And we never let that go.
The way I often frame this for people who really don’t understand the immense and lasting change that connecting play to your performance can make is by giving someone the following very real and very important choice: Do you want to be better performing, more profitable, have less sick days, have more creativity/connectivity/productivity in your team?
Or do you want the same thing? The thing that is easier and safer and doesn’t challenge you and the people you perform with?
The thing that every adult in the world is sinking further and further into every day as they recede from their playful and creative roots.
Ken is the Lead Performance Manager for Amped2Play based out of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada and a women’s basketball coach at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Amped2Play is a company founded on the concept that “we are our most authentic selves in play” and offers multiple services in the fields of performance, diversity and inclusion, among others. Ken manages the Play2Perform branch of the company where multiple solutions are offered to enhance performance through play through workshops, talks, and training. You can find Amped2Play online at amped2play.com, on Instagram at amped2play and on Twitter @Amped2Play.