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The Benefits of Play by Norma Walton


Adults are generally more serious than children.  We are the responsible ones who must earn a living.  We raise our own little ones and support ourselves. Hence we laugh neither as often nor for as long as we used to when we were younger.  We don’t take time to play.  That is an obvious trend.  Yet humour and playfulness definitely make life better and help keep us young. We discuss the benefits of play in this article.

We can infuse humour and playfulness into our lives as adults by resuming playing like when we were children.  This takes effort but it is worth it.  The play in my case is basketball.  When I was in high school, I was a gym rat.  I would wake up early and head to school by 7:30 am so I could play an hour of basketball with the boys before school started.  Girls’ practice was after school a couple of days a week and we had a game or two as well.  Some of my best friends were on the basketball team. 

Tournaments were a blast.  Teasing and goofing around was compulsory.  I won London’s Fran Wigston Award for best high school basketball player of the year and played varsity basketball at Western.  Basketball was a huge part of my life as a teenager.  I have recently reintroduced it into my life in middle age and am the better for it.

Western Women’s Basketball

Basketball back in the 1980s and 1990s was a team game.  My dad worked for Ford Motor Company who had their head office in Detroit so I cheered for the Detroit Pistons with Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and John Salley.  They were the bad boys of Detroit and I loved how they played ball.  I watched them win everything in 1989 and again in 1990.  Their physical method of playing was impressive.  The grit and toughness they showed on the court was to be emulated.  They were all that for me growing up.

In contrast to Detroit, on our high school team, our method of play was entirely different.  Our crew of girls would often go up by two points then roll into a four-corner stall.  There were neither shot clocks nor three pointers when I first began playing high school basketball.  Defense was key and driving to the net was the most common way to score.  Running was mandatory and suicide drills occurred in every practice.  The best conditioned team was likely to win.  Coaches preached about cardiovascular fitness and defense.  Needless to say, we were not as exciting to watch as the Pistons.

Pistons 1990

Basketball gave me a lot.  It inspired my confidence as an athlete while providing a modest sports scholarship which coupled with an academic scholarship assisted my attending university.  It improved my motor skills, coordination, conditioning, and overall fitness level while providing friendship and good times as many of my closest friends were on the team.  I was attracted to fellow basketball players on the boys’ teams in town.  Basketball gave me some swagger.

I stopped playing organized basketball in the early 1990s and did not pick it up again until after the birth of my fourth child in 2013.  Within a few weeks of giving birth, I entered a league with much younger women and ran off my pregnancy weight for eight weeks straight.  It was torture and I was glad when it ended.  I figured basketball had passed me by.  That view didn’t change until recently when one of my neighbours invited me to join Swish Sisters.  I loved her description of the program.  She explained that the women all had to be at least 35 years of age and to have given birth to at least a couple of kids to be qualified to play.  It sounded like just my speed.

Monique, ID 51553609

The first session was physically painful but emotionally enjoyable.  I had forgotten how much fun women who play basketball can be.  The mood is diligent in that we want to improve, but it is also highly humourous and light in the jibes back and forth with frequent guffaws and hoots.  Female athletes on teams are a robust, physical, funny, loud and rambunctious bunch of women. 

There is a joie de vivre that comes through as we put our older bodies through drills that our younger selves would have relished. Pushing those bodies to do things that used to come second nature feels damn good.  And the muscle aches the next day remind us that we once were pretty great at the sport.  What is most gratifying is the improvement that has occurred over the past six weeks since I first joined.  I am better now than I was six weeks ago, and there is a glimmer of the old me from back when I wore Converse basketball shoes and big hair with a side of hops.  That is a great feeling (minus the shoes and hair).

The benefits of team athletic activities for adults are significant. 

  1. The improved fitness level is a given.  As you age, fitness levels inevitably decline so anything you can do to improve your ability is worth doing.  Also the variety of adding a different activity is beneficial.  I swim each day but basketball winds me in a completely different way.  Different muscles are engaged and strengthened. 
  2. The friendships that you make.  There is a sense of camaraderie.  You share the suffering and the improvements.  The new relationships also inspire goodness.  On our team, the instructor’s daughter has just made Team Canada’s Beach Volleyball team so we are going to attend a fundraiser to help her pay her travel expenses to compete. 
  3. The teasing and laughter that abounds in that environment.  There are a lot of smiles.  Dashing out of emergency exit doors while squealing with laughter at the ringing alarms takes me back to my youth and the more reckless, crazy behaviours that were more common back then.  Being with a group of women out to have a good time is always entertaining.
  4. The endorphins that flow from the physical exertion stimulate the amygdala and hippocampus of your brain. That energizes you.  That coupled with the continual laughter makes group play good for the soul.

The benefits of play should be significant and obvious.

Playing for a few hours a week allows us to park the more serious side of our adult nature for a little while.  We come away from the 90 minute practice and scrimmage happier and more positive, ready to smile at strangers and embrace the day.  Incorporating some childlike play into your day will boost your mood. These are all some of the benefits of play. I for one highly recommend it.