Playing Games: Comparing Actors and Athletes

When an athlete is in the zone, they’re not concerned with “getting it right” or “doing well.” - they just play

jamison-haaseWritten by Jamison Haase

A long time ago, my teacher and mentor drew a comparison between actors and athletes. At first I didn’t understand how the two were related – but now, years later, I couldn’t think of a closer parallel.

Both groups train for countless hours to perfect their craft. Both groups are competing at the highest levels in their respective businesses, and over time, both groups expect to see their careers change. More than anything else, however, there is one often-overlooked similarity that these two groups share; they play games.

Most professional athletes will play hundreds of games over the course of their careers. A basketball player will play at least 82 games per season, a football player at least 20, and baseball? 162!  Due to the sheer numbers, one singular game (save a championship) doesn’t usually mean all that much to an athlete. If they win, they feel great, but they know that there’s another game to play in a week at least. If they lose, they certainly don’t feel as good, but does that athlete quit? Do they knock themselves down and say, “I’m a bad athlete?” Do they take the loss personally and make it about their failure as a person?  Of course not. They say, “It wasn’t our day, and we’ll try harder next time.”

Most actors will also have hundreds of auditions over the course of their career, much like athletes have games; and yet, most actors will lose that sense of playfulness when they audition. Every audition becomes immensely important — full of pressure, full of meaning about them and who they are and what they will become. The audition game, thus completely becomes devoid of fun and freedom.

When an athlete is playing their best, when they are in the zone, they’re not concerned with “getting it right” or “doing well.” They just play – they have fun and play the game they love.  And when an athlete is not in top form, when they are playing poorly, what do they do? They look objectively at what they did in the game, what they could change the next time they play, and ideally, they work to change it.

Why don’t most actors do the same? Actors play games all the time. Every audition is a game. Whether you book the job or not is not the determining factor of “winning your game.” A win is doing what you want to do to the best of your ability, and a loss is the opposite. The loss doesn’t mean you should quite or that you’re a bad actor – it’s a chance to improve your auditioning skills. Think over how it went objectively and see where you can make improvements.  That’s what a professional does.

Set yourself up for constant improvement. Continue the work.  And keep the love of playing the game.

Jamison Haase opened L.A On-Camera Training Center in 2007. At LAOTC Jamison and the rest of the staff teach a simple, hands-on approach at acting for the camera developed by working actors directors and producers, geared specifically towards the audition. Would like more information about classes? Find several ways to connect with us, including our newsletters here:

2 thoughts on “Playing Games: Comparing Actors and Athletes”

  1. Lance: This article is spot on–I draw this comparison often in my high school theatre classes. I especially liked the point about when an athlete isn’t performing well. High school actors are otenn too quick to blame everyone else, rather than themselves. Asking performers to reflect upon their own work is key. Thanks for the great post!

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