Episode 15 Cover Art - Interview with Brandi Heather - Play for a Change


In this episode, I’m chatting with Brandi Heather. Brandi’s a sought-after international facilitator and a speaker who helps organizations succeed by using accessible play to break down barriers and create more effective teams. She has dedicated countless hours building nonprofit organizations in adapted physical activity and accessible sport in Canada and around the world. Her unique combination of skills and expertise in accessible play and inclusive mindset set her apart from the crowd. As co-founder and Chief Knowledge Officer at Amped2Play, she is changing the conversation around diversity and inclusion in education, health and business.

Listen to this episode to learn why play is so important and how to incorporate more of it into your life.

You can reach Brandi by email at brandi@amped2play.com. She goes by brandiheather14 on Instagram or BrandiA2P on Twitter. Learn more about her and her work at https://ampedtoplay.com.

Next week I’ll go into some more details about how play can enrich your life. Til then, I wish you a playful week.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of Changes BIG and small. For more great episodes like this one, don’t forget to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast app. This will let you automatically download new episodes every week. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to share it with someone else.  Maybe you could introduce them to the world of podcasts!

My best advice is change is not always about moving forward. It’s okay to step backward. By @BrandiA2P

Timeline of the Podcast Episode

1:40 – Brandi’s definition of play
4:36 – How Brandi learned the value of play
6:35 – What’s description of her work
8:54 – How Amped2Play gets people outside their comfort zone
11:54 – About Amped2Play and they work Brandi does
12:46 – The importance of play in life
14:57 – The biggest change Brandi has gone through
18:08 – What helped Brandi make this transition
19:33 – Considering the safety net people need to make changes in their life
22:19 – Advice to incorporate more play in our lives
24:38 – Brandi’s advice

The thing that plays always is voluntary. You can’t force people to do it, and it’s freely chosen – by @BrandiA2P

Resources Mentioned

Recommended Books

I didn’t ask this to Brandi in the interview, but she shared the following recommended books:

Transcribed Interview

Damianne: [00:01:15] I’m really excited to speak with you today because I’ve been listening to your podcast about play, which is something that I’ve been interested in,  I’ve been  discovering, I guess I should say in recent years . And I just listened to one of your podcast where you talked about play. It’s funny because I think you have a different impression maybe of what play is than some other people might. So how do you define play? 

Brandi: [00:01:40] Play’s really personal.  I think we want to come up with a definition of it, but it’s really personal. So it’s a space for a person that they feel they’re most open. They feel really capable and or challenged. People find play in amazing spaces. So for me, the definition is where do you feel like it’s a timeless space where you could be in that space and not look at your phone and not connect to time, and you could do this thing or be in this space for a really long time without having to connect to other things.

So for some people, play is reading a book and for some people play is going to a baseball game, and [for] some people play is with other people. And sometimes it’s just this quiet silence on the lakeside where you’re just watching the ripples in the water. It’s a really hard to define thing.

The thing that plays always is voluntary. You can’t force people to do it, and it’s freely chosen. So there’s nothing about it that you feel like I  have to do this, or I’m supposed to do this. It’s really individual and for me, it’s a place where you find your creative headspace. 

Damianne: [00:03:00] In one of your quotes, you talk about how play is a way of belonging , a way of finding your space I guess. 

Brandi: [00:03:08] Yeah. I think your authentic space too. I really do believe that play is where we find the things that give us joy and the things that really ignite both our mind and our body. So, in play, we find belonging for ourselves and we find belonging with other people. So many people find their play by connecting with others. Their play is social. 

Damianne: [00:03:36] About three years ago, I was walking with the daughter of a friend. She was five at the time. We were walking along and there were puddles and she was skipping and so on and so forth as children often do. And she suddenly stopped and said to me Aunt D, why are you so serious?  Why are you not having fun? Look at me. I’m skipping and having fun, and you’re not. That comment kind of gave me pause because then we talked about how play does look different. And just because I’m not skipping as she is, it doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun. But it also made me think about was I really in the moment and was I really present at the time, because it was cold  and there were puddles. And so, our idea of what fun was was completely different. 

Brandi: [00:04:31] Absolutely. 

Damianne: [00:04:32] What was your journey to realizing the value of play? 

