Three Lessons Actors Can Learn from Athletes

In the competitive worlds of sports and acting a certain mindset is needed. Tahlia Norrish explores three lessons actors can learn from elite athletes.

by Tahlia Norrish 

Its importance cannot be overstated: mindset matters most

The worlds of acting and sport don’t always seem to go hand-in-hand. I don’t know if your school had the stereotypical jocks vs. drama club West Side Story-esque division, but it seems to be a fairly widespread phenomenon. The world is full of people who aspire to become professional actors and between showbiz and sport, you’d be hard-pressed to find more competitive arenas to enter.

The gift of this reality is that it can fuel us to strive for our absolute best, as our athlete pals have learnt to do out of pure necessity. So why not start setting yourself up with a robust foundation now so that when it is your time to bat (and your time will come) you are primed to knock it out of the park? Here are three lessons that we actors would be wise to absorb from our sporting comrades. No burpees required!

Lesson 1 - Training never ends

Elite athletes are always training. Even in the off-season, the world’s best are still putting in the time and effort to hone their skills and craft. Former American basketballer and 18-time NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant started training at 5am every single day, knowing those few additional hours of practice would put him way ahead of the pack. And this was on top of the regular team training he was already doing throughout the week. 

Actors can be a little complacent on this front, thinking that our three years at drama school has us sorted for life. I can appreciate where this comes from - the components of acting can feel harder to quantify and measure than they are in sport - but don’t allow yourself such an easy out. At the very least, we should be training our bodies for 20 minutes each day, and our voices for the same. At the very least! 

If you can’t afford to join a weekly scene-study class, find a couple of like-minded actors and create your own. If you don’t have time to attend a two-day masterclass, borrow a book out of the library and read it on your commute to work each day.

You can either get results or have excuses. 

Lesson 2 - The dream needs a team

At their core, actors and athletes share a common and crucial thread: a big ol’ dream. There is a delightful audacity and undeniable ambition involved in committing to either of these pursuits and because of the scale of these undertakings, both groups need a supportive network around them to truly flourish. Maria Sharapova, a former tennis player with a five-time world No. 1 ranking, has widely paid tribute to her team saying, "I have a very small group I rely on, whose opinion I very much call for."

For actors, this tribe often includes your agent, manager and/or coach - an invaluable trifecta - but even then it is still beneficial to ensure they all have your best interests at heart. Beyond this, your family can provide the love and security we so frequently need, as can your dear friends. It is also worth mentioning that having friends and peers outside of showbiz can be immensely rewarding, as they can often provide the refreshing perspective and objectivity we would all do well to soak up from time to time. 

How we choose to deal with challenges plays a significant role in our results and our wellbeing

Lesson 3 - Mindset is key

Mindset can easily be overlooked as sport seems like a primarily physical occupation, but its importance cannot be overstated: mindset matters most.

Athletes, like actors, walk a pretty gruelling and competitive path. There are long hours, there are losses, there are frustrations, but how we choose to deal with these challenges plays a significant role in both our results and our wellbeing. David Beckham once lost his spot on the revered Real Madrid squad. Instead of throwing in the towel - as he easily could have done given his fame - he instead chose to view this as his chance to "give it everything" and find his way back on the team, stronger and hungrier than before.

Long hours on set can be trying, but they can also build the endurance required for your Shakespearean debut at The Globe. It sucks when your agent drops you, no doubt, but this could be your opportunity to dive into writing that script you’ve always wanted to produce, or find new representation who are ultimately better aligned with your long-term goals.

This may sound like mental gymnastics, but even if this just makes you feel better in the interim, you are better placed to walk into your next audition with a confident, attractive aura, rather than a jaded one that writes you off as soon as you enter a room. And if you’re now feeling inspired to knock out a couple of burpees, by all means I promise your beautiful actor-instrument will thank you for it! 

Tahlia Norrish is an Australian actor and writer currently based in London. After graduating from both The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (BA (Hons) Acting), Tahlia stepped up as Head Coach at The Actor’s Dojo - an online coaching program pioneering actor empowerment.