a powerful tool for self-development

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 22 May 2018 11:08:40


By dr pragya m kumar

The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.
--Swami Vivekananda.

hen the crowd chants the name of the athlete and his country ,when the eyes moisten on the podium as the National Anthem plays, when a ribbon with a Gold Medal is put around the neck of a champion among men…it is difficult to miss the pure joy that encompasses all these situations. Dull in comparison to its practical version, the definition of play in the Wikipedia with reference to psychology and ethology is: play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated with children and juvenile-level activities, but play occurs at any life stage, and among other higher-functioning animals as well, most notably mammals. Structured play has clearly defined goals and rules and such play is called a ‘game’. Sport (British English) or sports (American English) includes all forms of competitive physical activity or games which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants, and in some cases, entertainment for spectators. Sports are usually governed by a set of rules or customs, which serve to ensure fair competition, and allow consistent adjudication of the winner.

The celebration of the human spirit in all its glory reveals itself best when people are involved in sports…playing. For there is no equivalent of the unique mix that includes emotion,cognition and action in combination with grit which we all see in the performance of a sportsperson in competition. Once a person chooses to indulge in sport, here is a transformation that one cannot miss. Fitness becomes a priority and that automatically inspires lifestyle changes. The choices one makes become healthier . The motivation to be better than before inspires action. Focus, determination, hard work and a goal:together they shape a person into a superior version of himself.Play comes naturally to human beings when they are children. All of us have played peekaboo with a giggling baby at some point of time. However, it is interesting that humans are among the few animals that play even as adults .Playing a sport works as a stress buster that helps battle the vagaries of modern life, as a glue that brings communities together in a way few other things can and is perhaps one of the best self development tools available. Some psychologists believe that we play because it reflects the brains we have and the cultures we live in. By and large, "the connections in the brain fade away unless used. We know that early stimulation of children leads to higher cognitive scores. Playful stimulation probably hits all kinds of synaptic possibilities. It is all make-believe and all over the map. The potentiality of the synapses and the potentiality of playfulness are a beautiful marriage."Research studies have shown that adults who play are cognitively more capable and happier. The same is true of children too ‘All work and no play does make one a dull boy/girl.’

Self development is a process. One that involves motivated effort to get better and better ,everyday. The process encompasses activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations. It is a continuous process and could go on for the entire course of one’s life. This means there is no age bar. It is never too late to begin. All it takes is determination and willingness to go out of the comfort zone. Play has the power to help a person become physically,mentally and emotionally stronger. When humans play, there is so much value addition to the quality of life in terms of good health, happiness and relaxation but that is not all. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions. Thus,it makes us more receptive to environmental cues and enhances our ability to cope. My affinity for sports inspired this simple model. When we make a choice to indulge in a sport rather than having a sedentary, inactive lifestyle: we are already winners. Self development involves goals. Gyaan, shakti, Iccha shakti, Kriya shakti: Knowledge or awareness, Motivation or desire and willingness/ability to act-together, these factors help in achievement of goals on the playing field as well as in real life. There is no better way to experience the interplay of these ingredients than to play. Hard work, focus, passion and discipline are partners that in unison make play a powerful tool for self development. When combined with a passion for excellence, sports can be a fairy godmother as was the case with PT Usha.

This sporting legend triumphed in life’s race, overcoming humble beginnings, financial difficulties, inadequate facilities and diseases to become one of the greatest athletes to have represented India on the tracks in the Olympics. Another amazing example of what sports can do is that of Dipa Karmakar who missed a bronze medal by a whisker to finish fourth in the women’s vault finals in the Rio Games, but still created history by producing the best-ever performance by an Indian gymnast in the Olympics history. She also executed one of the most dangerous feats in gymnastics, the Produnova vault. Considered one of the riskiest routines in the sport, often referred to as the ‘vault of death’, the move has been performed successfully by only five people in the world, including Karmakar. A girl who began her training in a ramshackle gym at the age of six, unfazed by the flat feet she was born with as she used makeshift equipment made from discarded scooter parts and crash mats to train:in the years leading up to her stellar performance in Rio, Karmakar racked up a total of 77 medals in various domestic and international competitions, including a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland. That’s the power of sport: it can push an ordinary person to become a legend. Learning to deal with failure is another gift from the sporting world. Never give up is a simple but powerful lesson. Failures are stepping stones to success. There is always another chance to succeed. The key is to keep trying.

It would be a great social experiment if more and more people/citizens chose to focus their energy and start playing a sport. We would perhaps be looking at a more disciplined and positively involved population that works constructively in pursuing worthwhile goals.(The author is Psychologist & Trainer and can be contacted at [email protected]