“It’s the game.”

Guest blogger Ben Cromwell reflects on what makes play a transformative experience.

Ben Cromwell is the Program Manager for Playworks Salt Lake City and a champion for play.  He is the author of Touch: Making Contact with Climate Change.

“It’s the game.” That’s what one of my coaches is telling me this afternoon. I’m a program manager for Playworks Salt Lake City, which means I oversee our programs in nine schools around the Salt Lake Valley.  It’s September and we’re in the process of setting goals.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“It’s about finding the right game, the one that’s going to take off, the one the kids all really like, the one they’ll get lost in.”

I nod, my eyes wide. How profound. Immediately I think of an afternoon a week ago when I was playing 4-square with the students at Copperview Elementary. I remember how I felt, moving quickly within my square, returning the ball, laughing, smiling, high fiving. All of us, even those of us waiting in line were caught up in the beauty and movement of the game. We were part of something larger. We cheered each other on. It was a profound experience.

As I’m setting goals with my staff this week, I find myself focusing on concrete, achievable things. “How do we make sure students will be able to set up and sustain their own playground games?” I ask, or, “How can we make sure junior coaches stay engaged for the whole year?”

There are various answers to these questions, a lot of great ways to encourage students to internalize what we’re teaching them: respect, inclusion, healthy community and healthy play, but at the root of Playworks is this: The game. It’s all about the game, the power of play, of the profoundly transcendent experience that we come to through the act of playing.

With my coaches, I talk a lot about how to debrief, to make our kids aware that they’re having meaningful interactions, and how to take the lessons we learn from those experiences and apply them to their lives, but we tend not to talk about the experience itself too much. It’s assumed. But it’s worth noting that while talking about a meaningful experience can be profound, it’s nothing compared with the experience itself.

Back in the office, I find myself in the midst of one of these profound experiences. “Yes!” I say, “that’s exactly right. It’s the game.”

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