Play multiple sports. That was the advice from a panel of sports professionals hosted by the Westport Public Library, “The Power of Sports: Jeff Pegues in Conversation with Dave Winfield, Candace Parker, and Charles Smith.” That answer proved its value in the 2021 Superbowl – Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, the two opposing quarterbacks, were both MLB contenders, playing football, baseball, and basketball in high school and college. Adam Cook, Mahomes’s football coach at his Whitehouse (Texas) high school told Yahoo Sports, “Patrick is the poster child for the multi-sport athlete.”

Why should athletes play multiple sports? Because a tall 10-year-old who plays basketball may not grow tall enough into adulthood to play professionally. The footwork learned in soccer and tennis can be applied to baseball and basketball, and by playing multiple sports, we don’t overuse muscles or experience burnout. 

That got me thinking about what my “sports” are. These apply to everyone who engages in the art of conversation.   


Qualitative research is the ultimate improv. It’s unrehearsed and unscripted. What happens in qualitative research and great conversations? We know the characters, the scene, and the challenge. We start the conversation and keep it going. Once the conversation starts, we need to listen and be present, respond to what is said and how it’s said. We need to be in a “yes, and” frame of mind– in other words, respond to and build on what’s happening. Letting the flow guide the direction of the conversation makes for great research and leads to deeper insight. We need to be ready to pivot and respond to whatever happens and continue drawing out insights. We think on our feet and are ready when people go in a totally different and unexpected direction.  


Acting is a team sport. According to the Stanislavski technique, we need to know what we want, concentrate our attention, and tap into our experience and emotions to be present. We have to know where to stand on stage, whether we’re in a leading or supporting role. We need to know what our role is, learn our lines, and bring our energy. Scene work and back stories build emotion, discussion, and connection.

Voice Training  

I didn’t take singing lessons for a new career; I took them for my current one in qualitative research. Singing teaches us a way of listening and expressing ourselves. What I learned about voice comes from my singing coach, athletes, performers, authors, and guided meditations. It starts with power breathing, hydrating with lime salt water first thing in the morning and a half hour before interviews and conversations, doing scales to warm up our voice, singing songs in our register that boost our energy, and doing guided meditations from Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness to hardwire relaxation, happiness, and compassion. Using our voice makes us a better team player.

Strength Training

Building strength and endurance ties it all together and helps us in nearly every role. Strength training can be done with or without weights. It’s not only physical strength that’s gained but mental strength and stamina. It’s not only lifting weights and doing pushups that build strength.  Strength is also built through breathing and relaxing into movements. Strength training builds commitment and resilience – not to mention muscle. 

Getting Out of Our Comfort Zones

Learning new things builds all kinds of muscle. Learning new skills keeps our curiosity muscle strong, and we remember what it feels like to be uncomfortable, which builds our empathy muscle. Success and accomplishment help us hardwire our talents. Success expands our comfort zone, which builds confidence and resilience.

Just as the footwork you learn in soccer can be applied to basketball, the sports and hobbies we embrace keep us at the top of our game.

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