Jus’ Playin’

I was talking to a co-worker at the bank the other day and I mentioned that I’ve been running to cross train for my mountain biking. I explained that it was helping me drop a few pounds and increase my endurance and lung capacity. I mentioned the word training and she immediately, but innocently, asked me what I was training for. She knew I raced, but for most people they do one or two races a year. I laughed at first, a little unprepared to answer that. Training for just one event? I thought about pointing her to my blog post from a few days ago, but instead I just explained that I was essentially training for ALL the races I plan on riding this year. But after thinking about it for a while, that’s not exactly true, either.

What I began to realize is that while I’m training, I’m actually enjoying the activity of the sport itself as well. When I ride a certain route with certain intensity in order to work on one or two angles of my riding, I am still, at the end of it, riding the bike. Sure, I always have in the back of my mind the group Wednesday night rides during the summer with friends, competitive races throughout the year, and leisure rides with the family. But, the training IS a part of the enjoyment of the sport for me.

This notion that training is in and of itself fun, enjoyable, and rewarding led me to another thought. What if this idea of ‘sport’ is bigger than just some endurance nuts pushing themselves to their limits? What if the activity of sport was really all about Adult Play? It seems to me that there has been a resurgence of adult sports activities over the past several years. Only where it used to be summer softball leagues, rec basketball, and bowling league; it is now bike teams (both cycling and mountain biking), running clubs, and crazy competitive events like Warrior Dash, and Tough Mudder.

I happened to be on a run when I started asking myself: “Is Adult Play important?” “Is there a connection between Adult Play, enjoyment of life, and realization of self significance?” “Has anyone studied this?” As soon as I got home I Googled “Adult Play” (I was a bit nervous at what might pop up, but then I added “research” to my query) and my answer of course was, yes there is research, yes they believe it is important, and yes they believe there is a connection. Stuart Brown gave a TED talk a few years back and seems to be a popular researcher on the topic:

Some strong points I took out of this 20 minute video are:

  • Engage in play it for its own sake,
  • Play is born by curiosity and exploration,
  • Play is social,
  • Your own personal play history is unique,
  • We all have an internal narrative that’s our own inner story. “Explore backwards as far as you can go to the most clear, joyful, playful image that you have….and begin to build from the emotion of that into how that connects with your life now.”

Kevin Carroll wrote a book called ‘Rules of the Red Rubber Ball’. In it (as I hear), he talks about the importance of sports and its role in social innovation. It’s a book I’m going to read (and may comment on further afterwards).

It is easy to see that as we grew older, play became a secondary activity to school, work, and family. As we matured, play became synonymous with immaturity, and immaturity is seen as a lack of personal progression. However, while balance in life is still absolutely important (we cannot simply increase play at the detriment of the other components), accepting the fact that we have behaviorally eliminated play out of our schedules can’t be accepted. In general terms, I think Stuart’s research focuses on the concept of ‘playful behavior’, which would include sports, but also non-athletic play. What I believe should be highlighted, though, is that the ‘Adult Play’ aspect of sports is just as important as the physical exercise.

So, when I think of my ‘off season’ training, the concept of Adult Play starts to explain why I don’t really think of it as a grueling, dreadful, necessity in order to do well during race season. If it becomes that, then I believe I begin to miss the whole point of sport. So the next time someone asks me what I’m training for, I think I’ll be able to honestly say ”just for fun.”


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