Friendships through Sports

Sports participation can help youth build friendships and social skills that can be important for maintaining involvement in sports, particularly for females who may be more likely to drop out during their teenage years.

No one has ever drowned in sweat.

-Lou Holtz, Football Coach


Sport has a host of benefits for its participants. From the clear physical and health benefits that can be accrued, along with the imparting of a whole range of life skills such as teamwork, time management, etc., there are a number of reasons why sport is one of the most beneficial activities that can be undertaken by youth of all ages.

One of these important benefits which is sometimes overlooked is the social relationships that can be built through playing a sport, whether it is a team sport or an individual one such as tennis.

A reason to play sports

In many surveys of youth sports participants, friendship is one of the common denominators identified as a reason for why they participate. Whether as a team member or a participant in an individual sport, you have the opportunity to play with and compete against peers with whom you share at least one common interest. These usually enjoyable daily interactions can lead to feelings of acceptance that boost self-esteem, making the activity more enjoyable and making youth athletes less likely to quit the sport.

The shared experiences of practice sessions, carpooling to games, shared post-game meals and other team activities can go a long way toward building lasting relationships among teammates. Friendships are such a compelling reason for sports participation in youth that it is cited as one of the real reasons for the drop-out rate seen as these athletes grow older.

As friends leave the sporting arena to pursue other interests as teenagers, those athletes who are left behind may feel that some of the enjoyment they got from playing the sport has gone away because their friends are no longer involved. This in turn might lead them to drop out as well, especially if they don’t feel particularly comfortable in their new team environments, being unwilling or unable to make new friendships through their continued participation in sport.

The Female experience

The dropping out of friends is an especially important factor in female sports participation, which decreases more significantly than that of males during the teenage years. Female involvement in sport during the teenage years is heavily dependent on how they are seen by their peers inside and outside of sport, as well as how they think they are viewed by the opposite sex.

For many, the opposing feelings of wanting to be fit and look good but also wanting to be viewed as being feminine are influential in their decisions to take part in sport. Depending on the environment in which they compete, their decision to continue participating in sport could diminish their social opportunities because of the image it gives them, influencing them to quit.

A 2015 study by Street Games surveyed 1,000 young adult females in the UK about their sporting experiences through high school and found that 63% of respondents indicated that they would not participate in sport or other physical activity without a friend by their side. In the same survey, 77% of the girls cited catching up with their friends as a major reason for their participation in sport or exercise. These figures show just how powerful friendships are in attracting and keeping teenaged females in sport.

Some studies have also shed light on the negative peer experiences had by many teenaged female athletes as a major deterrent for their participation. This includes social isolation such as rumour starting, ignoring one another or refusing to pass the ball to a teammate. These examples also serve to explain why close social groups and friendships in the sports arena are important to retaining athletes.

The social benefits

Friendships in sport are not only created by the presence of a common interest or shared experience, but also through the social skills sport imparts to youth athletes. Sports participation, especially as a member of a team, allows youth athletes to practice skills such as mutual respect, cooperation, providing support and fair play. These are all necessary elements of friendship and are necessary to  positive relationships of any nature.

Sport is also a unique in that it is an activity that gives athletes extensive interaction with figures of authority. From the day they begin playing sport, athletes have to deal with coaches and referees/ umpires who facilitate their learning and playing of their chosen sport. The social skills mentioned above also extend to these authority figures and it is these very skills that make student athletes attractive hires for companies and managers.