Brandi: [00:04:36] I grew up in a space where play was encouraged. I played a lot as a kid. I was an imaginary player. I did a ton of imagination play and my dad is an artist, and I had a lot of opportunity to be with people and be in spaces where creative people were. So for me, play was a pretty natural part of what I did. And I wouldn’t have named it that as a child. I would have said, you know, I got to have a whole bunch of art supplies in my space, and I always kind of designed my own play. And that was encouraged. And one of the pieces that’s really important for people to understand is that we get to play when we open up spaces and invitations for people to play.

We spend an inordinate amount of time now making spaces very safe. Safe and play can go together for sure, because when we feel emotionally safe, we will be more open to play. But those spaces when I was growing up and my play is actually risking being wrong or making a mess. If you saw my office, you would say, Oh my goodness. You know, lots of very organized people see my office space and think, Oh, she’s so disorganized. Which too many will look that way, but in my space, I need to have the creative materials available to me to think. And so those pieces, that play is really vital to what I do because it’s really hard to find solutions to complex issues and problems like diversity and inclusion  if you’re surrounded in spaces where everyone actually puts up barriers and blockades to create a thought.

Damianne: [00:06:26] That brings up a good point. We haven’t really discussed this yet, but tell us a bit more about what you do.

Brandi: [00:06:35] Our company really partners with people and organizations to help them work through the complexity of diversity and inclusion. That’s one of the pieces we work on. We work on personal performance and organizational performance, and we do it from a place and a system and a strategy that takes organizations and people and teams back to a place where we can discuss the hard stuff. Many times the hard stuff that we’re not talking about, for example, in diversity, our language, the words that we use, the way that we do things, the things that we have experienced and where we come from, our lens. We’re often helping organizations and people to consider that there are so many ways to look at something.

[Here’s] an example. So if we go into an education setting and we start to talk to teachers about some of the challenges that they have right now in terms of the diversity of skills and experiences and abilities of the kids that they work with and how to match their expertise to that, we take them into a playful experience and we draw out their strengths first.

So we help people to see that organizations are stronger than they think that they are because of the diversity that they have. And then we help them build from there suggestions on how to move forward more inclusively by applying people’s strengths. Teachers are often amazed by when we come in and we say to them, you are actually really creative and really strong and incredibly knowledgeable.  We’re going to take that and build on it versus give you a hundred new skills for inclusion.

So we really do try to draw out the strengths of whatever the organization is. And then help them to perform better, be more inclusive, have better access to the unique characteristics of the people that they already have in their space. And we do that in play. We do that in very intentional applied play.

Damianne: [00:08:45] Can you share with me what that might look like. What’s an example of something that you might do or that other people might even be able to use on a personal level? 

Brandi: [00:08:54] Sure. One of the things that we do is push people out of this kind of comfort zone of titles. So if you were coming to a training, we’ll include something on the table that makes you question why are we here and ask really funny questions. 

For example, we might fill your table up with plastic frogs. And so when there’s nothing else to really talk about, you’ll ask, why are we here and what are we doing and what’s with the frogs? And we open up this curiosity of thinking and processing that really has nothing to do, or people see it as nothing to do with the training itself or nothing to do with the education process. And we can open up a whole bunch of people’s insecurities and fears and curiosities and knowledge, and assumptions about, you know, why they’re here, what this is, and we can actually have that conversation.

And in that moment we draw out a whole bunch of other assumptions and stereotypes and you know, things we consider about each other. Because if I put a pile of frogs in the middle of your table, for sure, there’s a conversation to be had. If you avoid the conversation, nobody’s talking about the 12 frogs in the middle of the table, now we have something even more to talk about. Because if you’re not talking about the 12 frogs in the middle of the table, then in your workspace, there’s probably a lot of things that are right in front of your face that we’re not talking about as well. 

Damianne: [00:10:36] So it’s like a metaphor even. 

Brandi: [00:10:38] It’s very metaphorical. And so, we can start whole conversations about diversity without a PowerPoint slide that says, what are your thoughts on the diverse nature of your organization? 

Damianne: [00:10:53] That’s fascinating because I think if you’re working with teachers, from my experience as a teacher and working with teachers as well, already, the approach alone, would shock people  into participating in a different way. 

Brandi: [00:11:08] We sit and we gather round, so we start to help people think about the way that they even start meetings and the way that they start their day. It’s interesting. Some people don’t love the word disrupting, but we do disrupt the way people process and maybe help people to come up with different strategies. It’s oftentimes the people who don’t feel included in inclusion, who thrive from different ways of looking at things. 

Damianne: [00:11:39] You also mention in your work about helping people deal with change and build resilience. Is this all about organizations and people with respect to organizations, or do you also work with individuals?

