Performance of Sports: The Stages of Football Performance

As a performer in a theatre performance there are two places you can be during a performance, you are either onstage or offstage. That’s pretty straight forward right? On or off? I think we can all follow that. If you are onstage you are actively participating in the performance. If you are offstage, you are either waiting in the wings for the next time you will be onstage or you are backstage in the greenroom because you won’t be back onstage for a long time or at all. Now that we have set the stage…yeah, I heard it too, let’s go ahead and start talking about the stages of football performance.

Professor Marvin Carlson of the City University of New York in an essay entitled, “What is Performance?” poses the idea, “If we mentally step back and ask what makes performing arts performative, I imagine the answer would somehow suggest that these arts require the physical presences of trained or skilled human beings whose demonstration of their skills is the performance.” Is not a football player entering a field before a play a, “physical presence of a trained or skilled human being” who is demonstrating their skills? If such is the case, their onstage performance begins the moment they run in bounds. Their performance then follows in the execution of plays, acknowledgement of the crowd (who we will discuss in a later essay) to gain energy, and the leading or following during a huddle. During all of these instances they are aware that eyes are on them, whether they remember it in the moment or get caught up in the game. They are expected to act a certain way by those who are watching, this is their performance. They are performing to fulfill the expectations of their “audience.”

Offstage is a different story entirely. Are they still performing when they are offstage? Well they are still a “trained or skilled human being,” but are they demonstrating their skills? Some of them are. Let’s talk about the “waiting in the wings” offstage. One example of this would be the kicker. The position of the kicker holds the responsibilities of kickoffs, punting, and field goals. During the times when they are not onstage performing their part, they are offstage on the sidelines getting ready. The difference with what we traditionally think of as offstage in the wings and the sidelines of football is that we can see everything. The crowd sees the kicker on the sidelines prepping, or demonstrating their skills. Even if it isn’t their final performance, they are performing their preparation. The kicker practicing on the sidelines isn’t in the spotlight, but they’re still onstage in a sense.

Those who aren’t performing for someone else but for themselves would be those are performing offstage in the greenroom, or the locker room. There are two main instances in which players would be at the stadium but not on the field, ejection from the game or injury. With the exception of targeting (in recent rule changes), if a player is ejected from the game they have to leave the field. If a player is injured on the field they are often taken to the locker room to be looked over by the team athletic trainer(s). From the moment that they learn they have to head to the locker room to the moment that they are no longer seen as they enter the tunnel, they are giving their final performance onstage. This final performance can be rage of being ejected, pain of their injury, strength in the face of pain from their injury, or so many other feelings that could come with these two situations. Once they are out of sight of the crowd, their performance becomes for themselves. Will they cry at the pain after showing strength to the crowd? Will they laugh, because they think that ejection is a joke, after appearing to the crowd to be angry? We, as spectators, don’t know what they do after entering the tunnel, but their performance isn’t for us anymore.

There are many stages that football players appear on just in the single location of a football stadium. Their performance changes depending on what stage they are on, but even still, they are always performing. What stage did I miss? Is there a type of performance on these three stages that I didn’t mention? Let me know!

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