My experience of improvisers (especially in the UK) is that they’re often the more bookish type, who perhaps didn’t enjoy or participate in sports very much during school or university. As someone who enjoys both watching and playing Rugby, I find that I can be a little of a strange outlier in the improv world.  

Now that the Six Nations tournament has come to a close for another year, with the Ireland men winning a Grand Slam at home for the first time in 75 years, (sadly the women’s team didn’t do quite as well), here are my musings on why improvisers might do well to acquaint themselves with Rugby.  

1. Both require quick thinking and adaptability 

Improvisation and rugby both require quick thinking and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances on the fly. In improv, actors must be able to think on their feet and come up with new ideas and responses to unexpected situations. In rugby, players must be able to react quickly to the movements of their opponents and adjust their strategy accordingly. 

2. Both require strong teamwork and communication 

In improv, actors must work closely together to build a cohesive story and create a sense of shared reality on stage. Similarly, in rugby, players must communicate effectively with one another in order to execute complex plays and coordinate their movements on the field. When you watch a great improv team, it can feel like they have a psychic connection – watching great Rugby players is just the same. A player being tackled can fling the ball off behind them, knowing that someone will be there to catch it, in just the same way a brilliant improviser can pitch their scene partner into the unknown, knowing their offers will be accepted.  

3. Both require risk-taking and a willingness to fail 

In improv, actors must be willing to take risks and try new things, even if it means they might fail or make mistakes. In rugby, players must be willing to take risks on the field and make bold plays, even if it means they might lose possession of the ball, miss a tackle, or get smashed into by an opposing player. 

4. Both value creativity and innovation 

In improv, creativity is paramount. Actors come up with ideas on the spot in order to keep the audience engaged and entertained. If you’re a Rugby team who trots out the same plays constantly, you’ll quickly find yourself losing to opponents who’ve learned your style of play. Surprises are paramount for improv and Rugby.  

5. Both require a strong sense of trust and camaraderie 

Improvisers must trust one another, both in making bold offers and accepting others’ moves. A shared reality can’t be created without confidence and belief in each other’s ideas. When I played Rugby, I regularly had to lift people into the air, and use my body as a shield for them or to smash people out of their way. You can’t play Rugby without having a huge amount of faith that your team has your back, and without the loyalty to your teammates to put your body on the line for them to make a play.  

6. Both are physical pursuits 

Good improv uses your body – we’ve all seen our fair share of talking heads scenes, and I think we can safely say we’d rather avoid seeing too many more of those. Good improvisers embody their performances in their whole physicality. Rugby is an inherently physical pursuit; you need strength, endurance, agility, flexibility, cardio, and great general fitness to play Rugby. All of which are very important for improv too.  

While improv and rugby might seem like vastly different pursuits, they share many important similarities that make them more alike than one might initially think. Both require quick thinking, physicality, strong teamwork, risk-taking, creativity, and a strong sense of trust and camaraderie. So, if you’re an improviser who turns their nose up at sports – maybe think again!  

If this has sparked your interest in the intersection of sport and improv, I highly recommend Feña Ortalli’s book Dynamics of the Unexpected – especially if you prefer a slightly softer sport 😉