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What Rats Tell Us About the Importance of Play

Let’s talk about Rats.

Now Rats, with some notable exceptions, don’t seem to me to be much like humans, but scientists reckon they’re enough like humans to do experiments on, and to give us some indication of human behaviour. They had a very interesting one on physical play among juvenile rats.

That’s what this blog is about. The importance of rough physical play. Not rats. Just wanted to clear that up before you read on expecting interesting rat facts.

In this experiment, they had 3 young rats. One was in the cage alone for the time period. One was with another young playful rat. The last one was with another rat, but that rat was doped up to not play and just sort of sit around like I imagine Morrissey did as a boy.

The rat with his rough and tumble play (RTP for short in the science) partner had great craic, but (and don’t ask me how they judged this) essentially became a better, happier more well adjusted rat. Rats are very social animals, and show empathy, cooperation and live in complex social structures. This, plus observation of primates, and some less invasive studies on humans have shown the importance of free play, and indeed Rough and Tumble play for the development of young kids.

I’ve thought about this a lot, as my job involves putting kids in Rough and Tumble play situations. That’s what Jiu Jitsu matches are a young age. Just 2 kids trying to pin each other. Every coach of kids should keep in mind their greater role- to help develop good people, not just good players.

In training, we try to create play situations more than doing anything complex.

Here’s a few examples-

Get Behind Them! 2 partners face each other. The winner is whoever joins their hands behind the other’s back.

Get Mount! The winner is who gets on the mount position.

Takedown! The winner is whoever pins the other first.

SUMO! Push your partner out of the circle.

Now if I showed an outsider 2 sessions- the first with just games above, and the other with drills and cones and little ladders to run through- they’d probably think the latter was a better organised and researched one. Look at that coach! They’d say. Look how many little cones he’s put out! He’s on the ball that fella.

Then they’d look at my session and go, sure he just lets them wrestle each other. What a baldy idiot!

The bald thing would be a bit much I think. I can’t help that, but I might be an idiot. After all, how would I know?

However I'd bet my house on being right about this.

But of course we also teach positions and technical aspects of how to do it better. We just don’t sacrifice fun and open play in the name of making them drill dry stuff over and over. There are more smiles the way we do it, but from experience, it makes them better in the long run. They develop balance and agility faster, and get better at making instinctive choices about positions.

I could go into this all day, but I’ll stop there because it’s time for me to get some lunch.

INTERESTING RAT FACT- some reckon it was in fact human borne lice that spread the great plague and not rat fleas.

(just in case you thought it was a blog about rats)

See you on the mat,


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