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Valuing play within coaching

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It has been said that growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional and I have become increasingly aware of the need to keep that inner child in me still present especially when I coach. How does that playful ‘childlike’ approach influence my coaching and why is it important to regard the integration of play as essential as opposed to an unaffordable luxury only used as a ‘reward’ at the end of a session.

Much has been written about the role of play in child development. Play England, in their literature review ‘A World without Play’ highlight it offers “frequent enjoyable experiences that they want to repeat and develop”. It is critical for emotional and physical development with its reach extending to creativity, exploration and socialisation in an environment without hierarchy.

Sir Ken Robinson, author of Creative Schools, regards “the exile of play as one of the greatest tragedies of standardised education” as it becomes displaced in an ever increasing demand for formality, structure and process. Does this extend to coaching where the pressure comes to demonstrate technical and tactical proficiency as the priority? Frank Forencich in his book Exuberant Animal refers to the damage done through ‘adult imperialism, over-regulated and over-bearing’ and the influence which removes that most essential aspect of childhood. And yet play is what enables us to develop throughout our lives (coaches too!).

Through a series of coach education seminars on play I have seen enough to know that adults can revisit and recollect that experience and lose that self-consciousness that often accompanies growing up! The simple balloon became an infectious ‘play tool’ along with the simple ‘thumbs game’. Now you have to play the latter as I cannot easily describe it but it worked wonders in a group of 80 teachers and coaches. Hearing their voices and seeing their faces told me enough about how refreshing they felt with a playful icebreaker.

So how do I use play in coaching and how does it shape my session? What would you see if you cast a glance across or feel if you were taking part?

Play always starts a session, always a game but short and sharp. Not a different one each time but one to engage early, set the tone. These focus on skills, building rapport and relationships and have fun and laughter at the core. The James Bond film trailers are the benchmark. Watch one and it makes you want to watch the whole thing. Use a ‘play trailer’ in your coaching and it should have the same effect! Action packed, high voltage and highly dynamic. There is a challenge to think of new ones but then the group often design their own.     

Play inclusion does not have a strict timing schedule in the coaching, I believe that intuition guides how and when I include it. Mix intensity of effort with lighter ‘time out’ moments, quick fun challenges, small sided games or just ‘free play’ where players can have their own time. I have found in Basketball that the ‘free play’ gives them a chance to try those NBA skills and trick shots and why not! Play is not a non-learning opportunity it is just one with a wider curriculum!

play

The key elements highlighted above are the play menu from which I choose and which ensure prevent premature ageing! Be brave, take off the adult armour and remember that the benefits of playing are not exclusive to children they have the same effects on coaches too. By experiencing play it allows you to connect with those associated emotions and have greater influence on coaching practice. So help the fight against play poverty as it can enrich everyone involved.

I would love to know your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

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Comments (9)

   
HackneyNeil

Great article - play is very important and can be easily lost in search of goals.

11/12/17
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wheels

Interesting article. Periods of free play, fun games and competitions helps to keep things fresh and fun and helps participants develop creativity and innovation.

11/12/17
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Patdirector

Excellent article in that we all live in our imaginations and PLAY facilities this is no small measure. While much has been written about Player Pathways, there are 3 interactive elements as I see it: Child - Play to Learn; Youth - Learn to Compete & Adult - Compete to Excel

16/12/17
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AndyS

Play is so important and I include elements of play all the way through my sessions - probably 95% of a session! The kids love it, especially when they can make the rules - and when the option to add a rule is a reward for something remarkable during the play, it’s a bonus all round!!

29/01/18
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GrantH55

Great article - As Piaget said - "Play is the Work of children"

30/01/18
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Patdirector

Excellent article Richard and I would like to commend you on your outstanding work in this arena.

I've tried to capture how "Practical Playing Pursuits" - as distinct from the nonsense that some engage in when trying to differentiate between PE, Physical Activity & Sport - culminates in Wellbeing & Lifelong Leaning (WeLL) - and I hope that the attached link will provide some insights in this regard. I would like to see the MVA (Master of Value-Laden Acumen) - it encompasses Learning (Think, Do & Become), Character-Building & Giving Back - becoming to grassroots sports coaching - and personal development - what the MBA is to business.

The problem with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is that something such as this become an Academic exercise and when two of the 2 key essentials involved - Character-Building & Giving Back - do not live in this space, this is problematic.
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I'd welcome any thoughts on how this might best be addressed and progressed.


https://crokepark-my.sharepoint.com/:p:/g/personal/pat_daly_gaa_ie/EZD-JzFcddtOqGhg8JLytsIBZXcOXCQDFzbq99h0CYx1MQ?e=mYlfaG

01/02/18
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cheetham

Thank you Pat for your comments and I think we are battling the culture of measurable and quantifiable in education especially in the early years. I ran a deliberate play session today and encouraged the students to identify what they learnt - what was their play experience? If you have time for Skype catch up I would be delighted to share the work we are doing on play in coach education

02/02/18
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Patdirector

Thank you Richard.You’re on the ball - the mechanistic, nihilistic and reductionistic are winning out - to the detriment of the humanistic and holistic - because of the commodification, commercialization & dehumanization of sport. This message came through loud and clear at our recent national Games Development Conference in Croke Oark where we had 859 attendees making it now the largest and longest running annual event - established in 1997 - of this nature in the world. Last year we had 142,467 participants in our Cul (Summer) Camps - making them, on a per capita basis, the biggest Child/Sport promotion in the world - and the overwhelming message from parents & guardians is that they want their children to experience: fun, friendship, fairness, freedom, fitness and fulfillment as part of a more sustained process of Wellbeing & Lifelong Learning (WeLL).
This is going to be a big challenge and I’m delighted to see that people like yourself will be in the vanguard.

03/02/18
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lthorp

Great article, Richard. Reminds me of a quote I found yesterday from Juan Carlos Osorio - "Each game situation demands perception, identification, decision, and execution. Play develops players." Play is definitely something that I want to continue to include and improve on with my own practice design.

13/11/18
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