Building up Relationships through the joy of Play


One moment we’re drinking coffee and the next we’re watching children walking past, turning the sidewalk into a game of Don’t Step on the Cracks.

“They’re always playing, aren’t they,” said my friend, smiling.

They are.

Children are always playing. This afternoon I watched a two-year-old turn a restaurant table into a play area. She picked up the sugar sachets and emptied them out onto the table. She spent the next hour placing them back into the cup. I joined the game, changing it slightly. I slowly began to steal a few of the sachets from her. After a while she understood the game and her initial upset turned into us both cackling as we through the packets into the air.

So how is it that children can find games wherever they go and adults can’t?

Why is it so hard to play games the older you get?


Society’s Rules About Games

Connecting Through Play

Most cultures only have rules about games when we get older. Before that, we’re allowed and almost expected to play whenever we get a chance. As we age and mature, we’re expected to exercise self-discipline and understand that people are watching us and expecting us to behave a certain way. The closest we get to acceptable games are sports. But don’t confuse the two. While they’re related, they’re more like siblings than twins.

Gamification Stays with Some

Connecting Through Play

Gamification is the ability to make games. It’s in my genetic makeup. It might be in your’s too. Where some people hear music and see a chair, I see an Interpretive Chair Dance-Off unfolding. Where most people see a display of shoes for sale in a store, I see an opportunity to test how high I can jump.

As you can imagine, I was single for a long time. Unwilling to compromise on this need to turn moments of propriety into games and fun, it was difficult to find someone to stand this in public. Needless to say, I’m very blessed to have the fiancé that I do. She allows for these indulgences, even if she doesn’t join in on them.

The real problem that I’ve had over the years is that people have reprimanded me, as if I have caused damage to property or hurt people’s feelings, by playing. Not once has any of this happened. But the need to be a silent participant in the flow of social norms has made some people so wounded in their embarrassment for the things that I do quite naturally, that it pained me to see them in that state of shame.

To me, I see it as insanity.

What are we after in our lives?

Or enjoyment, laughter and excitement?

Spending most of my days with children has allowed me to discern what I really want from life. Yes, acceptance may be part of it, but I’m after enjoyment, laughter, fun and joy even more. I’m after the liveliness of being in a moment of energetic sincerity, shared with other people.

Society may put labels on play, but I think it’s time we removed the labels and started exploring fun with more imagination.

Playing Builds Trust

Connecting Through Play

In order to play a game you need to stick to a set of rules. People agree to these rules beforehand or during intervals in the game. When people follow the rules that have been laid out in a game, they’re most likely to be invited back to the game.

The true test of the relational quality of play is when you’re invited back for another game. That’s when you know that trust is growing.

If you’re not invited back, it’s time to reflect on the experience. What worked? What didn’t work? And do you even care? Sometimes, it’s just comes down to a personality conflict.

Play Allows Everyone to See You

Connecting Through Play

Plato, the great Greek philosopher, once said that he could learn more about someone from an hour of play than from a year’s worth of conversations.

It’s easy to hide in conversation. It’s hard to hide in play. In play, emotions erupt. In those moments of high emotion, we make decisions that show our deepest fears and yearnings.

The more intense the game is, the more we will learn about the people we’re playing with.

Make Time to Play

Connecting Through Play

The fastest way to build up a relationship is through play. It doesn’t have to be a physical game. It can be a board game, or something that you do while you’re driving somewhere. There’s always going to be a handful of minutes you can dedicate to playing a game.

But how do you play when you don’t have the tools to play? Let’s look quickly at some ideas on how to create a game.

How To Create a Game

Connecting Through Play

When you look at it closely, and pull it apart, every game has a similar structure. The best games are often the simplest ones. They have a set of ideas that can be communicated quickly to new players and get everyone on an even playing ground quickly. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself when you’re creating a game:

  • What do I want out of this game?
  • What restrictions do I have in my environment for space, noise and movement?
  • What rules can we implement to keep everyone safe within these restrictions?
  • How do you win the game?
  • How do we make the game fair for just about anyone to win it?
  • What element of pressure heightens the urgency of playing the game?
  • Who enforces the rules of the game?
  • How can we make this game even better?

