A theatre friend of mine recently asked the question, “Is it reasonable to compare performing with a Community Theatre, for a student, to sports or band activities?” My initial reaction was, “Of course!” And yes, it is certainly reasonable to compare the two. That lead me to read numerous journals and articles written on the positives and negatives of extracurricular activities for our children. And I realized what I was doing was looking for information that would support my argument that theatre is better. And I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that disses sports.

I was a sports kid. Yep, even though I’m a professional actor I played a lot of sports in my childhood. Even when I wasn’t playing little league baseball, I was involved in ‘sandlot’ kick ball, football, and basketball. I was never very good any of them but I enjoyed spending time with other kids. In my organized sports activities I loved being part of ‘the team’. I will admit there were times I felt bad because I wasn’t as good as the other kids but I realize now I probably could have been better if I enjoyed it more. I find as an adult I tend to put more time into learning things I’m interested in. If I loved sports, like so many wonderful children do, I know I’d have put more time into getting better. But I didn’t, and that’s okay!

Did I learn anything from sports? Well, being part of a team was wonderful. I felt included and it definitely helped me improve my interpersonal communication skills. But I always felt like an outsider there. And it’s because I think deep down I never really wanted to be there. I was doing it because my parents felt it was good for me. They wanted be to follow in the footsteps of my siblings who played sports and were good at it. But it just wasn’t me. When I hit college I started playing volleyball and had a blast. Finally a sport I enjoyed and didn’t feel like I couldn’t do adequately. I worked hard at improving my skills and felt a sense of pride at my accomplishments. But I know now it was because I enjoyed it so much! That reinforces my belief if you want to learn something you will. And I did. It also didn’t hurt that most of my team mates were actors and singers like me. There was no pressure to fit in or play any kind of needless social game. And even though we liked to win our matches, it wasn’t necessarily the reason we played. We played because we enjoyed it. We played because it was fun. It was also quite a great workout! I realized as I re-read what I wrote I haven’t really answered the question of whether or not I learned anything from sports. I did learn things from sports. I learned how to work as a team. I learned how some people are athletically gifted and others are not. I learned it’s okay not to be good at some things. And unfortunately, I learned how too much competitiveness can be a very bad thing. I watched parents, mine included, get so emotionally involved with winning that they shouted, jeered and ridiculed other players and coaches. I learned in life, there are winners and there are losers. Now, I’m not saying this is true for all parents and their children, I’m just noting my experience. There are incredible parents and coaches out there and do sports because of the joy it brings to the kids. They are taught, just because your team loses, doesn’t mean you are a loser. If your team wins doesn’t give you latitude to boast about your accomplishments to demean the other team. They are taught to be better individually both on and off the field. And as a teaching tool, there’s where having your kids involved in sports really shines. And it’s also where having your kids involved in theatre really shines too.

Competition can be so detrimental to society. Yes, it can be a driving force for advancement in many walks of life but it can also breed so much negativity. As a professional actor I compete for roles every day of my life. And even in school, children compete for roles in productions. Some get in, others do not. But what I really like about theatre is the number of areas children can get involved. Like sports, some children have innate skills that make it easier for them to excel. Other children must work at it to get better. But unlike children’s sports, theatre offers many other options. Perhaps a children really wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t sing. Well then, they may be able to dance well. If they don’t dance well perhaps they have the natural ability to act. If a child wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t act, sing or dance well they can be involved in the technical side. They can learn, costuming, set building, lighting, sound, and if they have incredible organizational capabilities they may be able to stage manage or even co-direct a show. That way they can do what they love, and be involved in putting together a great show. That is the one thing I love about getting children involved in theatre. Everyone can be included and work toward a common goal because in theatre no one is more important than the other. Without the “whole” there is no end result.

I have friends who loved both sports and theatre. Even in school some of them attacked both with equal fervor. I was always impressed with that passion. I love watching sports but I never really had the passion for it. I did my first play when I was in first grade and it was such a wonderful experience. But my performing in my first 14 or so years was playing my guitar and singing with my family’s bands and in church. It wasn’t until I finally gave up sports that I started really working toward something I love; theatre.

For the past week or so I’ve had the privilege of working with a young boy who was in our ensemble of my current production “Footloose”. I was behind the theatre one night and I met his mother and she said, “Oh, you’re Paul? He talks about you all the time and says you’re real nice.” Now, realize that this boy has done eight performances of this show and it’s quite a commitment for a child. She went on to say, “He can’t wait to come sing and dance every night! He really loves it”. I left the theatre feeling blessed to have been even a small part of his experience. I know there are stories like that in sports too. That just wasn’t my experience.

I know kids can learn a lot from both sports and theatre but we have to be careful not to pressure them in either direction. Perhaps children won’t like either. And in my experience, if they don’t really like it, if that really isn’t what their passion is, then they won’t work very hard at getting better. Now, if someone is better than you and that inspires you to work hard and improve yourself than that’s a good thing. But with competition, children have to be taught that winning or losing doesn’t define them. So is it fair to compare children in sports and children in theatre? Well, I guess we’d have to ask the children themselves. In my experience there are positives and negatives of both. But I really think it depends on where the child’s passion lies.