Highlights from The Roots of Sport→

Unless you are a part of the niche sport of cricket, this is likely the first time you are hearing of Mike Brearley–professional cricketer, writer, and psychoanalysis. Two of his books are on my current reading list–The Art of Captaincy and On Form.

Brearley himself is an inspiration figure, described as having ‘a degree in people,’ he took on the helm of leadership and captaincy, not just for his team but for the community that he wished to see. He did not shy away from speaking his mind and taking a political stand against apartheid, and wrote extensively on the value of sport.

Recently I came across this incredible article On The Roots of Sport, penned for the British Pscyhoanalytical Society. As I try to pull excerpts to highlight I am resisting copy-pasting a sizeable chunk, so I highly recommend giving it a read (5 minutes).

On The Value of Sports

“[Through Sports] the child and the adult have to learn to cope with the emotional ups and downs of victory and defeat, success and failure. They – we – gradually manage to keep going against the odds, to struggle back to form, to recognize the risks of complacency. We have to learn to deal with inner voices telling us we are no good, and with voices telling us we’re wonderful. In sport the tendencies to triumph when we do well and to become angry or depressed at doing badly are often strong; we have to find our own ways of coping with them. Arrogance and humiliation have to be struggled against, whilst determination, proper pride and good sportsmanship are struggled towards. “

“Sport calls too for a subtle balancing of planning and spontaneity, of calculation and letting go, of discipline and freedom.”

” …having disciplined ourselves, having set ourselves according to the situation of the game, we then have to let ourselves go, trusting to our craftsmanship, skill and intuitive responsiveness, without further interference from the conscious mind. “

” The moments for the sportsman when body and mind are at one, when we are completely concentrated and completely relaxed, aware of every relevant detail of the surroundings but not obsessed or hyper-sensitive to any set of them, confident without being over-confident, aware of dangers without being over-cautious – such rare states of mind are akin to being in love. They involve a marriage between the conscious control mentioned above with the allowing of a more unconscious creativity through the body’s knowledge. “

On The Value of Movement

Frederick James Wilfred, 1955

“For those to whom sport doesn’t appeal, it seems futile, pointless. They remember hours of misery at compulsory school games on cold sporting fields. They were perhaps physically awkward, and picked last.

Yet every small child, before self-doubt, and invidious comparison with other children, gets a grip, takes pleasure in his or her bodily capacities and adroitness. […] Walking, jumping, dancing, catching, kicking, climbing, splashing, using an implement as a bat or racquet – all these offer a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

[…]

Moreover, this development in coordination is part of the development of a more unified self. Instead of being subject, as babies, to more or less random, stimulus-response movements of our limbs, we learn to act in the world according to central intentions and trajectories. We begin to know what we are doing and what we are about.

On Sport vs Play

“Sport proper starts to emerge when competition with others plays a more central role alongside the simpler delight in physicality. ‘I can run faster than you, climb higher, wrestle you to the floor’. “

On Competition and Human Nature

“If human beings were not combative no one would have invented sport. But if human beings were not also cooperative neither team nor individual games would have come into existence. “

“The Latin etymology of both ‘rival’ and ‘compete’ reflect this fact: rivalis meant ‘sharing the same stream or river bank’, competens meant ‘striving together with’, ‘agreeing together’, as in ‘competent’. “

Sport & Self-Expression

” For many people otherwise inclined to be inhibited or self-conscious, sport offers a unique opportunity for self-expression and spontaneity. Within a framework of rules and acceptable behaviour, sportspeople can be whole-hearted. Such people – including me – owe sport a lot; here we begin to find ourselves, to become the selves that we have the potential to be.

Excerpts from Playing For Our Lives→

According to research conducted by Play England, 71% of adults say they played out in the street every day when they were children. For today’s children that figure is only 21%.”

This is one of those statistics that really hit home for me and highlights the profound change in attitude and experience of youth today. In this short article, Inez Aponte goes on to discuss the sorry state of play, the decline of the free-play childhood, and her own small act of defiance against the unhappy transformation.