These are enough questions to get you started playing just about anywhere. When you’re making up a new game, be willing to stop the game and adapt it while you’re playing it. There’s always a way to make it more efficient, fun and enjoyable.

Until next time…
Be Yourself,
Be Brilliant!


What “Escape the Room” Games Can Teach Us and Children About Teams

I’m a simple person. I don’t ask for a lot, and when it’s my birthday, I want gifts that are functional. They make my life easier. Things like Q20 and car accessories. I also want experiences, and I want to share them with the people whom I love.

This year I turned 33 and I decided that I wanted one thing above all others – a chance to play Escape the Room with my best friends. If you’ve never played an Escape the Room game before, let me break it down for you.

You’re locked in a room filled with puzzles. The context is set, telling you who you are, what you’re doing there and how you can escape. You’re given a time limit to solve the puzzles using clues that you find in the room. There’s often help from a computerised screen in the room, giving you prompts when you’re completely off track. Each room has a unique theme and it’s up to you to figure out the clues and solve the problems in the room in order to ultimately find a way to escape. Simple, yes? Well, that depends…

Norwood has an amazing Escape The Room offering called Hashtag Escape. They have 3 rooms to choose from, each one themed differently.

Escape the Room Options Table

You pick a room that you’d like to experience, contact them and make your booking. Then show up on the day, listen to the rules and get ready.

My best friends and I opted for the Rebel Room this time around and completed the challenges with about 8 minutes to spare. The feeling of exhilaration and comradery we shared was unrivalled. It made me feel like a child again. That feeling lingered long into the night and stayed with me the rest of the following week. Mostly, it stayed because I understood that value of the lessons it taught me. Being under that much pressure with my closest friends taught me things about our friendship that I would not have discovered in ordinary moments of life.

We have a way of getting lost in the niggling details of life, but when you know your time is short, you put those things aside and the fear has a way of driving focus that often isn’t there is easier times. Being in that room with my best friends I discovered a very clear fact about our friendship: it was built on honesty, trust and forgiveness. Many other things, too, but what these qualities amounted to under pressure was the solving of problems, the sharing of responsibilities and the trust that we would all help find our way out of the challenge set before us. And so it was.

I thought about my children that I’ve taught throughout my life. The children that I continue to teach. I thought about how I could share these lessons, and discovered that it all came down to teams: a group of people bound together by a common goal. What could I share about teams that would make playing Escape the Room or playing “Life” easier and more enjoyable? What follows is a few ideas about teams that came up. Team is a timeless concept. Whether you’re 5 or 50 being part of a team is essential to every success in life.

By now you’ve got a rough idea of what Escape the Room is about. Let us delve into the tactics needed to succeed. An hour passes by very quickly. Especially under pressure. If you’re unprepared you may run out of time. The following ideas are strategies you can use in preparation for a team challenge. This is for people who are looking to turn this experience into worthwhile learning experience. If you’re just looking for something fun to do, then visit Hashtag Escape or any other group challenge anyway. However, if you want to feel the accomplishment of actually succeeding, read on.

#1 Build a Team

lego blocks

Find a few friends who are bored and want something to do, right? Wrong! That’s not a team; that’s a group of people who have no clue what they’re getting themselves into. You’re going to have to spend some time thinking about the people you know, looking at your friends under the critical magnifying glass of the following questions:

  • How do they handle pressure?
  • Are they claustrophobic?
  • Can they communicate clearly?
  • Will they take this seriously?

After you’re happy with these answers, then you have a few people who have passed the first test. The next set of questions will help you hone in on the people you’re going to ask to join your team.

The Lesson for Children

Kids don’t have a set of parameters for friendship. Most friendships start by accidental proximity. I see you standing over there. I walk up to you. “Hey, do you want to be my friend?” I ask. “Sure.” We’re now friends.

As we grow older, we start to understand that we have a set of values and a way of seeing the world. These ideas soon clash with those belonging to the people around us. It’s here that friendships start being tested. Imagine if we explained to children from a very early age that not everyone needs to be our friend, nor can everyone be our friend. We can love and respect each person we meet, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll always see eye-to-eye with them.

