Play

Kids in tree
Playing like a boss.

 

“Humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity.” Dr. Stuart Brown

One of the key concepts of this blog is “play.” This is because play is key. In short, playor active funis one of the few things that make life worthwhile. Achievement, interpersonal relationships and self-actualization are also important, but it is play that forms the basis for these. But in my late 30s, I seem have now lost a lot of the playfulness I had as a kid, and I don’t think I am unusual in this respect. This atrophy of play as we grow up is due to a whole host of factors increasing responsibilities, social pressures and the habits we pick up. The simple joy of play gets replaced by other important priorities, which are no way near as much fun.

Why is play important?

The effects of play are profound. In his book on play Dr. Stuart Brown notes;

“Researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal species to promote survival. It shapes the brain, and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.”

I could give a long and well-referenced list of the benefits of play. It helps us improve brain functionality, stimulates our imagination and deepens our relationships. It is so important to child development that it has been recognized by the UNHCR as the right of every child. Play involves the use of creativity and development of imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional faculties. It also functions as a kind of sandbox in which the player can create and explore situations to master and practice new roles and skills. These new competencies lead to enhanced confidence and resiliency to face yet further challenges. In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies and minds. Unstructured play generally increases physical activity levels in children, which means play can be linked to increased health and longevity. Etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum.

Permission to play

But the point of play isn’t self-development or to obtain better problem-solving skills. These are just positive side-effects. Similarly, we don’t recognize the value of play simply because it enables us to perform better at work. No way! What a depressing thought! Play is self-indulgent, unproductive and a glorious “waste” of time, by modern standards. Yet it is one of the most worthwhile activities of life and exemplifies what makes us human. In fact, using increased productivity, innovation, or any other such index to justify play is missing the point. Play in and of itself is the goal, and a life with more play is better, period.

So what if play leads to better relationships? Nice, now we have more people to play with. A fitter and longer life? Great! More time for play! More innovation and better performance? Awesome, increased scope for play!

As kids, we don’t need to learn or make and effort to play, we just do it. But at some point, something changes and we stop. The play that remains is highly structured, sterile and overly competitive. I think play is a skill and if you have read this far, you will understand how worthwhile I believe it to be. We need to exercise this skill, invest in it, and practice until it becomes second-nature once again! We have nothing to loose but our dull grey selves!

Keep it unreal

snowboarder towed by jeep on street
Snowboarding is Serious Business and should be treated as such. Casey Neistat

The context of this blog is performance in outdoor sports, so I will close with some thoughts on integrating play in outdoor sports. How does play influence performance in outdoor sports? The sportspeople who express and enjoy their sport as a form of play are the highest performers, or are well on the way to becoming so. Their joyful approach makes the activity intrinsically rewarding, which maintains motivation over the long-term, and their playful experimentation allows them to try and develop new approaches to their discipline.

But what if you are a serious sportsperson? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Viewed form the perspective of an objective observer, sports are indeed a puzzling activity. Climbers look for increasingly difficult ways to get to the top of rocks for no obvious reason. Skiers risk injury or death sliding around in inhospitable environments with some sticks strapped their feet. Ultrarunners expend massive amounts of energy to move ridiculously long distances in the fastest time possible in order to… er… no idea why, actually (answers in the comments please?). Sports are silly and inherently pointless; embrace that, own it, and play with it!

But OK, assuming for one minute you are serious about your sport, what would the difference be between you engaging in it with solemn focus, or you playing at being the elite sportsperson? If you were good enough at playing the part, would you not become that which you mimicked? One difference might be the attitude you bring: playful flexibility, joy, an experimental approach, more mental space…

Yes, play is a massively beneficial activity, but it is actually so much more. So play. Play more. Play more outdoors.

PLBs and SENDs

personal locator beacon
Bryan Hansel

In the not-so-distant past, you were on your own when you ventured into the back country. Not just physically, but in terms of assistance. If something went wrong, it could take days before a search party would find you. Nowadays, mobile phones – or rather smartphones – are now so ubiquitous almost everyone is equipped with one. This means you can easily contact friends, family or emergency services when something goes wrong, which is great. But what happens when you have no cellphone reception, which can happen very quickly in remoter or more mountainous areas?

Keeping mobile aka tool kits for outdoor sports

Bike chain held by wire

So, by now you should be packing a first aid kit. You should have the appropriate clothing to prevent hypothermia or exposure. You have enough water to last the day or the means to obtain more. And you should have a stash of calories to avoid the dreaded “bonk.”

All of this is important stuff to pack, but if a gear failure immobilizes you, you may have to spend an unscheduled night outside, your folks will worry, and you will generally have a Bad Time.

Tool kits are ultra sport-specific, which makes it quite hard to give a definitive list of stuff you need to pack. But the actual process of making your own is simple:

  1. Look at the gear you use for transportation.
  2. Identify likely failure modes.
  3. Bring tools/spare items/methods of coping with failures.

Fuel for outdoor sports

 

Trail runner in the mist
Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer

 

I started off with the title of “nutrition” for this blog post, but decided to change it.

Nutrition for sports and indeed health in general has become an absolute minefield in recent years. Conflicting information abounds on what we should be putting into our bodies to elicit peak performance. While massive amounts of time, energy and money have been spent on identifying the best approach to nutrition a consensus has yet to be reached except in the broadest terms. Coupled with the fact that diet is one of the major factors that impact body image, nutrition is an emotive topic with few concrete answers.

Water

Filling bottle from stream
lifestraw.com

The value of recommended daily intake of water depends on the source but it seems to be about 2L. This means water, and doesn’t include coffee or beer, apparently. If this is true, I imagine a lot of people are spending their lives in a state of persistent mild dehydration. Of course, 2L is just the basic requirement. We need more if the weather is hot and humid, when exercising, and at higher altitudes. Concerning exercise, the rule of thumb is that we need an extra 500 ml of water per hour of “moderate exercise,” so a water bottle is an essential item to bring on any outdoor activity.