The Sport of Storytelling

Can a love of sport, lead to a love of storytelling? The answer is a definitive yes. 

Sport and storytelling share a great deal of common elements. They both connect us to human experience. The joys and tribulations of sport are a distillation of human suffering and happiness, we can all feel the joy of scoring the winning goal, or the frustration of being run-out. For those of us who played sport as children or still play sport as adults, we can re-live our glory-days, twinge as we feel old injuries, and celebrate the technique and quality of a play. 

Storytelling offers the same distillation of human experience. A reviewer once said of my storytelling; “His stories are simple that so many people can relate to - the glory of scoring the winning try, the horror of having a tooth knocked out, the ignominy of having to wear glasses that looked like they had been cut from the bottom of milk bottles. ..." (NZ Press Association). Whether they are personal narratives, or folktales all stories are attempts to understand human nature and experience.

Familiar patterns and repetition connect us to sport as we recognise kindred spirits performing familiar activities. So too in storytelling the underlying patterns and repetition of emotions and experiences connect us to the characters of our stories. We have all felt - love and hatred, jealousy and forgiveness, or anger and compassion. We have all - climbed tall structures, ran downhill, been blown by a gale, got soaked in the rain, or been scared in the dark. 

Today as a storyteller I work with many teenage boys around the world, telling stories often about sport. Helping young men tell their own stories, where sport often becomes a pressure-valve to tell of emotions and experience. Telling stories about the physical experience can often lead to an exploration of the emotive resonance.

Storytelling is about a journey, an attempt to encapsulate an individual or a team odyssey so that a listener feels a part of their life. Sport nearly always evokes a journey, with a clash of characters in a titanic struggle, we are often intrigued by the backgrounds and lifestyles of our sporting stars. Again sport and storytelling share this sense of our individual or team journey. Characters who are often flawed or incomplete and yet rise-up against the odds.

Sport is a physical and mental activity. Unfortunately, many young men see storytelling as a mental only activity. In my storytelling, I have adapted many physical aspects of the Maori culture to create physical stories. This is not a new idea, and many storytelling traditions have physical aspects – including dance. I leave you with a short video clip of one of my favourite physical stories, as I told it in Vietnam. 

For all educators, and particularly those who teach teenage boys – consider the role of sport and storytelling. Encourage your young men to tell sports stories, and to explore the larger dimensions of these stories and the odyssey that they contain.


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