Are you playing ping pong or chess with your kids?

games health improv play Feb 09, 2024
spotlight shown on hand holding a ping pong paddle bouncing a single blue ball - on cover of podcast for Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD, Episode #108, called

I admit it: I'm a huge planner. It all made sense when I completed a strengths inventory and realized that I am a "Maximizer." I immediately thought of how I am a woman who loves three things: 1) Tetris, 2) Packing and repacking the car for the "optimal" space usage on a trip, and 3) Having my Google Calendar schedule "fit" just right.


I also see the downside to my strong suit: painstaking time spent in reconsidering ALL the options so I can hone in on the "best" one, rigidity once I think I've found the most streamlined plan, and to my husband's chagrin, moving the furniture around my house repeatedly (with him bumping his feet when he gets up for a drink in the middle of the night without remembering that Wendy The Mover Struck Again earlier in the day).

Even the best parts of us can sometimes get in the way of what we want to do.

Which got me thinking as I was reading my Improv Comedy book this morning. I love improv comedy. I have been taking classes at the Push Comedy Theater in Norfolk, Virginia, for the past few years. And I was recommended to read "Truth in Comedy" in the beginning of my training. Yeah, I'm now soaking it up as it truly resonates with me.

The reading today got me thinking about parenting, big-time. It was a collection of topics around building relationships on stage, as well as playing games. Improv (and life) is all about games. Games can teach us about give and take, rule following and breaking, and collaboration. There was an analogy using two games: ping pong and chess.

Chess is played with planning many moves ahead, and is a very cerebral game. The Maximizer in me loves chess.

Ping pong is much - MUCH - more active, and in the moment. You may consider where you want to send the ball in the next move, but it is all completely dependent upon where and how you receive it. You have to be in the moment.

I automatically thought about my kids. I am a master-planner. You want to go to Law School, well there are the resources to look into, the classes to take, the grades to get, the networking to make and the internships to apply for. I chess it.

And yet there are moments where I'm finding that "chessing it" isn't working. My brain wants to jump several steps ahead: considering the consequences of that mistake, how to fix it, fear and worry sneak in about not doing the right thing. It happens with health all the time: we jump to conclusions based on risk and we also beat ourselves up over choices like food, (in)activity, lifestyle all the time.

We aren't living in the moment, in the ping pong game of life in these moments. I hear you - I think that planning ahead is a super-skill, but there is also magic in learning how to BE in the moment. Chess players have mad skills and so do ping pong players.

Ping pong players build intuition, predictive conditioning, agility and I can only imagine Ted Lasso's admonition to "Be like a goldfish." Goldfish, according to Ted Lasso, have the shortest attention span (or was it memory) and he encouraged his soccer team to be like goldfish in that they would forget whatever happened and stay with what is happening right now. 

To be in the moment isn't shirking memories of the past or plans for the future, it is taking in this moment, now. It is being aware of how this moment is the one you get to live, a decision is made to be here, now. It doesn't have to be fast and responsive, like ping pong, but can be at whatever pace you choose. It's still being responsive. Because you are IN the moment.

Last night we were on a coaching call and a parent relayed how becoming more aware has become her superpower. It has completely changed her relationship with her children, as well as her own relationships with her food and her body. Some people call it mindfulness - some, awareness - others, being present. Whatever you want to call it, I invite you to call it out as one thing: a choice you CAN make. We don't have to roll with the tide of regretting the past and worrying about plans for the future. We can choose to be in the moment at whatever pace we choose (fast series of moments like ping pong, or slower like a quiet snuggle on the couch, or breathing in the fresh air or pausing to ask, "What am I feeling now? Is it hunger?"). It is a choice that is available to us and being aware of that option gives us so much more power.

Ready to dive in more? Family in Focus is opening for another round starting in April. Find out details at

So much love to you and your family!



YouTube version of Episode #108 here.

Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:

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