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How much “fun vs serious training” at practice is best?

I have often been asked, when is enough enough with the fun at practice? When is it time to say, “it’s time to get serious.”

That kind of mentality shows we are confusing fun with ineffectiveness. I’m not saying that practices should have time put aside to eat cupcakes and play with puppies. (though to be fair, there’s a time and a place for everything and I’d be all over that practice!) :-)

The truth is:

Competing can be fun.

Working hard to achieve something can be fun.

Having a practice that’s hard, challenging, and teaches something new can be fun.

So can mastering a new skill, which just may be the funnest of them all!

Have you ever seen two kids going at it with light sabers? Sweating, red-faced, creating new ways to jump and swing and evade the enemy while climbing and jumping over furniture? They’re training to be Jedi Masters and no one threatened them with sprints or staying late.

When we discuss making things fun, we are talking about tone, motivation, and approach. Having fun doesn’t mean turning practice into a break or some kind of ineffective recess. Rather we are focusing on creating learning and physical training that’s enjoyable and desirable so that these kids keep coming back and build habits that will serve them for a lifetime. When learning looks like punishments , we are molding habits in kids to dread the process. And let’s face it, the majority of a season is the process of training and practice through repetition and discomfort to grow. Add fear and punishments as a motivator and you have a recipe for misery.

I struggled horribly at math as a kid. But one particular subject, I mastered like some sort of accounting child genius. Multiplication.

My teacher had a game where the times tables were a pie chart that could spin around and tell us which multiplication problem to answer and we got points for answering before the buzzer. Winners got to spin the wheel next and spend points to get things from the prize bin. I begged to play it and I looked forward to math every day. I practiced at home on my own to get better for the game. It was fun and it just so happens to be the best learning experience I had in math class. I was excited about the process of learning and I looked forward to it. The mastery of it, especially so quickly, motivated me to keep learning. My anatomy teacher in college made up riddles for the muscles of the body that were hilarious. Again, I thrived in this very difficult class of memorization and details due to a fun process of learning.

If anyone would like to argue that misery drives performance and show me the evidence of that lasting beyond the punishment, I can wait for it. But in all my time working with athletes and teams, love and enjoyment of sports is what we see beaming from the best athletes. It’s why they keep playing, it’s why they are willing to push themselves through hard training and make sacrifices. They do it for the love of the game.

As a coach or teacher of any kind, if we don’t see our job as teaching both the fundamentals of the skill AND the enjoyment of repeating the process required to master it, then we’ve left out an important part of our job description, (assuming being effective is on that list!) You want internally motivated team members? Teach them to love the work, the whatever it takes, the adventure of it all and see your results multiply exponentially.

But don’t take my word for it, how about the experience of former defensive great, Georgia Bulldog, Rennie Curran? Did they really find it a necessity to incorporate fun in training at one of the best competitive football programs?

“We did relay races, had days where we thought we were practicing but we had a pool day to build camaraderie and recover, we would go bowling after practice and break up into teams. In high school we did an iron man competition that was really awesome.” - Rennie

Maybe you agree sports should be fun but what about in business? Here’s what organizational growth guru and EXP Realty President, Dave Conord, has to say about mixing fun and high performance:

“Outcomes are hollow if you don’t enjoy the journey.  Once you achieve your goal, there’s only a short time to celebrate before you get after the next one.  When the journey is fun, when you infuse fun into the challenge of achieving goals, it makes diving into the next mission exciting. Winners keep winning because they enjoy the work and because they don’t stop after hitting the first milestone.” - Dave Conord

There you have it… by the way, one last question.

Are you having fun yet?? 😁💪

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