I have had lots of feedback on my last post where I shared my belief that our instinct to play has a significant role in why the athletes over 50 that I interviewed love their sport so much. I received many emails and also several comments on Ken Stone’s (masterstrack.com) blog where he featured my post. http://masterstrack.com/blog/005957.html#more
First, let me say that I appreciate all the feedback, whether you agree with my thoughts or not. I love the fact that we are having the conversation. Ideas are not static things, but grow and flourish best when tossed around, challenged, and shared.
Some of you told me that you thought my insight was terrific, some disagreed, and some were unsure. There’s not much to say about those that agreed, but I appreciate that they and I share a common view. Those that disagreed mostly did so due to the implied support of evolution. I guess this is an area that you either believe or you don’t. I’d rather not fuel a debate about this, so I’ll just say that we should all stand by our own beliefs, and mine is that evolution does play a role in how we got to where we are today. Those who weren’t sure, suggested that our love of physical activity is much more complicated than our instinct to play. Several people also wondered why the athletes I interviewed were still at it, while most of us seem to lose this. “How do you explain that?”
I’ve thought more about this and thought I’d share my latest ideas. I agree that the answer to why we love our sports or physical activities cannot entirely be explained by our instinct to play. It IS way more complicated than that. I do believe that it is significant, however. Instincts are powerful drivers. I don’t want to go down this road too far, but think of the instinct to procreate – very strong driver indeed. Our instinct to play is very apparent in children. Children play to learn, and play is very prevalent in their world during stages of rapid development. Play is an important way they explore the world, learn, challenge, and develop. Through play and learning, kids begin to form a more solid sense of self. Young children are incredible possibility thinkers. They can envision being or doing just about anything. How many of us wanted to be astronauts, cowboys, princesses, magicians, or super-heroes when we were kids. My wife Sylvia once told me that she wanted to be a cow when she was a kid. Now that’s possibility thinking! Through play and learning, we form a more solid sense of self. We learn what we are good at, not so good at, what’s possible, and what’s not. I think that as we formulate a more solid definition of self, we naturally play less.
Ok, so here’s my new insight that I’d like feedback on. Early in my interviews with athletes over 50 I observed that they can envision themselves doing something out of the ordinary. In fact, this was the inspiration behind the “Dream It”, in the title of my book, Dream It, Live It, Love It. I therefore, think that something that may differentiate these people is their ability to occasionally morph their definition of self, which allows them to tap into their instinct to play. For example, Terry Peterson was around 49 years old and unhappy about the shape he was in when he discovered mountain unicycling. So, I’ll bet that at that point Terry did not have being a mountain unicyclist as part of his self-image. He somehow was able to suspend that definition of self long enough to entertain riding a unicycle. Terry tried it, and the mechanisms that support our instinct to play kicked in. He felt his heart pumping, his legs burning, his limbs moving in wild unfamiliar ways. The proprioceptors and mechanoceptors in his limbs sent feedback to his brain unleashing some wonderful brain chemistry, and bingo, Terry was a MUni rider! Sandy Scott started cycling at age 64 when his significant other suggested they go for a ride. Sandy was able to morph his definition of self from someone who had only rode a bicycle as a kid, to someone who is a cycling MACHINE! He was open to trying it, felt the wonderful sensations, and changed his self-image dramatically. The examples go on and on.
An interesting fact is that the average age the athletes I interviewed began their participation in a sport or physical activity is 15 years old, although most discovered their current sport after age 40. Could it be that knowing the joy of physical activity at a young age is an important factor in an active lifestyle later in life? Always more questions, which means of course, less sleep!
Don Pratt is a 76 year old track and road runner who splits his time between Monticello, Illinois, and Fort Myers, Florida. Don grew up in a coal mining town and played baseball, basketball, and track while growing up. Don’s sport after high school was basketball until his son joined the cross-country team in the 7th grade. Don started running with his son to help and inspire him, and he himself got the bug. Don has been running now for 37 years and runs distances from 800 meters up to the half-marathon. Don attributes his consistency and work ethic to growing up surrounded by the hardworking people who worked in the coal mines. Running is a family affair for Don, since his son, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson also run. Don has really enjoyed the times they have been able to run races together.