No ball games sign

Inez first highlights her experiences of childhood in New York–“When I was growing up in New York in the 1970s any free space would quickly become an opportunity for play – empty lots, rooftops, alleyways, even the space between cars or on bonnets – the streets were our domain, we occupied them. Our instincts were not easily subdued and one might argue that irrepressible play spirit brought a sense of freedom into our overcrowded cities, making them a bit more human, a bit more joyful and a bit more connected.”

While this spirit is still captured in emergent modern sports such as parkour, there is no denying what she soon follows up with:

“Children are now more anxious than they were during the Great Depression or the Cold War. Under mounting pressure from educational policy makers, “childhood has turned from a time of freedom to a time of résumé building.”

In Defiance of the Decline of Play

There is a lot of gems in this short article, but a few highlights are especially around the subversive and defiant quality that play has seemed to taken on in our modern society.

“In a world where so many aspects of our lives have been commodified, spending an afternoon having fun together felt like an act of defiance. Defiance of a culture that tells us that value is determined by a price tag. Defiance of a story that tells us that we are only worth what we produce. Defiance of a system that tells us that billboards have more right to our public spaces than people. “

“…Play is our birthright. Whatever age we are, from our first to our final breath, we have a right to space and time that is free for experimentation, joy, creativity and connection, without any agenda. Our children know this as they rebel against a world dominated by test scores and spreadsheets. “

Play is Political

“Real play, like real freedom, cannot be appropriated into the corporate matrix. It is by its nature anarchic and therefore a powerful tool for social change. “

“We must occupy with play the spaces that belong to us as citizens, taking down both real and metaphorical billboards that dominate our towns and our inner landscapes. “

Join the dialogue

The world of play is exploding, with books, articles, and conferences popping up all over. From Stuart Browns book on Play to events like Counterplay and the US Play Conference. There are numerous online forums through facebook that have emerged as well, serving as spaces of exchange and conversation.

Aspen Institute Project Play
US Play Coalition + Ambassador Network
Counterplay FB group

“When you place one of these play-deprived animals in a somewhat novel, somewhat frightening environment they overreact with fear. ( …) They alternately freeze with fear and lash out with inappropriate and ineffective aggression. They don’t learn to respond to the social signals of the other animal.”

Peter Gray, psychologist and author, describes in his 2014 TED talk how animals who have been prevented from playing during early development become socially and emotionally crippled.

Play is Powerful! Bridging Loneliness Through Active Intergenerational Communities→

Why is #play powerful? Because it can connect people through time and across generations. A kid and a senior can share a memory over a streetgame played in youth and for a moment connect as humans, glimpse into a possible future and the forgotten past.

Intergenerational community is rare but incredibly powerful when it comes to creating possibilities, vision, health, hope, and joy.

Parkour is one of those unique spaces that can truly support intergen community. I look forward to the next 10, 20, 50+ years of movement and play in my life, and to be able to both watch and be apart of helping guide culture as our diverse leaders age up and new ones emerge. I am so inspired by Julie Angel s messaging around positive aging, the parkour over 40 fb group, the growth of PKMove / playful aging / Forever Young programs (including one we are doing with PKV in 2019) and the numerous practitioners (some who became best friends, my mentors, My students) I’ve met over the years through events and practice.

And mostly I am so so grateful to be apart of a sport / discipline / community that I can be apart of no matter how old I get, no matter how my body changes, no matter the place I am, no matter the money I make, no matter obstacles I face. There are so very few legitimate, meaningful communities and outlets like that in life–spaces without limitations or rules around participation.

It truly inspires me to ask more of my self, my body, my practice, my city, and my life, because I see others, older and younger, doing the same. And as a person, I more deeply understand my value as a human in this larger ecosystem–as a student/teacher, as a learner/leader–evolving, maturing, transforming.

We are neither young or old, we are human! Let’s play together.

“I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love. The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.” – Elizabeth Gilbert