My wife and I recently became parents to a new puppy. I was a bit cool to the idea at first and largely agreed to it because my wife really wanted one. It was going to be “her” dog to snuggle with after a long day at work. Well a funny thing happened the dog has become “daddy’s” girl much to my wife’s chagrin.
How did this happen? In one word; play! I play with the puppy all the time. I am a strong advocate for free play with kids and beyond the physical benefits the emotional effects are tremendously beneficial. Free-spirited play has the power to create deep connections between parents and their children (apparently with your dog as well).
When I was a kid I used to get so excited when my dad got home from work so that we could play. I am sure you have experienced something similar from your childhood or with your own kids. When I get home the puppy runs to the door to greet me and is ready for some playtime. I thought this was a very good example of the far reaching “side effects” of free play.
I think play is so powerful because it’s fun! In our hectic time crunched wired in society free spirited play is a tremendous release. As a coach it’s my goal to keep kids in the game of sport and fitness for life and play is a great ally to have in this effort. If kids have fun they are going to want to come back for more. They will enjoy coming to your practices and associate your coaching and the sport (or activity) that you represent with something that is enjoyable and desirable.
And as coaches (on the field of play or in the game of life) our job is more than getting kids better at sports because most of the will not grow up to be professional athletes but they will grow up to be professional people; husbands and wives.
We want kids to understand how to take care of their bodies and to have a positive association with that. It’s our job to shape those behaviors now so we don’t have to fix them later.
By making sport and fitness fun it’s not just another thing that they have to do. Most kids from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed are scheduled to the maximum. They are told you are going to do this or you have to do that, and this is how you are going to do it. Play gives you the opportunity to include kids in the process and gives them the opportunity to co-create.
This allows you to create an atmosphere around your program or team that kids feel proud to be a part of. The environment that they helped create becomes an excellent tool to teach kids how they want to live.
Kids need that third place outside of the home and school where they can be themselves and practice being a good kid and being a leader so when they go outside (school, home, community) they are a positive example of what it means to be a good kid.
One of the other big bonuses of game play is fitness and conditioning. It is an excellent tool coaches and parents can use to get kids in terrific shape. Games like tag are what I refer to skill dense while an exercise like a bicep curl is skill light. Just as a vegetable like kale is nutrient dense because of all the beneficial nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber) tag is infused with acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, reflexes, body awareness. While a bicep curl (makes you look good?) is much like a cookie (makes you feel good?) the benefits are very limited.
Play is a gift! It is a tool that has the potential to create relationships and connections that provides us with the opportunity to shape great young people and help them think for themselves. This culture that they help to create has the power to make their lives better and the lives of those they interact with. I have invested quite a bit of play and energy into our puppy and she has definitely made out home a better place.