Brandi: [00:11:54] My company is cofounded by myself and a gentleman by the name of Ozzie Sawicki. He’s a high performance coach in the Canadian Paralympic organization, and his background in performance and data analysis allows us to work yes, on an organizational level, but also on a personal level. We also do a lot of work, one on one with athletes and one on one with business owners and managers to help them to consider their process differently. So we do some of our best work with big groups, but we do some individual one-on-one work as well, especially in the kind of high performance area. 

Damianne: [00:12:35] How has what you’ve learned about play and your approach to play helped you with dealing with changes in your own life?

Brandi: [00:12:46] It’s interesting, because I often think when my kids describe what I do, I’m not always the most playful mom, which is a funny thing because people often think or say to my kids, you know, what does your mom do? And they’re like, she works in play. And they think that that means that I’m a circus performer most of the time.

It has allowed me to connect with my kids differently, and it’s allowed me to see that when we are really genuine and in play with our kids, it’s really contagious. So even when I’m dealing with hard things with my kids, when we can get to that point where we can sort through some hard stuff and then have a really playful moment in it, those lessons are lasting, things that kids remember, or my kids, and people for their lifetime. If you remember the best moments of your life, they were probably in play. They were in a time where we were experiencing joy and genuine joy, something really authentic. And that’s what play has taught me. It’s that there are a lot of things in our life that are really hard things, but in that messiness, there’s these amazing playful moments, and those are the ones that matter in five years. That would be my mother saying, does it matter in five years? The moments where you took time to be connected, many times they are in play and those are the ones people remember. 

Damianne: [00:14:26] This makes me think of McGonigal’s work where she talks about the emotions that you could have through play and how it helps even with rewiring the brain, and even with recovery from issues from crisis, from brain damage even, in her particular case. 

Can you give us an example  of a change that you have gone through in your life or you’re going through?

Brandi: [00:14:57] Well, probably one of the biggest changes for me has been that I spent 20 years teaching in a college university system here in Canada. I was a teacher for 20 years, a college professor, and I decided to make a major change to move from teaching in that space to teaching in this bigger space, this entrepreneurial, run your own company space.

And for me, that was a major change. It was a major leap of faith in myself, and it was a major leap of faith that I could do more in a different way. It’s a major move from a steady paycheck and everything kind of coming in a system. I knew what two weeks before the beginning of class would look like. I had designed all my classes. I had a sense of what would happen. I would get two weeks off at Christmas and all those things would happen, and the predictability of that is great, but I wanted to see more. I wanted to see if I was capable of taking what I have as a skillset and seeing if it could thrive outside of that space.  And what I found out was that yeah, it can. And  it’s needed in huge spaces and the change that I can make in a student’s life, for me, that was the core of who I was and what I could do. I could help students find their gifts and talents, but in the spaces that we’re playing in now, we get to not just help single people. We get to help great numbers of people who will help great numbers of people. Like it’s almost like 10 people who tell 10 people. I think along the way, I helped lots of people on their journey to education and healthcare, and now I get to play in spaces where I get to do more of that. 

Damianne: [00:16:47] Your work before was in kinesiology as well as education and so you’ve had this mindset of helping people, of health. You’ve pivoted, but doing a lot of that same kind of work, right. 

Brandi: [00:17:03] It’s interesting. It’s all the same work. I used to giggle and say I’m not a “pist”, cause I wasn’t the physiotherapist, I wasn’t an occupational therapist, I wasn’t an art therapist. I was an adapted physical education specialist. and play specialists, which people are like, I don’t even know what that pretend thing is. As a kinesiologist, so an adapted physed specialist, I really took how we were adapting and making things accessible, because my area of expertise is disability and accessibility and diversity, and how do we do that and then be better at change management? Because change management is really about changing mindsets and then understanding the entire ecosystem of how a single change evokes different change. So as much as I have jumped out of teacher educator into business owner, teacher educator, I still get to play in teaching.

Damianne: [00:18:08] Whether internally or externally, what helped you be able to make this transition. For me that is one of the keys, is that when we are making major transitions in our life, to gather that circle of support that holds underneath you, even when the pieces seem like they might not fall into place, and also understanding that the path is not direct.

Brandi: [00:18:32] I think we have to realize that there is a going backwards to go forwards always and being able to bring people into that understanding and share it. So on the days when you’re able to say, this is the goal and this is what I really want, and this is a hard day, and so I’m going to go back two steps. To be able to share that and [get] support unconditionally without someone standing on the outside saying, I can’t believe you did that. I don’t experience that when I get home. At the end of the day, I experience this unconditional support and I don’t think you make major changes without that.

