Expectation is it the Enemy of Play? (Is Experience the Enemy of Joy?)


In the past – I was asked to give a Walrus Talk. The theme that the speakers were given was simply “Play”. I could do anything I wanted to from there.

I knew I could have addressed the value of play in the way that structured-play is used by Right to Play around the world to build communities. They use play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities. Through Play one can teach important lessons such as disease prevention (HIV, Malaria, and other waterborne illnesses) and inclusion of those are living with those illnesses. 

I could also have discussed the importance of more unstructured-play for kids (and adults!) in our own communities. Our overly scheduled and observed lives leave less and less room for our imaginations and/or creative problem solving.

But I decided to address the play that should exist in, but to often is missing from, our work.

We all work. Whether that be in the form of a job from which we earn a paycheque, or work as school, sport, raising a family…  I don’t believe that work should always feel like a burden or a grind, there should be (must be?!) some part of it that is enjoyable – and even fun.  The people, what you get from it (intrinsic), what you get for it (altruistic), the mere act of doing or completing a task.. on any given day it might be different, but when we can recognize some element of what we are doing as enjoyable and even playful – the quality of not only our work – but of our lives goes up exponentially.

For my Walrus talk on play, I spoke about about my Olympic bronze medal, the one of four Olympic medals that I have that is not gold. I shared my observations that what was missing from that race was joy.

Play can exist in the hardest most challenging things that we are doing. It doesn’t have to be all skipping and smiles, it can be as competitive and focused as you choose. Try not to feel burdened by the expectations that come with work, but rather lifted and inspired by those expectations. Learn to frame joy and play as YOU like it.

It’s only 7 minutes… well – okay – I failed there… It’s about 11minutes, but it’s fairly short and to the point.

Expectation is (Can be!) the Enemy of Play 

Meet Special Olympics Team Canada 2019 Honorary Coach: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean

An In the Spotlight interview on the Special Olympics Canada website

Marnie McBean with daughter Isabel and a Special Olympics Team Canada athlete.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel with Special Olympics Team Canada soccer player George Ricardo.

Canadian rower and three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean has passed on her expertise as an official Team Mentor to Canadian athletes at five Olympic Games and two Pan American Games. 

The Olympic champion is gearing up for her latest leadership role as Honorary Coach for all 109 athletes on Special Olympics Team Canada for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, taking place in the United Arab Emirates March 14 to 21.

Marnie and daughter Isabel try out some races at Athletics Training Camp.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel participate at a Team Canada training camp.

“I really want to bring my experiences of working with generic, high performance athletes and continue that on and pass the same knowledge through to the Special Olympics athletes,” McBean said. “They have the same fears and doubts and confidences that any other athlete I’ve ever worked with has.”

While it’s McBean’s first time as Honorary Coach at the Special Olympics World Games, she’s been involved with the movement since the early 1990s.

According to McBean, once she started to bring home medals from the Olympic Games, she was asked to attend a lot of events – and Special Olympics Canada events were her favourite, because she loved meeting the athletes.

“That sort of interaction always made it just so lovely and real,” she said. “I got to see them and their joy and as much as I was being asked to come and share my medals and my experiences – they were always super quick to share their medals and their experiences too.”

As Honorary Coach, McBean – with 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Isabel in tow – has visited a number of Special Olympics Team Canada training camps over the past few months to offer words of wisdom as athletes prepare for the world stage.

She’ll also be in Abu Dhabi for the nine-day competition, offering inspiration, insight and, of course, to cheer on the team.

With less than 30 days until World Games kick off, McBean has three main messages for the team:

1. YOU ARE THE ROLE MODELS NOW.

In every speech she’s given so far, McBean assured Team Canada athletes they no longer need to look to the Champions Network – a group of Canadian celebrities and professional athletes, including McBean, who help promote the movement – for inspiration or guidance.“They are becoming their own Champions Network – they are community role models now,” she said.

2. FOCUS ON CONFIDENCE.

“For the last year or more they’ve been working on their competence and looking at all the things they need to do better,” McBean said. 

But now is the time to shift that perspective.

When they arrive in the UAE, Team Canada will look at their competitors and notice everything they’re doing right, she said, so they need to do the same for themselves.

“An ambitious person will always feel that there’s more to do,” she said. “That’s good to think when preparing, but a bad thing to think in the middle of a competition.”

“From now through to the Closing Ceremony, the consistent message will be to focus on our confidence and everything that we’re doing right – because we are prepared.”

3. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE.

McBean cautioned athletes not to have “blinders” on while in the UAE.

“Have fun and be eyes open and meet people,” she said. “Take in the experience of travelling all the way to Abu Dhabi – there’s a lot to be taken in in a non-sport sense.”

Do you look for solutions to problems or problems to solutions?

 In many different ways I’ve written about being open to new ideas and change. In my book I shared a story about snowboarding through a gladed run. This particular story spoke of the importance of looking and moving to the spaces around the problems and not looking at the problems themselves. If you want to hit the trees, I concluded – look at the trees. If you want to ‘hit’ the fresh powder, well then …(For that full story click here, but I’ll also put a link at the end of this message.)

Previous to this post, I’ve also written about the value of being young and naïve vs. well seasoned and experienced. I have found that it’s not uncommon for experience to sometimes act as a burden when it comes to problem solving. When we think we know it all we start to become those who know less and less. At some point, because of our experiences, we inadvertently become closed off to challenge of new or changing ideas. That’s when we hear from others, or think to ourselves, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years – why would I / should I change?” Our well-honed routines provide us with the comfort that we know what we are doing but they put us at risk for becoming less curious about what we could be doing differently.

So, I come back to my opening remark; do you look for solutions to your problems, or Continue reading

Are you ready? Ready is relative.

On approach to their 3rd Olympics : Me with Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue and their coaches Patrice and Marie-France (who I mentored in 2006!) What a team!

I met Kaillie at the 2006 Olympics – a 1st Winter Games for both of us… Now she’s at her 4th, going for 3rd gold.

 

With the 2018 Olympics starting soon, I’ve found myself in a recurring conversation with athletes who are about to test years of their preparation against the World. Most of the athletes I’ve been talking with are going to their 3rd and 4th Olympics; they are successful and experienced veterans and yet they are troubled by the question “Are you Ready?”.

 

 

The question isn’t a conundrum for just Olympians… it’s one that – in the presence of ambition – will (should?!) always circle back on you…..

So how many times do you get asked – Are you ready?
– Is the answer you give the same one that’s in your head? Ready is relative.
Consider the Dunning Kruger Effect. It says….
If you ask an incompetent person “Are you ready?” or “Do you know enough?”- because they are incompetent and they believe that what they know is everything – they will tell you, AND believe, that they are as ready as they could possibly be.
On the other end of Dunning Kruger scale…
If you ask a competent person “Are you ready?” or “Do you know enough?”- because they are competent, and know how much there is to know – they can’t say and BELIEVE that they are as ready as they could possibly be. (Consider – I imagine that if you ask Stephen Hawking what he knows about the universe – he will tell you that he knows almost nothing. )

Continue reading