Metaphors in Coaching: 5 Powerful Playground Metaphors to Play With! | By Ben Dooley

Children in Playground for Coaching Metaphors Article

Editor's Note: Metaphors are a powerful tool to use in coaching—and for our own personal growth. In this article the wonderful Ben Dooley (who is all about fun and play!) shares 5 powerful playground metaphors, and asks how these might apply to you, your clients—and what ideas you might have...

1) The Slide

I have always loved slides. Little slides all the way up to the giant slides. In the wintertime, we go sledding. In the summer we run down the dunes on the beach. But wherever we are and whatever we're going down, the experience is the same.

First there's a lot of going up—usually many steps are involved. It's hard. And there's sometimes a line-up that slows it down even more.

It takes a long while to get to the top. And when we get there we might even be a little tired and worn out from the upwards step-by-step journey. However, what keeps us moving is what's waiting for us when we reach the top.

We get to go down.

Going down is fast and fun. It's exciting and thrilling, that feeling of being slightly out of control, and yet, you're still safe within the barriers of the slide—the sides designed to keep you in a certain pathway as you race toward the bottom to top speed.

But if you try to stop you could not only get hurt, you might ruin it for others.

So what's the metaphor here?

The slide. A wonderful thing. We spend our lives working so hard to ascend all sorts of heights in our lives. The higher we climb, the harder it is (sometimes). And yet we can't turn back. Going back down (the stairs or ladder) is frustrating, humiliating, embarrassing... and not nearly as much fun. We might be business building, growing our finances or a working on a project. It could be a huge staircase in front of us or a small teeny ladder. Either way we must ascend one step at a time.

And when we reach the top, when we've done all the hard work building our business, project or developing our coaching confidence and skills, then take a moment to look around.

What a view. Sit down and scooch yourself forward just enough... so... you... can... PLUNGE DOWN AND ENJOY THE RIDE!

All right gang. It's your turn.

POINT TO PONDER: What other slide metaphors can you come up with? How could the slide "ride" apply to you, your business or your life? How could you use this metaphor with your clients?

2) The Merry-Go-Round

You can't do it alone too well—you need someone to help you. Sure you can do it yourself, sort of. You can push it around and around, faster and faster, but as soon as you jump on, all your extra weight slows it down. And it will keep on slowing down. You can try to push yourself with one foot, but you really can't get good traction to really get good speed.

The trick is that someone needs to stay off it and push other people. The pusher gets to give others the thrill of spinning at dizzying speeds.

When you're on the Merry-Go-Round it's exciting to spin in circles, watching the same thing pass by you again and again and again, and each time feeling like you might get flung off, so you hold on tighter.

Then when you stand up, you lose your balance and you fall off.

The secret is: The lower you get, the more focused and grounded you are, and the easier it is to stay on.

And if you lie down in the middle, centered, you'll feel less pull to the side. However, if there's two of you on the ride, then the real fun can happen. You can hold each other's hands and spin forever and not fall off. You can lean back and feel the pull and momentum and know that you're safe, no matter how fast you go.

And the extra trick is: If you get dizzy, just focus on the person opposite you and you'll regain your balance and recover.

All right gang, let's make some more metaphors. What comes to mind when you think of the Merry-Go-Round?

POINT TO PONDER: What other Merry-Go-Round metaphors can you come up with? How does this Merry-Go-Round metaphor apply to you? What about your clients?

3) Jungle Gym/Monkey Bars

You're standing on one side. You have to get across. And the only way you can truly accomplish this is to do it one hand at a time.

This is not an activity where you can hold on and wait for the right moment. There is no "right" moment.

You have to start by leaning yourself forward, reaching out and grabbing hold. And once you do so, you can't stop or go back, and you have to trust and let go in order to move forward.

Once you start moving you don't stop, otherwise, you'll be stuck in one place.

And the secret? To get into a rhythm...

If you fall, thankfully it's only into a pile of wood chips (or nowadays recycled tires into safety rubber chips).

POINT TO PONDER: How could the Monkey Bars apply to you or your clients? What other Monkey Bar metaphors can you think of?

4) The Sandbox

At my playground the sandbox was probably the coolest activity of all. It was the great equalizer for boys and girls alike—cool or awkward, creative or not, social or solo. This was the place where anything was possible.

You got to play in the ground in something that by all means would make you dirty, but you didn't get dirty. You could create buildings, bridges, roadways, tunnels, caves, "bottomless" pits, and just about anything that your imagination could think of.

You could work with just the sand, or you could bring in your own shovels, molds and other implements of building. And you could always bring your toys (cars, action figures, and even an occasional "buried treasure").

You could work with friends, but it was also where you met and interacted with other kids you didn't know. And you were all tied to that same activity. You were all working together for the same goal.

You could make up games. And you didn't even have to DO anything specific.

Many a child enjoyed the sensation of running their fingers through the grains, watching them pour through the cracks and cascade to the ground like some sort of solid water. Other kids would enjoy the feeling of digging their hands into this flexible 'earth', sifting their fingers (and occasionally their toes) deeper and deeper.