Damianne: [00:19:10] The thing I’ve been curious about is how much of a safety net do different people need. For some people it’s I need to have a certain amount of money, and for some people I need to know that I’m not going to be judged and for some people it’s I need to know that I can succeed. And so I find it very interesting that everybody has kind of a different mindset about how to encounter change. 

Brandi: [00:19:33] And I think everybody’s safety net looks different. My safety net is, you know, my husband and my family. It’s interesting that you say that knowing you’re going to succeed is the safety net. For me in this change, there’s always the chance that you won’t succeed, and I guess it depends how you define success too.

Did you succeed because you tried? If you succeeded because you tried, then that’s a different measure than you succeeded because you made a million dollars. Don’t get me wrong. Success and money is totally fine with me, but I think the thing that working actually in the community of people with disabilities has taught me, as a gift, is setting yourself up for these small successes for the little wins, because in that community, we were celebrating things like kids being able to actually come to a program for the first time and stay for three minutes. That is the gift given to me from the people that I get to work with. The family that stays for three minutes today, that change took more than anyone can imagine, but we celebrate it because we can see the lens. And so understanding how we see success and how we see those changes, like you say, big and small. Those little tiny things for me, the change from somebody is going to bring us in to their educational Institute and one teacher says to me, I wasn’t coming back tomorrow. I was never going to teach again. What you said was that important to me. That change is more important to me than ten thousand contracts. Those might seem like little things, but they aren’t. They’re giant for me. 

Damianne: [00:21:30] Yeah, so it’s the whole idea of what’s meaningful work to you. Seth Godin talks about who’s your tribe? Is it that small niche of people that you get to? Is it the two listeners of my podcast or does it need to be everybody in the world has listened to my podcast. And I think it’s an important thing to consider because it’s easy to get carried away with whatever society, whatever popular media says is the standard of success in a moment. 

We know that played looks very different to different people, and so of course there are different things that I might do or that you might do that we would consider play. But what is some advice that you might give listeners to incorporate some more play in their life?

Brandi: [00:22:19] One of the things that I try to emphasize is to notice, to be mindful. And I know we hear a lot about mindfulness, but to be mindful of when play happens. Because in our day when it happens and when we feel like we’re there, those moments that I could just put my phone down, I could be in this moment for a really long time. If we could be mindful of that and what happens before it, what sets us up to be in play. Be mindful of who’s in the room. Be mindful of the space that you’re in. Be mindful of how long you can stay in that moment. Because play can be two seconds and play can be two hours and two days. But if we understand what comes before it, then we can set ourselves up to be in it more often.

I can ask a hundred adults when [was] the last time that they felt like they were in play or playful. There are people that can’t tell me; they don’t remember. If we work at it and talk about it, they can search for it, but they weren’t mindful at the time that it was play. They weren’t mindful that they took a deep breath. They weren’t mindful of those times. So that’s, that’s my first bit of advice. It’s hard to understand play unless we are mindful of those moments in which, we find it. 

Damianne: [00:23:54] There is a meditation teacher that I listen to, Tara Brach. Actually, I just wrote a post one of her podcast [episodes], because in the [episode] she was talking about how where you set your intention is where you put your attention. And where you put your attention also flows back into your intention.

And that kind of resonates with what you’re talking about right now as well. So it’s just kind of interesting to me to get those two messages, where really by in by noticing things, you can start to change them if that’s what you want to do. 

For the final question, if someone is struggling to make a change in their life, what advice might you offer?

Brandi: [00:24:38] My best advice is change is not always about moving forward. It’s okay to step backward. Sometimes in order to find the things that give us joy in change, because change can be really hard and change can be amazing, is to be able to step backwards and say, change isn’t always advancement.

Change isn’t always, you know, push, push, push forward. Sometimes the best changes happened when we step out of the push to drive forward all the time. That’s my best momentary piece of advice.

Damianne: [00:25:18] I think that is very powerful advice because I think sometimes we can get kind of swept away in the tide, and so that’s an excellent idea to stop and consider whether or not that’s the right thing at the moment.

Thank you so much, Brandi, for talking to me today. It’s been wonderful.

Brandi: [00:25:39] Thank you for having me. It’s been a huge pleasure. 

Remember that change starts with one small step!

Have a great day. Everybody.


About the Author
I'm a curious problem solver.

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