Play Is Learning

playA recent study at Florida State University wanted to compare how two types of video games affected the problem-solving capabilities of its participants. One group was assigned to play a game called “Lumosity,” which is billed as “scientifically designed brain training for anyone.” The other group was assigned to play “Portals 2,” a popular video game where players try to solve puzzles and avoid being killed by an omniscient robot. The latter game is designed to be fun and entertaining; the former, not so much.

The outcome, as you may have guessed, is that the Portal 2 group showed significantly higher gains in their critical problemsolving skills than did the Lumosity group. Although the study was short and had a small sampling size, the  onclusion
shouldn’t come as a surprise: people learn better when they’re having fun.

The implications of that conclusion may seem like common sense, but often our actions tell us that it isn’t. In the United States, for example, public schools continue to cut fun activities like recess and music in lieu of more math and reading classes while Finland, a country that leads the world in student academic success, mandates at least 1.5 hours of “unstructured free play” per day. Why then, in the world of golf coaching and teaching is the momentum on the side of more drills, less fun?

As a high school coach, I’m always shocked at how some coaches can suck all of the fun out of a practice session. Players spend their time on the range with alignment sticks and swing plane training while coaches get frustrated at bad shots. It’s insane and no way to learn the game of golf. There is certainly a time and a place for drills. Players, especially new or inexperienced ones, need to be shown the basics, and often drills are the most efficient way to that. But with an  experienced student or team of players, the impetus needs to be on having fun during their practice time. Spending time analyzing one’s swing video on a computer may be useful, but it is the classroom equivalent of a lecture; your student is going to get bored and zone out.

Consider the case of a casual player who comes to take a lesson once every two weeks. In the hour or so he or she may have on the range, what would be a better use of that student’s time? An hour spent in a bunker doing drills, or an hour spent  having a closest-to-the-hole contest with a friend? I would argue that the contest, being generally more fun than basic drills, would lead to greater success for that student. It is your job as the coach or teacher to tap into that natural sense of competition and fun of your players and students.

So, as we think about how we structure our practice or individual session, let’s remember the common sense lesson that scientific experiments have confirmed: play is learning. Keep in mind that it was a love of the game – of the fun – that brought them to seek out lessons in the first place. Why should the so-called “learning” separate them from the sense of fun that initiated the desire to learn the game in the first place? Lessons and practice should not become a medicine that must be taken.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Head over to and share your favorite “fun” activities for lessons or team practices.

Author: admin

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