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.
The main idea in all of it is that we're simply doing life, striving to become better together. Growing up, I found that some...okay all of my best friendships happened as a result of sports. For most athletes, there was always that guy on the court that you managed to find some respect for. The fact that he was out there giving it all, making things happen always led to thoughts of what would it be like going up against that guy or what would it be like getting a workout with him. You sense that he would be someone that would push you and challenge you. I've found that when it comes to relationships in general, we all are looking for someone to challenge and push us to something better.
When it comes to sports, who wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to get better and or prove themselves. Ironsharpening sessions provide that place where you can just be who you are, throw away the facade and allow yourself to be challenged. In the process, you end up developing a friendship that not only is enjoyable, but will help you grow into your God-given purpose. Here's how it works:
"As iron sharpens iron, so does one man to another" (Proverbs 27:17) is the foundation text that I base these "ironsharpening" sessions on. Each session starts with some sort of challenge/competition. The game of choice with my friends is the infamous 100 point 1v1 game. We'll play a game or two then if we still have some energy we might engage in some shooting fun or for those that can fly we'll get some dunks down. Sports can provide the opportunity for individuals to be more like who they are. Competition brings out the real you. Hard to hide emotions, feelings and reactions in the heat of the moment. 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. When that layer is peeled off, what starts out as some good 1v1 competition ends up being the start of a valuable friendship.
There is a bond that comes with going to battle with another person. Michael and I have been friends for a few years. Having played both baseball and basketball, he is no stranger to the grind of competition. Our games are always epic and served as a great foundation for a relationship that has gone beyond the court. He described the battle this way:
"Going to battle creates a brotherhood, like two soldiers. It's a bond that not many others get to experience."
Another friend, Casey who played college baseball had a similar perspective.
"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. "
After we finish sweating it out, we do what comes natural and just sit on the sidelines and chat about the game and eventually about life. Now depending on the relationship there may or may not be some sort of agenda to the conversation, especially in the beginning stages. But as the relationships progress some of the conversations move into a specific direction. Sometimes it's simple life coaching, sometimes it actually becomes some sort of skills/training session or one of those infamous "dunk sessions" and sometimes it can turn into some sort of study together whether it's a book on leadership or even a study of the bible. No matter what we activity we engage in, the bigger picture here is doing life together can ultimately leads to life change for all involved.
How do these kinds of relationships start? When it comes to sports, there is a old expression that says "game recognizes game." One of those moments came several years ago. Dylan was a high school quarterback at one of our local high schools. We were working out at the sports performance facility we both trained. We got into a conversation 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.
From playing multiple 100 point 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. It was fun walking with him through his college football career and seeing how he developed into a leader on and off the field. I asked him about what sports based relationships have meant to him, 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"
What seems like just playing basketball and hanging out is actually something that 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.
We're really trying to be better at life. by pushing and challenging one another on and off the court.
The world isn't going to be changed by great sermons or short little 140 character snippets on social media. It's gonna be changed one relationship at a time! So whether it's over coffee or on the court, find out what tool you can use to initiate what can potentially be a life changing relationship. and see what happens. Whatever you do, just keep the bigger picture in focus, true disciple making happens through relationship.
Stay Forever Strong!