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    Articles | mindset

    I really needed to play!

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    When was the last time you actually played, had some fun and weren’t so strict with yourself and your training workouts?

    A strange question to start a blog with potentially, but hopefully for lots of you it will be an interesting and important one.

    I hope in this blog to encourage those that have become a little rigid, less varied and even maybe bored with your training programme, that it will serve as encouragement and bring an air of freshness to your outlook on training so you can have fun training.

    It comes from a place where personally I needed something to physically and mentally boost me; my mindset and my training. I’ve been reading a book about ‘play’ recently (Play – How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorate the soul by Stuart Brown) and combined with a visit to the National Circus it was exactly what I needed.

    “I want to try to encourage anyone else that might have been feeling ‘less then optimal’ recently with this blog.”


    I really needed to play! 1

    So I’d been feeling a little down; feeling the pressure of work, life and training was one of those weeks where I felt rubbish, nothing was picking me up and I was a little depressed to be honest. It’s not often I feel like that, but it does seem to happen periodically. I get in a rut and mentally I find it tough to get out.

    This time it was pretty bad to be honest and this blog is turning into a little bit of therapy as I type it, but lets roll with it, some raw emotion and honestly is always good to hear right?

    So at the beginning the week I started to write this, I didn’t even feel like I wanted to go and attend the coaches day at the National Circus (a training day for coaches to learn from their coaches and apply what we learn to our own coaching and training). It was going to be a fun day and I love learning so I was trying to tell myself that, but mentally I was tired worn out and feeling low.

    I’ve been in worse places mentally, during the recovery from my head injury back in 2013, I suffered from depression (a common affect of concussion and head injuries), I got through that so I knew this period would pass, I just needed something to pick me up…

    The circus day provided the ingredients I needed; learning and play.

    What made the difference?

    I love learning and the National Circus have some amazing coaches to learn from so that was something I was always going to enjoy. The things they’re coaching and the way they think about learning new skills and challenging their students and their brains, is so different – it’s very exciting.

    The title of the book I’m reading by Stuart Brown (founder of the National Institute of Play) says ‘open the imagination and invigorate the soul’ and that’s exactly what it did for me! Learning from the coaches like Glen Stewart (Director of Training) focused my mind on something positive. Thinking and engaging in exciting conversations about training started to get me excited, however

    The biggest thing that got me feeling back to my old self though was the ‘play’ element.

    They taught us some amazing things in such a short space of time, we got to try circus skills like the trapeze, Chinese pole etc which were all so new it was just such a change from our normal training. In essence we were playing. Playing through movement and challenges. It wasn’t training at all, it was fun but hard and my body and mind were lapping it up.

    “Since movement is the first thing that shows up in our own development, it can be the first step we take back into play” – Stewart Brown

    Stewart Brown couldn’t have been anymore right. I’d been doing plenty of movement but it had stopped being play. My movement was rigid. Same hand position, same goals, one plane of motion and no variety to what I was doing in my training. I was moving, but on rigid ‘train tracks.’ As soon as I got off the tracks and onto the open ‘road’ I was loving life again. It invigorated my body, mind and soul.

    How to get play back?

    So if you’re feeling like you want to make your training fun again, spice it up with some play and feel the same benefits I encountered, all you need to do is book in for a session at the circus right?!

    I hope you realise that’s a joke. It’s not only unrealistic for everyone to be able to do that (it was a real privilege for us as coaches to experience what we did) but it’s also not necessary. You can do it all yourself. You just need to shift your mindset and here are a few pointers of how and where to get started.

    A trip down memory lane

    Over to Stuart Brown again;

    “To really regain play in your life you will need to take a journey back into the past to help create avenues for play that work for your present”

    Basically, think back to the things that you used to love to do and play at when you were a kid. Things you did just for the sheer fun of it and start back there. Something you just kept doing over and over again, not getting bored because you just loved the thrill of it. For me the forward, backward rolls and summersault session we did was exactly that!

    It reminded me of our gymnastics experience where we tried to learn the back flip with olympic gymnast Sam Oldham. That again was so much fun and makes me feel like a kid again. In a similar environment at the circus with similar jumping, flipping and rolling challenges, I was back to feeling like a kid again… a very happy kid at that!

    So, think back to things you’ve done in your past that you just loved doing, made you laugh and you just want to keep doing over an over again. How can you fit those types of movement and skills into your training?

    Fun training workouts

    Think about ways you can change your current training programme, regime and exercises up. It could be as simple as ‘playing’ with lots of different hand positions and surfaces for your frogstands for example. The first session I did after my circus experience included 50 pull ups where each one had to be slightly different in some way; grip, type of pull, speed etc

    If you can open the mind to try to experiment with how you move and your training, you have the chance to bring play into any part of your life.

    “When people are able to find a sense of play in their work, they become truly powerful figures” – Stuart Brown

    The famous American author, James A. Michener, in his autobiography sums up the beauty of having the harmony of play with your life,

    “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.”

    It reminds me of when we first started calisthenics and someone came up to us in the gym and said to Tim and I, “What are you two doing? It just looks like you’re messing around?”

    And that was exactly what we were doing!

    I really hope you’d found this blog encouraging and you are inspired to think about and engage in what ‘play’ you can bring into your life and training, having fun with your training workouts to benefit from the freedom and richness it provides.

    Class dismissed



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