Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Kind of Player Are You?

Last weekend I took Charly to the park again to play frisbee. He only lasted about 30 minutes before he pooped out – tired from all the sprinting. But during those 30 minutes, he caught the frisbee nine times and I was a very proud dog mother. Driving home from the park, he was sprawled on the back seat panting, and I realized how completely happy I was watching him play. Watching him play makes my heart happy and it makes my body relax. It really doesn’t matter how many times he catches the frisbee, what matters is how much he truly loves to chase it.

During my typical standard week, I don’t have many other opportunities to experience “pure play.” Pure play can be described as pursuing something for the pure joy of it. The opposite of pure play would be pursuing something for the goal or outcome. When we engage in pure play, we feel good, we have fun, we lose sense of time, and we stop worrying about things. We play because it’s inherently attractive and fun; there’s no specific outcome or purpose to it. Stuart Brown is a psychologist who has written the definitive book on play, aptly titled Play. It’s a pretty good read – I recommend it.

After reading his book though, I came away somewhat sad about the fact that I can’t identify many times during my typical week when I truly play. Most of my days are focused on schedules and outcomes and tasks. Go here, do this, email that file, call that person, and do that errand. Then repeat. And repeat again.

Reading the book Play helped me remember the importance of play. It also illuminated the absence of it in our adult lives. Children and animals know all about play - children and animals typically play everyday. It’s only us grown up adults that somehow become too busy for play, too focused on turning everything into work.

I seriously couldn’t think of anything I’ve done during the past week that could be considered play. Even my morning exercise isn’t pure play, because it had an outcome and a purpose. So I decided I needed to change things up.

In the book Play, Stuart Brown discussed a survey that had been done by Runner’s World with many recreational runners. They found that most runners can be divided into four different types:

- the exerciser runs primarily to lose weight
- the competitor runs to improve race times or to beat others
- the enthusiast runs to experience the joy of the day
- the socializer uses running to bring people together for talking

Up until recently, I would have described myself as being primarily an exerciser and a competitor. For the seven years when I competed in triathlons, every running workout had a purpose and a schedule. Every workout was part of an overall training plan, all geared towards a specific race or event. I kept track of all my race results and I compared my progress from month to month.

So today, I decided to do something revolutionary and become a running enthusiast. I decided to run for the pure joy of it, and NOT keep track of my time or my pace or anything else. I downloaded new music onto my ipod and made sure it was charged. I put the running leash on Charly, and out we went into the sunrise.

We started out running in our own little sub-division, but we ran into too many other yappy dogs so we decided to wander. First we went up a big steep hill, and then we turned around and ran down it. Then we went up another hill, and down another one. Over and over again. We ended up doing about 8 hill intervals, just for the fun of it. By the end of our early morning adventure, Charly’s tongue was hanging down and we were both spent. And we were both completely happy.

This morning I ran in the foothills at sunrise for the pure joy of it. I came home happy and relaxed and balanced. And the rest of my day went better than yesterday.

I want to find time for more play in my life. And I want to know more about how other grown up people with jobs and families and responsibilities find time to play. What kind of player are you? Where and when do you play? I’d really appreciate it if you write in the comments something about where and when you play.

I think as a country, we could all stand to play more. Work less, play more, that’s my mantra for this week.  


  1. Hi, Niki, PLAY is one of my favorite life-changing books, too. As a psychologist and personal and professional coach, mos of clients tell me they are in the same boat and you and I. After I read this book twice, I made a decision to sand and write the word "play" every time I wrote the word "work" to remind me to do just that! So this moment, I am at work/play! Great blog! Thanks much, Judy Krings, Ph.D.,PCC

  2. Hi Judy - Thanks so much for your comment - and what a great suggestion for how to incorporate more play into our daily life. I think we have to be intentional about making room for play, so thanks for the reminder! == niki