So what’s the quickest way to figure out our child’s values? Remember, your values may be handed down to your children, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a set of values unique to them. The easiest way to help them find these values it to point out the actions that other people take that make them angry. Injustice is the greatest indicator of things that are “unfair”. When you hear that word (or something like “it’s not fair!”) get excited, because you’re one step closer to figuring out what is important to your child in a friendship.

We all have needs and your child has a set of needs that is unique to them. Once they become aware of them they can begin looking for people with similar needs. That’s the foundation for a lifelong friendship.

Winning teams don’t just happen by accident. History is filled with inspirational examples that we’ve all come across. In order to better understand the dynamics that would best suit your team, let’s summarise a few famous teams in popular culture. Give your child a taste of these teams in action and let them decide for themselves what they liked or disliked about these teams. What was the glue that kept them together?

Example 1: The A Team

If you grew up watching these guys, then you’ll know that dysfunction goes hand in hand with success. No team is perfect. Yours doesn’t have to be either. Embrace your flaws and build on the strengths of your teammates.

The A Team taught us that resourcefulness, grit, humour and cunning can get you out of some tight situations.

Example 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

They may have changed since these shelled heroes emerged in the early 90s to thrill perennial kids everywhere, but their characteristics remain the same.

Leonardo takes the brunt of the responsibility for the team. Donatello is the crafty one that comes up with all the gadgets. Raphael is all about training, discipline and order. Michelangelo…well he makes sure that people remember that life without enjoyment and fun is just another job. And let’s not forget the additional parts to the team. Mentorship from Splinter and curiosity and truth-seeking from April O’Neil.

The turtles taught us that a team is really just another word from a brotherhood (or sisterhood, if you prefer). All differences and conflicts can be quickly defused through forgiveness and tolerance.

Example 3: The Avengers

When we first met them alone we knew there was something incredible about them, but together, The Avengers have created a new methodology in superhero organisation…showing what happens when a group of already awesome heroes pool in their talents.

Iron Man handles the tech. Black Widow the espionage and sneaking. Thor the mythology.  Hawkeye, the precision. Hulk, the unabashed smashing. Captain America holds them all together, enforcing the code of honour that binds them and keeps them from tearing the world apart. He casts the vision and allows the heroes to maximise their potential.

The Avengers taught us that power doesn’t always guarantee you’ll be adored by the people you’re protecting. You do your duty for your own reasons.

Example 4: The Librarians

These myth-chasing virtuosos come with skill-sets that are ideal for the challenges they face. They’re experts on mythology, artefacts, history, lore, mathematics, martial arts and larceny. Apart, they’d be pretty lost, but together, they create a team that could crack an obstacle in style.

The Librarians taught us that no matter who makes up your team, time and challenge is enough to galvanise and sharpen any group into a dynamite unit.

Example 5: Scorpion

Looking at the lives of these geniuses, I’m certain that I’d never want to be around them. At every corner they seem to be in peril, and trouble follows them like flies follow…rotten food. That said, they’re equipped for every situation. Algorithms, mathematical potentialities, behaviour predictions, medical knowledge, mechanics, engineering and street-fighting. As impressive as that resume would be, there’s one vital component missing in Paige, the ability to get all these dysfunctional geniuses communicating amongst themselves and the outside world. Never discredit public relations for what it really is…social intelligence.

Scorpion taught us that being smart can be cool.

#2 Find Your Values

a diamond

Now that you’ve seen a few aspects that make up a great team, it’s time to look at the real reason that teams like this actually survive, thrive and continue to thrill us.

The Commonalities

What do they have in common? Their causes, their values and their Codes of Honour. They’re all chasing the same goal, and they all have the same obstacles. But it’s their ability to enforce the rules that bind them that keep us watching them, week after week, year after year.

If you’re going to have a great team, you’ve got to have similar values. Without that foundation, you’re going to sink. Values provide similar rules of behaviour. For instance, if you value trust and so does each person in your team, you’re going to build it through the behaviours that happen every day. The little things, the big things and everything in between.

