On success, failure and tennis balls to the face

I’m at my parents’ place again, and went out for a walk around the mill pond.  I started secretly learning poi over the summer, and while out there I stood in the late afternoon sun and had a little practice.  As happens fairly often, I bopped myself in the face.

We’re in a quiet corner of countryside here but sometimes people come to walk their dogs, or whole families arrive in SUVs that they park at the top of the lane.  I don’t know whether I was seen from the road or if it was just coincidence, but a moment after the tennis ball hit my nose a young girl cried out “SHAME!” and laughed.  For any non-Brits reading, this roughly translates as “HA, something embarrassing happened to you and we saw.”

I had thought I was alone, unobserved and so safe from being laughed at, but I was not.  As a teenager this sort of thing would have broken me for days, but I’m an adult now and no longer convinced that the world stands waiting to be amused by my downfall.  But still, her gleeful mockery was surprising.

Getting it wrong is a by-product of learning, an essential part of the process.  If I want to learn poi, I will hit myself in the face.  Actually, in trying to learn a maneuver called the Butterfly I regularly hit myself simultaneously in the face and crotch – it doesn’t hurt, but is immediately humbling.

This all made me think about what helps us feel safe to fail, or to be seen to fail.  What can we do, as playworkers, so that trial and error need not feel like trial by fire?  By practicing non-judgment, we often find that notions of success and failure melt away, or are defined by the individual themselves.

In our lives and in our practice, play and playwork remind us that it’s the process and not the product that matters – that it’s the journey and not the destination, and that getting lost is half the fun.


3 thoughts on “On success, failure and tennis balls to the face

  1. For me it’s all about heart. Was your young observer being mean? Only you can judge that, but my guess it was just a “hey!” a playful comment/invitation.

    (I prefer ‘invitation’ to ‘cue’, we are more than animals, we have consciousness.)

    I’m rereading all my John Holt at the moment, and listening to his excellent proto-lover’s rock, he talks about success and failure as adult constructs we impose on the play of children – children just practice doing stuff over and over again and have adventures.

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