The Importance of Play

Written by Ben Holland


Every year on New Year’s Eve, I wake up early and take myself on an adventure in the dark to go and watch the sunrise from somewhere isolated and beautiful. Here, I reflect on the year that is coming to an end, and set out personal intentions for the year to come. This year, the first thing I wrote down was “Play. Experience and explore play daily, in whatever natural way presents itself, and share this with others frequently.” 


Play’ has been one of my core values for a number of years, and this year I really wanted to embody that and share that. I’ve had (and still have) my fair share of mental health battles, but one thing I find helps me to be wholly present is the act of play. When I experience and share play, nothing else seems to matter, and my sole focus is on the game in hand. I believe it is such a great tool to bring out the ‘inner child’ and have pure, unadulterated intention. 


I fully believe that ‘play’ is a concept that can be utilised by all coaches, for all ages. I’m lucky enough in my role at The Athlete Factory NZ, to have a broad range of members that I get the privilege of coaching; the youngest being 4 years old, and the oldest venturing strong into her early 90s. Play is something that I endeavour to incorporate across all of my coaching sessions, regardless of the age group. We are talking stuck in the mud, piggy in the middle, duck duck goose, bullrush, paper scissors rock… pretty much any childhood game i can think of, i’ll aim to adapt it and play it in a session.


In this space, I see ‘play’ as having importance on 3 levels: Technical, Business and Human.


  • As a coach, there is endless scope for strength and conditioning application through play. We can get people moving in different planes, change elevation levels, manipulate jumping and landing mechanics, incorporate mobility, hand eye coordination, conditioning protocols, but to name a few. 


  • Whilst it is tricky to quantify the impact that ‘play’ has in financial terms, I would be confident in saying that our member retention is higher, and the overall member experience has become more positive as a direct result of play. Amongst staff, it has a positive impact in terms of mental wellbeing, work drive and productivity, and goes a long way to creating an environment conducive to fun and belonging.


  • The biggest and most important impact of play though, in my opinion, is on a human level. As an empath working in a people-centric job, seeing the smiles, hearing the laughter and experiencing the fizz of the environment that play creates, across all the ages I coach, I don’t see any impact other than one that is beautifully positive. 


I challenge all coaches to question how they can introduce play into their sessions. Whether it is a Youth Athlete Development session, a High Performance session, a Personal Training session or an aerobics class, challenge yourself to include play in your next session, and reflect on the impact it has.


For me, play has been and continues to be a tool to keep me present, centred and grounded, and I hope that by sharing it, others find some sanctuary and pure outcome too.

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