The Questions to Ask when building a high performance team

  • Do we have the same values?
  • Can we agree on a mutual code of conduct?
  • Do we have a mission?
  • Do we see the world differently?
  • Do we have different skill-sets?
  • Do we have a blend of detail-orientation and global-orientation?
  • Can we perform under pressure?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you’re well on your way to creating a championship team, and a set of friends that you could potentially keep for the rest of your life. That’s the best part about this journey, finding people that you can share all your experiences with. That’s special.

The Lesson for Children

These may be advanced questions for a 5 year old to ask of another child, so let’s simplify the ideas a little. You’re going to need to do the prompting here, asking them the questions that they wouldn’t know to ask themselves. Let’s look at a quick case example of these questions in action.

Alice found an ideal time when Devin was in a good mood to ask him the questions she had been meaning to ask.

“Hey, boy. Are you having fun with that Lego?”


“Do your friends play with Lego too?” she asked.

“James does,” said Devin, focused on the big blue block in his hand.

“Who are your best friends, Dev?”

Devin gave her three names. She noted these.

“Do you always get along with them? Or do you fight sometimes?”

Devin responded that sometimes they each did things that made the others cross. Alice asked him what these things were. He mentioned the time Rory told him he was going to do one thing and then did something else. Alice immediately picked that honesty was important to Devin.

“So you like it when people do what they say they’re going to do?” she asked him.

Devin stopped playing with his Lego a moment. He paused, turned his head and regarded her with bright eyes and a clear smile. “I do, mom. I really do.”


This simple line of questioning helps you understand your child on another level. Try it out and see if you can find the patterns of their own personal values and how you might be affecting them through your actions.

#3 “Stress Test” Your Team

Chain on a door

Before you go leaping into an Escape the Room session, try playing a board game with your team. Put yourselves under time constraints and add more and more pressure. See how your team behaves under mounting intensity.

The Lesson for Children

Stress-testing may seem like a cruel punishment to try out on children, but don’t worry, they’re constantly stress-testing themselves. They do it through the games they play. So, give your child and his or her friends some room and observe their reactions to the games they’re playing.

Look for the children who love setting the rules and then change them when it doesn’t suit them. Look for the children that go along with just about any ideas. But most of all, watch how your children react emotionally to changes in the game. This will point out a great deal about your child in a team setting.

#4 Debrief Your Experiences

Person thinkning

Debriefing experiences is incredibly powerful. With a few simple questions you can turn all the mistakes you’ve made into profound learnings that will sharpen up the team’s precision.

The questions to ask yourselves are:

  • What worked in my actions and behaviour?
  • What didn’t work in my actions and behaviour?
  • How can I improve on my actions and behaviour?
  • What did I learn from this experience?

The Lesson for Children

No child enjoys being interrogated, but by getting your child used to deeper, reflective lines of questioning, you’re building up their ability to think and reflect on their own experiences. You don’t have to do the debriefing questions right away, but you could start with simple questions like, “If you could wave a magic wand and do it again, what would you change?”

Simple questions in the beginning, building with complexity. Soon you’ll have a child who won’t be irritated or angered by the opportunity to think.

#5 Ready, Set, Go!

running line on a track field

It’s now time for you to take off the water wings, unlatch the training wheels and put yourself into the situation. Regardless of what the challenge is, from Escaping a Room to playing a team sport, there’s always something to learn from the experience.

Lessons Learnt from Escaping The Room

I learnt that everybody has a place and a task. If you’re feeling like you’re not contributing enough, take a step back and wait for the opportunity to put the puzzle pieces together. Everybody who is busy on a single task is often overlooking how they fit together. Be patient. Ask yourself, “what are we missing here?”

Marco Martins
I learnt that, sometimes, the answer is right in front of you, if you just take a step back.
Marilize Paixao
Marilize Paixao
Business Administrator
I learned to follow your intuition and when you have a hunch about something, to engage with it. Often intuition led in the right direction. So, be open to information from the environment and to ideas that may arise as you’re interacting with it. Also, I learned not to give up, and to push past the point where you think you can’t find the solution. With some creativity, the solution will be revealed.
Callandra Youngleson
Callandra Youngleson
It was another kind of fun – a different dynamic to our friendship and very refreshing.
Camron Andrews
Camron Andrews
I enjoyed the unique kind of pressure and how we handled it.
Daniel de Wet
Daniel de Wet

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