“Adult Recess” Could Do Wonders for Our Collective Mental Health

Stop staring at your phone and go chuck a red ball at someone

Adult Recess
By Tanner Garrity / November 16, 2019 6:11 am

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I drove with three friends to Stinson Beach, a long stretch of coastline a half hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We’d brought a tennis ball on a whim, and managed to play with it for almost two hours; we ran pass routes, found a log to take batting practice, and eventually just formed a circle, tossing the ball at each other until someone dropped it.

I realized, while back at work the following week, that I hadn’t done something like that for quite some time: as in, gone outside and made up some unstructured fun with a group of people, not worried about how much time the activity took or what purpose it served. As kids, we do this constantly. It’s a command, from older, wiser folk — “Go outside and play” — and we oblige, because we’re familiar with what it looks like.

According to a number of researchers, though, play shouldn’t be reserved for the younger demographic. Dr. Stuart Brown, who founded the National Institute for Play, classifies adults’ lack of play as a public-health issue, explaining that it’s instrumental to optimism and self-motivation, while fostering a sense of belonging and community with others.

A recent article by Outside on the subject emphasizes that “play” doesn’t necessarily mean “competition.” There are endless intramural leagues in every city in America where weekend warriors look to recapture old high-school bragging rights. But in the last few years, groups have come about that emphasize the relaxation and mindfulness involved with simply running around, often with a focus on games you’d remember from P.E.

DC Fray, in the nation’s capital, started as a Skee-Ball league, and now hosts everything from flag football (in the shadow of the Washington Monument) to sack races. Play Recess has teams play a different sport each week — dodgeball one week, kickball the next — then sends it to a local bar for flip cup and pitchers. Smaller cities have gotten in on the action too, with places like Greensboro and Akron starting their own “leagues.”

The laidback nature of these games means people can make friends (even — gasp! — with members of the other team), and the time away from your phone or desk has been proven to reduce stress and make you more productive when it actually matters.

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