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In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated with children and juvenile-level activities, but play occurs at any life stage, and among other higher-functioning animals as well, most notably mammals.
Many prominent researchers in the field of psychology, including Melanie Klein, Jean Piaget, William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Lev Vygotsky have viewed play as confined to the human species, believing play was important for human development and using different research methods to prove their theories.
Play is often interpreted as frivolous; yet the player can be intently focused on their objective, particularly when play is structured and goal-oriented, as in a game. Accordingly, play can range from relaxed, free-spirited and spontaneous through frivolous to planned or even compulsive. Play is not just a pastime activity; it has the potential to serve as an important tool in numerous aspects of daily life for adolescents, adults, and cognitively advanced non-human species (such as primates). Not only does play promote and aid in physical development (such as hand–eye coordination), but it also aids in cognitive development and social skills, and can even act as a stepping stone into the world of integration, which can be a very stressful process.
The seminal text in the field of play studies is the book Homo Ludens first published in 1944 with several subsequent editions, in which Johan Huizinga defines play as follows:
"Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means."
- Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
- Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activities.
- Youth should have a group of supportive people around them (teammates, coaches, and parents) with positive relationships
- Youth should possess skill development; such as physical, interpersonal, and knowledge about the sport
- Youth should be able to make their own decisions about their sport participation
- Youth should have experiences that are on par with their certain needs and developmental level
- Caillois, R. (2001). Man, play, and games. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press (originally published in 1958; translated from the French by Meyer Barash).
Encyclopedia:Play Science Scholarpedia
- Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo ludens; a study of the play-element in culture. Boston, Beacon Press.
- Jenkinson, Sally (2001). The Genius of Play. Hawthorn Press
- Sutton-Smith, B. (1997). The ambiguity of play. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
- Burghardt, Gordon M. The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits 
- Wenner, M. (2009). "The Serious Need for Play" – Free, imaginative play is crucial for normal social, emotional and cognitive development. It makes us better adjusted, smarter and less stressed, Scientific American.
- Nachmanovitch, Stephen (as Stephen Miller) (1972). "Ends, means, and galumphing: some leitmotifs of play." American Anthropologist 75:1.
- Nachmanovitch, Stephen (as Stephen Miller) (1974). "Play and the nature or pretense" Rice University Studies (July 1974).
- Gray, P. (2013). Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
- Gray, P. (2008–2009). "Social Play and the Genesis of Democracy", "The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Provides Clues to Its Purposes", "The Value of Play II: How Play Promotes Reasoning in Children and Adults", "The Value of Play III: Children Use Play to Confront, not Avoid, Life's Challenges and Even Life's Horrors", "The Value of Play IV: Play is Nature's Way of Teaching Us New Skills", "How to Ruin Children's Play: Supervise, Praise, Intervene", Psychology Today.
- Howard Taras, (2009). Journal of School Health. Physical Activity and School Performance. 75 (6), pp. 214–218
- Kortmulder, Koenraad (1998). Play and Evolution: Second Thoughts on the Behaviour of Animals,
- Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams and imitation (Vol. 24). New York: Norton
- Bateson, Gregory. (1955). A theory of play and fantasy. Psychiatric research reports,2(39), 39-51. Reprinted in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972. Chandler, and 2000, University of Chicago Press.
- Stebbins, Robert A. (2015). The Interrelationship of Leisure and Play: Play as Leisure, Leisure as Play. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Wästerfors, David (2016). Playfights as Trouble and Respite. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 45 (2): 168-197.
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