Is Play the Missing Link to Progression



Let that statement float around your mind for a while.

Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s kitchen explains that when 3 to 5 year olds are tested, 98% of them can think divergently, this being a measure of creativity. By the time they reach the ripe old age of 25, only 2% have maintained the ability.

It’s evident that something is draining divergent thinking from 96% of the population over a 20-year period. Picasso said, all children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as you grow up.

Let’s go again; play by the rules.

That’s an oxymoron. A contradictory statement and it’s probably something many of us heard when we were children. Maybe those 4 words, repeated enough, would begin the infection of mainstream societal thinking on our developing brains, influencing and limiting how we flourish as people. Perhaps the creative instincts nearly all of us show as children are being stifled by pressure to conform.


In its truest form, play has no rules. It has no clear purpose nor structure or boundaries. Through play, children learn about the world and themselves. It is an essential part of their development. But cultural expectations and ‘norms’ discourage grown-ups from such frivolous activity when we should focus on being sensibly busy! One exception to this of course is sport……where incidentally you have to play by the rules! Nevermind….
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The truth is, play is a form of learning. Whereas play can be frowned upon in adulthood, if we were to suggest adults stop studying, reading or seeking to understand more, we’d likely encounter a fairly blunt response. These ‘acceptable’ methods are only some of the ways to develop ourselves as grown-ups.


We’re not about to take a turn towards how you might explain what you’re doing when you get caught by your children in a compromising position during a Sunday morning lie in. Rather, it’s the start of a conversation about how adults can engage in more play. Because play is important.

Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play wrote ‘play deprived adults are often rigid, humourless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options’. Imagine if those were the words included in your personal development review, worst still, your eulogy.

Brown continues ‘playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape. It can help with integration and reconcile difficult or contradictory circumstances’.

Perhaps play is the missing link we need to lead a happier and more fulfilling life


We get asked sometimes what our favourite sessions are and I think people expect us to give an answer based on an obscene amount of pull ups or one that involves having a huge dumbbell dangling in dangerous proximity to our ding-a-ling. The answer however, 100% of the time, is ‘the sessions when we just mess about’. We like having fun with movement and strength.

Gyms or training venues that are geared up for calisthenics are basically play parks for the over 18’s. There are things to climb, hang off, swing on and, if you know how to manipulate and leverage your own bodyweight, a lot of fun challenges to enjoy.
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In this context the focus is not on reps and sets. Remember, in play there are no rules and training science itself has a fair share of do’s and don’ts. You need to find freedom in play. Do as much or as little as you want. If it is fun, do more. If you get tired or bored, do something else. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 2 hours. You choose. Move how you want to move.

Play is a creative process. If you don’t believe me, look at some of Picasso’s art. In a movement context the internal conversation goes something like this;

What would it feel and look like if I could move like that? I don’t know, let’s try.

Once you’ve made that decision, the subsequent experience will teach you a lot about yourself. Maybe you’re developing or enhancing your growth mindset, perhaps you surprise yourself and do something you didn’t think you could. Sometimes you’ll realise you have to go away and do some more work. Picasso didn’t become the artist he was overnight. But in the absence of play, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

However, to be effective you need to get over any fear of failure or looking stupid. Children have no such concerns. They don’t care what other people think. They’re like wild horses doing whatever they please. They’re free because no one has broken them in yet and forced them to play by the rules.


On face value, play exists purely for the purposes of enjoyment. But those grown-ups who dare to be different will find far more value in its pursuit. The exploration of freedom through having fun for no other reason than that. You may find it shapes you into a happier, more balanced human being, ready to go out and have a greater impact on the world.

The fitness and training space is full of rules and expected behaviours. Calisthenics offers so many more opportunities to play with movement. The journey to mastering your bodyweight is available to you any time. You just have to decide to stop playing by the rules.

Stop conforming. Start playing.


If you’re interested and want to get a perspective on how schools are killing creativity, watch this amazing Ted Talk from Sir Ken Robinson.

I’d also recommend Paul Lindley’s book, Little Wins – The huge power of thinking like a toddler, I’ve really enjoyed reading it and the last chapter on play is the basis for this blog.
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