The Exuberant Animal: Fun, Functional & Fundamental

This might be outside the box for many of you, but there’s so much to discover once we get outside of our own sandbox to play.

I stumbled upon The Exuberant Animal by chance. And since, have loved experimenting with their ideas and its application to player development.

A lot of this may appear very kumbaya-flower-power-tree-huggerish… But, if you can step away from the ego-self, you’ll be able to venture into a new arena of possibility. Or, probably better said, this will vault many of you back to the more childlike days of our youth.

Said best in the first video:

“All of the science backs what we did as kids… and, what we walked away from.”

Playful Is Practical


I wanted to isolate this action in this video. Give it a watch and then come back to me afterwards…

Teach Contact By Creating A Safe Learning Environment

Our number one priority, as taught to me by my mentor Mike MacKay, before we start any session, is to evaluate ‘safety space’. That’s priority #1: creating a safe learning environment (for our athletes). That means a lot of things; for instance, making sure the floors are clean to ensuring there are no loose basketballs strewn over the court. There is an socio-emotional component to have a safe learning environment too.

Within the context of the activities introduced by The Exuberant Animal, they do a fantastic job of emphasizing the importance making your partners feel “challenged but cared for“.

I love that articulation. Isn’t that what team is all about and what good teammates do?

Coaches often ask: how can I develop the physical toughness of my players?

My answer is that we must, at an early age, gradually introduce and teach appropriate (basketball) contact. What does that mean? Well, let’s take some basic ball handling drill. You can have one player executing a dribbling skill while another give them light contact. (You must teach what you mean by “light” contact. You can’t assume that a kid’s interpretation of that is in line with yours.)

I might say, for instance, let’s apply pressure at a ‘two out of 10.’ Later on (in another progression or practice), I might say, ‘This time, let’s apply contact at a four out of 10.’

You get the idea (I trust).

Well, this last Exuberant Animal video with Shannon Sodano, shows a concept they call “heckling“. To be honest, I’ve never heard that term before now. Their definition is: a touch or gesture to create more fun and improve fitness; while destabilizing the body and thereby train the body become more stable.

The concept is one that I love. HOWEVER, it’s most effective – especially with youth basketball players – when you’ve created a safe learning environment. That is, when the athlete being ‘heckled’ can guide the amount of contact. In my experience, when you do that, two things happen:

  1. Athletes have a tendency to amp up the level of contact on their own because they’ve been empowered to be in control of the learning process. Anne Collier article in Mind/Shift, called Fun Failure: How to Make Learning Irresistible says it best: “Learning that empowers the learner helps make it irresistible.”
  2. In the process of determining their desired level of contact, athletes will give you an indication of the amount of contact their comfortable with. And, as result, create more opportunities for you to coach them into learning to enjoy playing against contact.

Enjoy experimenting with the endless variations that can be created from these videos to keep your basketball practices interesting. Playful is practical. The concepts and movements are both fun and FUNdamental!

As The Exuberant Animal says: BE PRIMAL, PRACTICAL and PLAYFUL!

Coach creatively.


KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING… What jumped out to you in these videos? How will you apply these concepts to your training sessions?