top of page


Better Together: Ironsharpening - Getting Started, Going Vertical

On a hot summer morning, two athletes are sitting on the sidelines of an empty basketball court, Both are sweaty and exhausted because they have just spent the last 90 minutes pushing each other to the limits of physical exhaustion doing drills and battling in some intense 1v1 games (probably games to 100 by 2's and 3's).

When they could be outside enjoying the summer day, why would they be in the gym putting in this level of work together? Is it because they want to be better at the game they both love, or is there something more?

Earlier, I defined Ironsharpening as a relationship where two people are seeking to become better versions of themselves by pushing, challenging and encouraging one another towards something better. Sports has a way of helping to establish relationships that go beyond the game that is played. What starts as two competitors battling it out, grows into a relationship where both individuals are pushing each other to bring out their best. The sport becomes the foundation for a relationship that goes beyond the game and becomes a part of getting "Better Together".

I recently had an Ironsharpening appointment with my friend Eric at our usual non-athletic spot and it got me to thinking how do these Ironsharpening relationships start. In the case of Eric and myself, it started with a shared interest in playing basketball. We met at a gym, playing some pick up ball. He was a pretty decent player and I told him that I could take him. That started some friendly chirping that went on for a little bit. We had some fun with it but eventually we made it to the inevitable 1v1 showdown. In the convo we discovered many other things that we had in common. He shared some dreams of his and they really spoke to me and I offered to help in anyway i could.

These last couple of years watching his growth has been amazing. From sweating it out on the court to talking music and ministry at the coffee shop, I have come to really appreciate our friendship. I think that is has made the both of us better men. This scenario has played out countless numbers of times over the few decades of investing in people.

Every ironsharpening relationship I have been involved in has been rooted in a few principles that have guided me and will help you when the opportunity to invest in the life of another person. The goal of an ironsharpening relationship is to go vertical and push towards living at a higher level. Here are a few key ingredients needed to go VERTICAL:

Vulnerable - Both people need to be open and willing to share their lives.

Excited - There has to be a general excitement to spend time together.

Realistic - Don't go into the relationship expecting something the other can't provide.

Teachable - Must be willing to learn!

Intentional - A reason for the relationship ie growing in faith, sports skills or leadership abilities.

Common Ground - Sharing similar passions that will bring you together.

Available - Must be willing to make yourself available to meet together.

Loyalty - Last but not least, you both have to care enough to have each other's back.

These qualities are essential in establishing a foundation for a quality relationship that will push each other towards greatness. That foundation is built through shared experiences. It doesn't' have to be over basketball or your sport of choice, Whatever the activity that brings you together, it's that shared experience that creates the platform. How exactly does that work?

From my earliest days playing basketball, I have always enjoyed the idea of competing against good competition. The reason is that i know that while i am playing i am learning and that is how I get better. For you as an athlete, you should be driven by the competition and the desire to get better. The only way is to go up against competition that will challenge you and push you beyond your limits.

I never had one person who taught me everything that I know about basketball. Over the years, whenever I met someone who I percieved as a great basketball player, I always made it a point to not only play them, but get to workout with them so I could learn from them. I have learned that it is a combination of working on skills and drills and putting those to the test by going up against the kind of competition that will show how you measure up.

Competing is sports is all about learning how to struggle through the battle to achieve the goal of winning. Someone once said that when it comes to sports, either I win or I learn. I really love this saying because what it means is that though I may not win the game this time, i've learned through this game what it takes to produce a win next time. For the winner, it is about learning what you did to overcome so that the next game, you will be able to keep doing what you did and also you will learn about your weak points that caused you struggle during the battle. That kind of knowledge is invaluable as you grow in your craft. We want to be tested, proven, but you can't do that alone. You need someone who has the strength to challenge you, but the heart to love you enough to push your buttons to make you better. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times, but a brother is born for adversity" Not only are they there when things get rough, they are there to encourage, direct and to challenge you. Their objective is not to embarrass or demean, but to push you to being the best you were intended to be. They live out what the apostle Paul describes in his letter to the church at Philippi. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others " (Philippians 2:3-4) Ironsharpeners know that the two ways they get better is by investing in others and allowing others to invest in them. When you have two ironsharpeners who engage in competition what you get are two people who are striving to get better together. They understand that on the other side of the battle, though the score reflects a winner and a loser, if both of them push themselves to the limits and learn the lessons along the way, they both will end up winning at life!

With my friend Eric, it went from 1v1 battles to great coversations off the court about life. Any good ironsharpening relationship will go far beyond participation in some activity together. In our next post we will talk about how what starts on a court can move into a potentially life long relationship where both individuals become “Better Together”

Stay Forever Strong!



The University of Minnesota

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