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What Coaches Can Learn From Stand-up Comedians

Updated: Jan 6

'Hey Ash, if you weren't a coach, what would you be?'


'Stand-up Comedian!' Is my answer, without much hesitation. Problem is... I'm not very funny!


I have always had a fascination with comedians and the parallels that the comedians journey and craft has with many coaches. This blog incapsulates some of my thoughts on these parallels and what we as coaches can learn from the Stand-up Comedians of the world.


Not Afraid To Bomb


We’ve all seen it, and it happens to the absolute best of the best. A comedian gets up on stage and for whatever reason the jokes just aren’t hitting the way they planned. It could just be a tough crowd. Or it could be the way the joke sounded in the comedians head… Well it didn’t quite come out that way. There are so many nuances the comedian has to be attuned to that it makes it very difficult to grasp exactly what the audience will respond to with laughter. The key with the best of the best is they have ZERO fear of wrecking the room and bombing out! Being sure about their stance on the world and speaking their truths, regardless of the consequences. This allows the comedian to be as present as possible and free of judgement from themselves which in turn makes for an authentic performance that will take the audience on an emotive journey.

As coaches we can learn from this principle of the comedian by not being afraid to try new ideas in our practice and competition environments. This will allow us expand upon on our coaching practice and philosophies as long as we LEARN from when we do bomb (I can create a serious blooper reel from my practice fails from over the years). Like the comedian, we should reflect on our material, embrace the feedback of our audience (the athletes, the opposing team etc.) and make the necessary adjustments to our environment/practice to move the needle on our performance. As coaches we can take a leaf out of comedians books with the fearlessness in which they attack their craft and the humility and grace to learn from the audience.

Perseverance


When comedians are developing their act it can take years, sometimes decades to polish their act. Many long tours that take them to all corners of the globe to some small and dark rooms before it becomes the Netflix special. Exposing their act to different audiences and experiencing new environments is the ultimate litmus test for a comedians act. The more people that they can put their set in front of, the more robust the act can become.

I believe this to be the same with coaching. We should experience coaching in different environments and coach a variety of athletes from all walks of life. As coaches, experiencing new environments helps us to expand our performance and build resilience. We can seek out uncomfortable situations, coaching at higher levels, having our coaching practice critically evaluated, holding ourselves accountable by taking video of our practice. We must be patience in our progression as a coach. Coaching careers are non-linear adventures. If we keep our attention on our passion for the game and the difference we are making in our athletes lives (just like the comedians audience), this will allow us to push through the tough times (in-between jobs, losing games, away from family) and help us build a resilient coaching philosophy and methodology.

Staying Relevant


A comedians career starts and stops with knowing their audience and continuing to stay relevant to that audience. Comedians are always on the cutting edge of pop culture. They’re interpretations of the world take on social issues and challenges the way the audience thinks. Comedians use current events as the glue that brings their auidence together. If there is a misjudgement of or a misinterpretation of the current issues, the joke can quite easily have the opposite effect. This calls for the comedian to walk the fine line of being sensitive to the emotions of the audience while also pushing the boundaries to create a humorous response.

As coaches there are many things that we can do to stay relevant in our field. We can continue to stay on top of the latest research and provide best practices to help our athletes and teams continue to get better. We can understand and formulate our own philosophy of the trends of the game and try to predict where is it going in the future. But most importantly, we can observe the current cultural climate, evaluate how this may impact upon the people (athletes and coaches) we work with and LISTEN to understand the perspectives of those people. This will allow us the best opportunity to create connections with our athletes.

Observant


The comedian posses extraordinary observation skills that help them create material that is embedded in honest human behaviours. There are often underlying truths in every joke that can sometimes be uncomfortable, but anchored to a reality that ultimately allows the audience to relate to the joke which makes it funny. Comedians always build a ‘feel’ for the audience understanding the mood of the room which allows them to throw those punchlines with excellent timing. Waiting for the laughter to settle before moving on to the next joke, building tension with pauses and changing the cadence of their act are all skills that require the ability to observe the people in the room.

Like the comedian, observation skills are highly valuable when working with athletes and coaches. Our ability to say less and listen more. Our observation skills are vital to obtaining relevant information from our environment. This could be scanning to detect and correct errors in our technical and tactical execution, to observing the behaviours of our athletes and their interactions. These observations help us to make the right decisions to make the people around us perform at their best.

Create A ‘Fun’ Environment


Comedians are the master environment manipulators. With the combination of their social/emotional intelligence and their obvious humour, they have a unique ability to make the audience feel relaxed and have fun. The ability of the comedian to make people feel relaxed allows the minds of the audience to be open and in the moment.

As coaches we can take on this idea from the comedians. OK, we may not be able to tell jokes that get standing ovations, but we can help our athletes and coaches stay relaxed by using our sense of humour in the right moments. I don’t know about you, but the absolute best learning environments I have been in have been the most fun! (Mr Puplet, if you are reading this, I am talking about year 9 science). Humor is a Human connector. A little humour can go a long way in our coaching environments and could potentially unlock new found levels of performance.

Would love to know your thoughts. What else can we learn from stand-up comedians to help us improve our coaching?