Life is all about relationships.
Usually that line is uttered in business circles, at career fairs, or by a grandparent offering sage advice while reflecting on all their years of living. And yes, that statement is absolutely true. But there’s even more truth to that saying than we realize. Not about the relationships we’re connected to by bloodline, but about the relationships we choose to make with our friends.
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Oddly, some of the most substantial relationships in our lives aren’t examined closely to reveal how much value they have. There aren’t vast bookstore sections or huge conferences that center platonic relationships even though they have a lasting effects on how we move through the world and are vehicles through which God does some of His best work.
Throughout a series of articles, I’ll attempt to answer the question asked eloquently in one of my favorite songs by the R&B group TLC: What about your friends?
Let’s explore the one-of-a-kind nature of teammate friendships, find out how to cope when friendships change, how to reconcile friendships when things get awkward, and how to welcome new friends into the fold.
Why do friendships matter?
We are wired for connection and friendships are some of the most crucial connective ties we get to make on earth. These connections affect our physical health and well being, can influence our life trajectory and are expressions of God’s love for us.
I agree with what Dr. Christina Edmondson said on an episode of the Truth’s Table podcast when she made the point that friendship “offers us connections to other image bearers in order to be able to display a deep, agapic connection where there is mutuality, but it doesn't rely on reciprocity.”
Parents appreciate the potential sport has to teach their children discipline, priorities, decency, leadership skills, and respect, but the benefit of camaraderie can be low on the list of advantages. The gift of friendship sports presents shouldn’t be overshadowed because the potential bonds we make with our teammates can tell us more about ourselves and the people we will become.
Sure, general bonds are established between student athletes when they are united as part of a team all locked in with a shared purpose, but there are bonds that we choose to make with the teammates we call our closest confidants. Those teammates get to see us multidimensionally, who see us grow in real time, and who we’ll trade memories with. They know our secrets, our desires, our intentions, our triggers, our blind spots, our weaknesses. They are with us side-by-side working and striving in victory and defeat. They will be (or have been) our bridesmaids, groomsmen, our kids’ godparents, business partners, etc. They make up our chosen family.
It’s my belief that there’s a unique richness to the intimacy found in teammate friendships and that those traits are transferable post career. The friendships created on the field can be instructive for how we operate within the other relationships we have throughout our lives.
Here’s a few markers of teammates friendships that can be applied to any friendship in any off-the-field context:
Proximity, proximity, proximity
For at least four years of your experience as a college athlete you are everywhere your closest teammate is. All the time. From the locker room to the weight room, from the dining hall to study hall, you’re inseparable. Your circumstances and schedule have much to do with you and your crew being together 24/7, but outside of the mandatory time you all have to spend together you all still choose to be adjoined at the hip. The time you spend with your teammates in college is rare and you all won’t always be in the same zip code or the same country after your competing days are done, but the season of life should stress the importance of nearness.
Let them see you sweat
Don’t underestimate the bond between workout buddies! It’s not surprising that training partners may also double as BFFs since they see each other in some of the most physically challenging positions and encourage each other through them. They see you at your highest when you seem unstoppable and at your lowest when nothing at practice seems to go your way. Similar to the way you bare all in front of your trusted teammates, let the trusted people in your life see you sweat, literally and figuratively. Let them energize you at your weakest and affirm you at your strongest. Create a safe space amongst yourselves. Establish a level of vulnerability that allows you and your friends to be the truest versions of yourselves when you’re in each other’s company.
Believe the best
Believe the best of your friends. It makes a world of difference to have someone in your corner. Athletes know what that feeling is like when their teammates are screaming at the top of their lungs for them from the sideline. That full-throated support can help your friend rightly see themselves. Our friends often see the qualities we’re blind to so reassure them of their God-given gifts that the world could benefit greatly from. Be an enthusiastic encourager.
Teammate friendships provide extraordinary community, deep levels of vulnerability, and a sense of enthusiastic encouragement that is unprecedented. It’s only as a retired athlete that I’ve come to fully appreciate those qualities and the blueprint they provide for lasting, fruitful relationships overall.
We may ask ourselves if the people we goof off with are reflective of our relationship with God.
The answer is absolutely.
So let’s continue to talk about our squad, our crew, our personal board of directors and the folks we actually reply back to in our group chats.
Let’s talk about our friends and how God uses them in our lives.