My story starts in a small ex council flat in Whitechapel with an 85 year old lady called Freda. Freda lived alone and I was part of an initiative that meant I ran to visit her weekly. Freda was a smoker and given I ran to see her, the unusual smell of sweat mingled with smoke often reminds me of those times sat on the hard plastic chair in her kitchen, watching Jerry Springer on the small TV above her 6ft fridge. The charity I met Freda through was all about reducing loneliness for the elderly whilst incentivising people to exercise. An amazing initiative gamified by goals, accountability and meaning.
Over two years, every week I visited Freda for an hour, I was also doing weekly shifts at a homeless shelter. During that time I had been working a job that was long hours with a difficult boss and so looking back now, I realise I found solace in volunteering as it was somewhere I felt valued, appreciated and could also express myself freely!
After some time, Freda and I struck up an unspoken arrangement; each time I left London, I would buy a magnet from that place and on my return that magnet would take us into the storytelling world of travel. Freda couldn’t move too easily and so these exchanges of adventure were a playground of nostalgia and escapism, fantasising about food platters, joking about holiday romances and teasing about what could have been. This small gesture of play was my first pure experience with someone completely removed from my social circle and connected me to how games can be used to both connect people but to also transport them somewhere else.
Jumping forward to now, finding a fun and engaging way to connect with other creatives and those feeling disconnected from their purpose energises and inspires me because I’ve learned it keeps me humble, learning and growing. It also brings something out in other people. Play has huge benefits for us all, it releases endorphins, alleviates stress and connects us.
Remembering Freda sat at her kitchen table and the laughs we were able to have because of play has been incredibly key to me and I feel passionate about us using joy and play to confidently be who we are which is why I launched Game Plan Life Coaching.
In my work as a coach, I am passionate about us learning to tap into play to keep us energised and supporting each other. When I say play, it’s not about a staid board game around a table – it’s about engaging with yourself and rediscovering your creativity so you get out of your head or it's about about understanding what motivates you so that you can achieve your goals in a way that gets you to your next level.
People engage in games for many reasons with some of the most popular being, fun, challenge, winning, socialising and escapism. I work with introverts, wallflowers and unsung heroes to understand this about themselves and build on that so they can confidently get things done on their terms (and not the ‘done’ way).
Photographs of Nicola snapped by Sonny Malhotra
Games are a great way to connect with people. In a coaching environment, games can also reveal a lot about how someone tackles problems or handles parts of their life.
(It’s why I offer Play And Purpose, where you and I play a game to study your approach and what you can learn from that.)
In this way, I’ve always felt that coaching and games are a natural combination. Before I became a full-time coach, I ran team-building socials at a board game company where I saw the power of games first-hand, in both a professional and personal sense.
“ Really good to talk things through, ask myself some questions that helped me look at my issue from a different perspective, and turn things around a little into a much more positive and forgiving outlook.”
Employee @ Friends of the Earth
The Rules I Play By
You don't need permission or have to wait for someone else to do what you want or be who you are.
Give yourself permission and see what happens! Keep an open mind and feel free to do as much (or as little) as you want.
Simply enjoy what you do! Test the boundaries, be silly, let go every now and then… and above all, express yourself!
Take the time to value what you have, what you do, and who you are. In essence, be kind to yourself.
Whatever you’re doing, do it with care and love… because that’s why you’re doing it.
Keep growing and challenge yourself in every way, and with each and every value.