Last night, Carey Price, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, stopped 43 shots en route to a 2 – 0 shut out of the Ottawa Senators to clinch the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, four games to two. Given that the second Montreal goal game at 19 : 58 of the third period into an empty net, Price and his teammates faced unrelenting pressure from the Senators in the last three and a half minutes of the game. To ratchet the normal level of frenzy up a few notches as a desperate team endeavored to catapult the game into overtime, the Canadiens had to kill a penalty until just over a minute before the end of regulation time. Coach Michel Therrien admitted after the game that the last minute seemed to stretch forever, and he couldn’t wait for the final siren. Price saw the end of the game differently.
After the game, reporters asked Price, too, about the stress of the final minutes of the game. “That’s fun,” Price replied. “It’s not stressful. When you’re living in the moment, it’s just fun.” Maybe he sees it as getting to block shots in a maelstrom rather than having to. What a ringing endorsement for the benefits of play, not just in the hockey world where it seems that people get paid just to play, but for the rest of us as well. If we bring a mindset of play to what we perceive as our “work,” we, like Price, can be in the zone, shielded from stress beneath an umbrella of positive energy. Imagine the possibilities if our talk changed, if we got to teach a lesson, rather than having to, or got to mow the lawn or clean the bathroom, or sort through boxes or prepare reports. How might our lives be transformed!
Indeed, Marsha Sinetar describes Price’s zone of play in very similar words. In Developing a 21st Century Mind (1991, New York : Villard Books), she says: "Those who can play with self-abandon, who can put their whole bodies and minds into an activity, rid themselves of tension. Time, space, and self-consciousness evaporate." (p. 49). Sound familiar? She goes even further than stress relief. When we play, she says, that is, “stop trying, competing, comparing, intellectualizing, criticizing, judging and brutalizing ourselves and others” (p. 50), we can experience a rebirth of our creativity, gain needed insights in the very field of our work-turned-play. Imagine the power.
For many years now, I have been on a mission to turn my “work” into play. I began slowly. I ironed (in the days when I still ironed) while watching a movie. I compacted my “work” into small bites interspersed with variety. I focused on the smile on my face, no matter what I was occupied with, even if I had to paste it on at the start. At school, my playful mentality brought rich rewards. There, too, I inserted movement breaks between focused sessions of what students perceived as ”work.” We group-juggled small soft balls, played ping pong with styrofoam plates, and shot arrows with styrofoam ends to understand the elements of the plot of a short story. I added zany options to exams. Inspired by Kyle MacDonald’s attempt to trade up to a house from a red paper clip, I used the gambit to help students understand bartering. The day a student from another class thanked me for doing the paper clip activity, I had yet another confirmation, had I needed one, of the power of play.
Now, my own focus for play has expanded just a bit. I apply it consciously to my music practice and performance, to my writing, and to my contract work. I strive to let go of the judgment, the censor, and the comparisons, so that I can concentrate only on the joy of the moment and the task at hand. Time dissolves; insight trickles through, and my mind sees only the image I try to capture in word, sound, or deed.
Hats off to Price for figuring out the power of play while still in his twenties. You can’t argue with the results—more wins than any other goaltender in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens. Thanks to his generosity, the rest of us can benefit from one of his secrets.