top of page


Better Together: Building Ironsharpening Relationships

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

Two men walk into the gym, both confident that they are going to give the other one the game of their life. They trade some friendly trash talk as they prepare to push each other to their athletic limits in a grueling game of one on one basketball to 100 (2's & 3's). An hour later (if they're playing best out of three) both collapse on the floor having left it all on the court and the conversation goes from what just happened to what's happening in each other's lives. Was this all about the competition or was it about something beyond the game?

Relationships are formed in many ways for many purposes. Sports can be one of the more unique but powerful ways to build bonds that reach beyond the game. Whether it is a challenging game of 1v1 to 100 or something even crazier like challenging each other to put down some dunks.

The bonds created when engaged in athletics are among the strongest. Imagine what could happen when you choose to use sports as a way to invest in the lives of others, pushing them towards becoming all that God intends them to be?

As a life coach for the last two decades, I have used sports as a platform to build meaningful relationships, investing in athletes, building leaders. The reason I do it this way is that as an athlete I've seen and experienced the bonds created through sports.

1 Peter 4:10 says "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:” The ability to play a sport is a gift from God. In an earlier post I talked about the idea that your ability to play the game is a gift that comes with responsibility. I want to take that thought a step further and suggest that sports can be the platform you use to make someone else's life better.

This is the thought behind why I use the game of basketball as a way to build relationships that build better people.  "As iron sharpens iron, so does one man to another" (Proverbs 27:17) is the foundational text that I base these "ironsharpening" sessions on. There's something about engaging in competition that creates the foundation for relationship building. What starts out as some good 1v1 competition ends up being the start of a valuable friendship.

I decided to ask a few of my athlete friends about relationships built through sport and competition. Mike, who played basketball and baseball, said after a recent "ironsharpening" session, "Going to battle creates a brotherhood, like two soilders. It's a bond that not many others get to experience".

When you are locked in battle, there comes a point where you have to lay it all out in the open in order to get the advantage over your opponent. The battle breaks down barriers that we naturally have when it comes to relationships.

Another friend Casey, a pitcher at one of our local colleges, is an athlete that I've had the privilege of serving with at my church the last few years (check out the video from one of our sessions), He recently explained how sports has been been a relationship builder for him:

"It's one thing to be side by side with someone but it's a whole other thing to be locked in battle against someone grinding it out. There's a bond that's created that sets up the foundation for real relationship. "

It's an experience creates a bond that opens up the path towards life changing relationship. Dylan is a college football player on one of the top D3 football teams in the country. Our relationship started while he was a high school quarterback at one of our local high schools. We were working out at the sports performance facility we both train at talking about the value of competition. As it seems to always go with athletes it went from talking about it to a challenge to some 1v1 basketball. Here's what he had to say:

"Sports have introduced me to the longest lasting, most meaningful relationships in my life. The people I still keep in touch with and invest in are those that I have worked hard with towards a common goal. The strength of a relationship becomes greater when you've sweat and bled with that person"

He and I have been "ironsharpening" for the last few years. From playing multiple 100point games in 105 degree heat to conversations about life, leadership and faith, it's been an absolute honor to watch Dylan become a leader who invests in others on and off the field.

What seems like just playing basketball and hanging out to some, actually is something ithat goes well beyond that. I'm always saying that basketball is just the fun we get to have along the way to becoming all we are meant to be. Some people build relationships over coffee at coffee shops, I choose to build them in hot sweaty gyms over basketball games. Either way you choose to get there, the bigger picture has to remain in focus. True disciple making happens through relationship. This is just one of the ways that you can use competition as an ironsharpening tool. Remember that the main goal of ironsharpening is for all parties involved to get better at what they do.

One of my basketball heroes is Michael Jordan and one of the things he would say is that practice should be just as intense as the game. His reason is that if you can handle the heat in practice, then when it comes to game time, you will have no problems handling the intensity of the game. What we can learn from that is when you practice you have to go at it with game level intensity. It's that train of thought that can be carried into developing relationships. You can only do so much on your own, but when you get together with someone who is just as intense as you, the both of you can feed off each other and push each other to give 150%. Sports are a metaphor for life. We're really trying to be better people by pushing and challenging one another on and off the court. That's the essence of Ironsharpening. Getting better together!

In a future post,, we will talk about some truths that you need to understand when it comes to establishing a solid ironsharpening relationship.

Stay Forever Strong!



The University of Minnesota

Help Impact The "U"
Become a Partner Today!
|Recent Posts
|In The News
bottom of page