Sports Lessons

It seems like the rivalry between the jocks and the theater kids goes back to the beginning of time, or at least to the day when some famous Greek wrestler gave Euripides a swirly in the Athenian communal baths, but fundamentally, although practiced by seemingly different types of people, sports and drama tap into the same basic human needs.  Suspense, drama, emotional catharsis.  And they teach the same kinds of skills to their practitioners: discipline, teamwork, perseverance, and performing under pressure, among many others.

I was an enthusiastic (if terrible) athlete growing up, and I’ve drawn almost as much on my childhood sports experience as I have on my theater training as I’ve gone along in our business.  Sports as a child taught me never to give up, and to always try to find a way to win, no matter what.  It taught me that win or lose you handle yourself with class.  It taught me how to listen to my coach (a skill a lot of theater artists could stand to develop!), care about my teammates, follow the rules, and focus until the job is done.

I could write pages on the connections between sports and theater, and how strongly I feel that all children should be exposed to and participate in both athletics and the arts, as these things will benefit them no matter what they pursue in life.  But I’ll limit myself to just one more concrete example: like a lot of young children, I had a bad temper.  But every time (and it wasn’t many) that I yelled at a referee, or threw a tennis racket, or swore on the soccer field, my parents (who, unlike their son, were excellent athletes) pulled me out of the game as punishment, and on the way home they’d explain “the minute you lose your temper and show frustration, your opponent knows he has you beat.”  It didn’t take long for this lesson to sink in, and for it to become one of my most important tools in theater and in life.  Collaboration is the lifeblood of our business, and conflict is an inevitable part of collaboration.  As an adult, I’ve stayed outwardly calm and dispassionate in many situations where someone else yells, cries, or throws a tantrum.  And every time that happens, the balance of power in the disagreement shifts my way.  Just one more way my mediocre sports career prepared me for, hopefully, a better one in the theater.

What do you think?  Did childhood sports influence your artistic life?  Should we require football players to take chorus and choristers to try hockey?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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