5 Ways Playing Sports Taught You How to be a Good Friend

I like choosing a word of the year because it’s more flexible than a resolution. This year the word I chose is “relationships.” Coming off of getting my MBA while working full-time, I was in the red as far as giving time to the people in my life. And I wanted to prioritize them this year.

As the months have come and gone since January, I’ve paid attention to a few things that make a true friend. The best relationships in my life are built on simple things I first learned while playing sports. It’s back to the basics here – the fundamentals of friendship!

1. Good friends give you confidence to go for it.

The squeaking of sneakers on the waxy hardwood muffles the echoing of the slow bounce of the ball. The echoes speed up, and you are suddenly wide open – no defender in sight – and you get the quick pass. You pivot toward the hoop – then pause. I’m a lot farther than I thought I was. Who else is open under the basket?

Interrupting your thoughts, you hear – “Shoot!” So you square up and go for it – and it’s in!

Whether it’s on or off the court, everyone hesitates, gets nervous and doubts whether they can do what it takes. But when someone who cares about you and knows you shares that they believe in you and encourages you to go for it – suddenly you believe you can do it too!

I’ve experienced this in my own life – and heard it again recently from a podcast guest –  professional wrestler on Team USA and Olympian, Kelsey Campbell. One day at the gym working out, a friend told her she should consider professional wrestling. Just like that, the trajectory of her life changed – and all because a friend encouraged her to get in the ring.

What friend can you speak courage into today? Whether it’s sending a quick text, calling, or writing a note – encourage a friend to believe in herself. You have the power to change the trajectory of her life.

2. Good friends ask for help when they need it.

You’re relaxed as you dribble up the left side of the field. Out of nowhere two defenders sprint toward you. “Hey hey hey! ” you yell to your forward. She cuts in as you pass the ball, leaving her an open lane for the taking.

This would have ended badly if you hadn’t communicated you needed help. Some of the best moments with friends are the same – openly sharing what we need. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but worth it. Social science researcher Brené Brown confirms this in her research:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

What is it that you’ve been dealing with and not letting your friends in on – a place in your life that’s hurting or hard or just a lot right now? Who is a friend you can be vulnerable with – and share what you need?  

3. Good friends hold you accountable to being your best.

It’s rainy, you’re tired, and everything in you wants to roll back over and sleep. But then you remember – you promised them you’d be there to run. You know if you text to cancel, you’ll hear about it for days. Not worth it – okay, okay, okay! And you roll out of bed.

So often we think friendships are built on comfort and ease, and while those are nice, the best friendships we have are built on vulnerability, growth and accountability. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but I love Viktor Frankl’s example:

“If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together.”

We often crave comfort, but really desire strength – and they usually don’t come at the same time. Think of your own life  – aren’t you better for those friends that have pushed you to follow your goals and dreams? Research supports this – sharing your goals consistently with a friend more than doubles the likelihood of reaching it, according to research by Dr. Gail Matthews. We need those friends – and we can be that friend too.

Who can you partner with to keep each other accountable to your goals? Set up a monthly phone call, or send a weekly text on how it’s going. Together, you’ll have the privilege to see each other become the best versions of yourselves.

4. Good friends encourage you when you’re down.

 Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, Source: Danilo Borges Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, Source: Danilo Borges

Remember that moment – running as fast as you can, wind blowing through your hair, feeling invincible? And then remember that next moment – the slow motion visual of the ground getting closer and closer? I never knew what mud looked like up close. It seems time stood still.

And then you see it – a hand offering to spring you back up – and an utterance from a familiar voice, “You got this!”

Life sometimes feels like that fall – it certainly doesn’t always cooperate with our plans. It might be sharp and sudden, or a slow motion kind of fall. Either way, it’s in those moments that you need someone in your corner who sees you and isn’t willing to leave you face down. Good friends are present in the mess, willing to help practically or just be there, and it doesn’t really matter what’s said. Being there just makes it better.

Who in your life is in a season of close-up mud? Or perhaps better yet – who always seems to have it together? S/he might be struggling more than they let on. Be the friend who offers support and presence before they have to ask.

5. Good friends laugh inappropriately together.

When I think back on the sports I’ve played, I remember bits and pieces. Certain plays, certain games, certain moments of achievement. But more than anything, I remember having so much fun with my team. Incessant laughter. Inside jokes.

And the same is true of my closest relationships. My closest friends are ones where I can let go and be silly. Sometimes, the best thing you can offer a friend – I’m convinced of this – is to laugh unbridled, uninhibited and at inappropriate volumes and moments. It is so incredibly healing!

Who can you be ridiculous with? Make plans with that friend and let go of the seriousness of it all – do something you’re bad at and laugh at yourself for it. Grab a drink and rehearse the hilarious moments you’ve shared together. Whatever it takes, find those friends – and be that friend – that can laugh and let go. The world needs more of that these days.

She Plays Celebrates the Role of Sport

Whether you still play sports today or haven’t played since you were a kid, celebrate the fact that playing sports helped you become the friend you are today. At She Plays we believe in elevating female athletes – including their strong performance, character and community. Come join us! Learn more about She Plays and sign up for updates today!

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