Then, at the end of the day, when it's time to go home, you always (somehow, no matter how hard you try) manage to take a little bit of the sandbox home with you.

But the greatest thing about the sandbox was that there was no "wrong" way.

Wouldn't it be great if we all had sandboxes now?

So what's the metaphor here?

We could create anything our imagination could dream up, connect and collaborate with old colleagues and new friends. We would all be equal, regardless of where we came from and who we were. What if we focused on a single purpose or made up a new purpose in a moment's notice. We could experience great satisfaction on our own or in a group. We could simply while away the time feeling the texture and simple BEing in the experience. And when it's time to leave, there will always be a few grains that stay with us.

POINT TO PONDER: Would you like to have a Sandbox in your life? Perhaps you already have one? What other Sandbox metaphors can you think of? How could you use this metaphor with yourself or your clients?

5) The See-Saw

As coaches we know there are good times—and there are bad times.

As we get older and our challenges get harder and complex, this can be one of the most powerful things to remember. And yet, when we're stuck in those crisis moments it's easy to forget. We feel like we're not moving, nor will we ever move. Things will never change, and we'll always see things the same way.

So no matter how bad it gets, we must always keep in mind the old adage, "What goes up, must come down." Because it also works the other direction, "What goes down, must come back up." This alone has been a source of hope and inspiration for many.

It's a wonderful phrase and lesson to learn, and yet, typically when we're in the middle of our crisis or stuckness, it can be hard to remember. It's amazing that we forget so easily the lessons learned while playing on one of life's greatest teachers—the See-Saw.

Let's take a further look at how the See-Saw (metaphor) works

First off, have you ever tried to see-saw alone? Doesn't work. You just sit there. Stuck on the ground. Sure, you can lift yourself up, but as soon as you lift your legs that are supporting you, you'll come crashing down!

When we're stuck on the bottom of the See-Saw, you can't easily get yourself out. You need help—someone to balance you out and lift you up, to partner with you and serve as your balance.

It can't be someone much larger or too small, they have to be roughly the same weight. Then when they get on, you'll rise up nice and steady and you'll balance each other out... legs dangling as though you are floating on air.

If you've ever had someone larger jump on, you'll know the experience. It can be quite exciting to suddenly be catapulted upwards, but a little scary as you leave the seat and continue flying out of control. And when you come down it's not a pleasant feeling...

Nor is when that other person suddenly gets off and they no longer balance you out and your own weight brings you crashing down to bruised tailbones.

POINT TO PONDER: I'm sure there are many, many more metaphors and lessons around this—and I'd love to hear what you come up with. How does the See-Saw apply to where you are right now? What have you take away from this  powerful playground metaphor? How could you see this coaching metaphor working with your clients?


We've explored 5 Playground Metaphors for use in coaching today.

Which resonated most with you? Which do you think could be most helpful to your clients? What other playground "rides" can you think of—and what metaphors could you create?

I'd love for you to comment below and share your thoughts and ideas!

If you liked this article about coaching metaphors, fun and play, you may also like:

Contributing Author:

Ben Dooley, MCC. YOUR coaching confidence and success made easy and fun. "I BElieve that you are an amazing, powerful, and impacting coach! I want to help you connect to that coach and unleash your coaching power and confidence to create your coaching success!" Find out more about Ben—awesome mentor coach and so much more—at

Learn more about Ben & see all their articles here >>

Image of Children in Play Web by via Shutterstock

Image of Image of boy coming down slide by by Asia Images Group via Shutterstock

Image of Image of children on See-Saw by Daxiao via Shutterstock

Image of Image of children on merry-go-round by Oleg Mikhaylov via Shutterstock


  1. Linda Barton

    Thanks for a great article. Your metaphors have been used as analogies in other contexts so its great to see them applied to progressing your life as opposed to describing life in a negative way eg. Life is a merry-g-round (meaning you go round in circles or see-saw dieting).

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Linda, thank-you for taking the time to comment 🙂 And I hadn't thought about the negative metaphors, you're right! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  2. Michael Bork

    My name is Michael "Mr. Mirth" Bork. I am a Laughtership (Laughter & Leadership) coach and trainer in Fairbanks, Alaska. I have an 8-part training series called the "Playground Leadership Series" that is very similar to a lot of what you are talking about. I have three more that I discuss in my classes: the swings, tetherball, and recess.

    I'd love your feedback on my series if you'd be willing to look. I have listed my website below if you are inclined.

    I just wanted to thank you for a great article, and I may cite you in some of my presentations if that is okay with you?

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Michael, thank-you for taking the time to comment 🙂 I will make sure your comment gets to Ben. Warmly, Emma-Louise

  3. hanan ibrahim

    I loved the idea of playground metaphors, I'm a youth coach and that fit perfectly with what I see in my coaching practice. I do use metaphors myself but that's beautiful and very insightful on a personal & professional level. Thank you

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Hanan, I am so glad you enjoyed this article - metaphors can be very powerful - and for youth it could be very appropriate! Warmly, Emma-Louise


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