Playing and Learning: An Adult’s Guide!

Last Saturday felt suspiciously like spring. I didn’t know whether it would stay that season or revert to winter; I did know I’d just handed in my first full collection of short stories to my publisher and this felt like a wonderful time for the universe to reward me with the weather – and for me to reward myself with the time – for a really good walk. You probably know that delicious feeling, being without immediate goals or deadlines having just met them, pretty much the emotional equivalent of a spring day. Then, on the way home, we passed the local tennis club. As often as I’ve walked that road without observing the sign, this was the first time I was really hit by its slogan: 

Play. Learn. Compete.

That little catchphrase followed me home, and has continued to follow me all the rest of this week. In many ways, I couldn’t agree more: certainly with the solid educational reasons why play comes first, no matter what we’re learning. Playing ­– or in other words, getting to know what you enjoy and exploring at your own, enjoyable pace – means the more formalised practise that follows will be based on authentic interest and engagement. Solid ground for exploration of your ability, pushing your boundaries healthily, as you continue to grow and progress.

I’m not a tennis player. I’m a writer, presenter and communication and performance coach. But my job is the same whether my clients are creative or corporate industry professionals improving their writing and speaking, or children and teenagers taking Eleven Plus or GCSE/A Level English, Drama or LAMDA Exams: in writing and speaking, from exam room to boardroom, onstage or offstage, it’s a big win for your audience when play comes first. That’s because your goal is authenticity. Your language, gestures and action needs to be as specific as possible to your meaning, to your personality, and to those of the audience you want to reach. That’s why my job is always the same: improving productivity through authenticity. Instilling the confidence, skills and technique for an authentic performance at the podium, on the stage or on the page. 

In your first draft, or first rehearsal, never ever be afraid to play. Be free to make mistakes, to rub things out, to improve them. You’ll get to know what you’re trying to say much better that way than if you hold back. Playing your character well and fully, whether it’s a fictional character in a story or the best, fully present version of yourself in a presentation, is always based on who you truly are. It may not be “warts and all” but it’s truly you. Not putting on a mask to fit in or pass the exam, but an authentic freeing of your powers. Not disguise, but revelation.

Competition is not the adult form of play, or play the child version of competition, even in tennis. The three are stages of a continuous process, not stages of evolution. The only person you’re really in competition with is yourself, and there’s no feeling as great as that spring day when you’ve achieved something that you’ve worked for and that is right for you – be it your choice of school or job, or the affect on the audience of your speech or performance.

Speaking of play, it’s never been more important for #mentalhealth than in Lockdown. When our creative circuitry is so busy with anxiety and “what if” and focusing on the things we can’t control. That’s why I’m offering free weekly “coffee and creativity” sessions for anyone who fancies a chat, a write/draw/paint, then another chat. You can join us any of our #WriteThroughLockdown events at the homepage of I have every reason to hope the community it’s created will be just as strong way #beyondlockdown – and new faces are always welcome. It’s a safe space and time to enjoy your process and build healthy, authentic goals to keep moving forward.

#writethroughlockdown #coffeeandcreativity #virtualcafe #virtualpub #writingcommunity #artistcommunity #creativecommunity #creativeandconnected #onlyconnect #writersandartists #writer #presenter #coach #communication #performance