Humor and Sports

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“I never said most of the things I said.”

–Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra’s baseball accomplishments as a catcher and manager for the Yankees are extraordinary. Yet he may be better known for his hilarious sayings, things that he never intended to be funny…they just were. Google his name and you’ll see “Top 50 Quotes” from Yogi Berra, many of which are familiar because they have become part of American culture. His knack for keeping others loose with his off-the-cuff remarks may have been one of his biggest contributions.

Sports have become too intense in many instances at early ages. You can observe when children feel performance pressure whether from within or without. Humor goes a long way with these young athletes, breaking the tension and allowing something funny to create more fun. Sarcastic humor is inappropriate and ineffective. But a well-timed story can be the catalyst for enjoyment in sports.

As a middle-schooler I played basketball. In the summer we would drive across town and play schools in practice games. I was assigned to defend the taller post player who was adept at getting position under the basket. Coincidentally, I was in full orthodontic braces at the time, and when she physically moved me backward, my head jerked forward. My braces caught the back of her mesh jersey and we were suddenly attached. As I tried to release myself, the jersey began to unravel creating the need for an official timeout. As I ran back toward my bench, the team was “in stitches,” so to speak, and that caused me to laugh as well. Humiliated momentarily, it is a memory I will always enjoy.

After one basketball game in which our ball handling had produced numerous turnovers, our coach had us meet on the gymnasium stage behind the curtain. With his notorious vein popping out on his red face he began the unpleasant evaluation of our performance. He looked at our left-handed defender who was sitting closest to him and said: “Patsy, you need to learn to dribble with your right hand.” Glancing around he singled out another defender and said: “Kathy, you need to learn to dribble with your left hand.” There was a pause and when he looked up he caught my eye. “And Betty Ann, you need to learn to dribble!” Looking back, I found humor in it, and I did work on my dribbling.

When my kids ran track, there was a special event called the shuttle hurdles relay. It was a team of three girls, each running a 100 meter leg. Our team’s first hurdler was efficient and had us leading the field when our second hurdler took off. On the second hurdle she hung her toe, and never regained her balance, falling awkwardly. She finished her leg of the relay crawling through the final hurdle. Obviously we fell behind in the race, but we also fell out laughing. It became fodder for tremendous fun and laughter as we watched it back on video, over and over. No one was injured, and the memory creates chuckles each and every time.

The key of course is to be able to laugh at your own mistakes. That is a critical component of having fun when something is funny. It may not be immediate, but if put in perspective, and if the laughter is good-natured, then it may enhance not only the athlete’s enjoyment, but his performance. There is a balance between being intensely focused and loose enough to perform your best. You may see teammates teasing whenever someone trips “walking” to first base, or stumbles on their way to scoring a touchdown (some blame “turf monsters.”) Sometimes if a team is being beaten soundly, the baseball players turn their hats inside out and backward to make “rally caps.” It creates a moment of distraction, sometimes just at the right time.

That’s the power of humor. Not only does it break physical tension that alters movement by tightening muscles, or mental tension that inhibits rhythm and flow, but it creates fun memories. Often the comedic relief improves performance and as well as enhances cohesion among the players. Those funny moments remind us that sports are supposed to be fun.

Key Tips

  • Being able to laugh at oneself in a humorous situation in sports helps lessen pressure an athlete feels.
  • Keeping youth sports fun benefits kids, and often improves performance.

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