Queries for the Friendly Athlete


The author (wearing a sweatband) many years ago at a local USVBA tournament at Macalester College MN

Many Friends are suspicious of sports  competition. So a long time ago at Twin Cities Friends Meeting in St. Paul, MN; I convened a discussion titled something like, "Can Sports Competition be Friendly?"

The topic attracted a large number people and many Quaker athletes came out of the closet. There was even an ex-hockey player. There was lots of animated discussion and laughter. To try to encourage more dialog among Friends about sports I wrote the following queries.

Queries for the Friendly Athlete 

Dear Friendly Athlete,

If you are like me, you look back with great fondness at peak experiences from your sports career. Those moments of harmony when everything seemed to fall into place in a most amazing way and your performance almost seemed effortless. No doubt you also have friendships that grew in sports settings and you feel a common bond with those (even strangers) who love your sport. Still, you may have sensed that some Friends have a deep suspicion of sports competition and you may have some doubts yourself about the relationship of sports to Friends' values. I think some people confuse conflict and competition but I also think that it results from the fact that sports in our society have been corrupted by an extreme individualism, commercialism, and the idolatry of winning.

I believe that each game presents an opportunity for us to create and participate in a special temporary community. A sports event is a separate reality which is socially constructed and maintained by the consensus of the participants. In evenly matched competition our joint best efforts become a gift we give each other which can draw from us a previously un-achieved excellence. When we are able to let our ego goals take a backseat to our regard for the sport and the other participants, we help create the conditions for healthy enjoyment and personal growth. As you know, sports often fall far short of their potential. I invite you to reflect on these queries in the hope that they will help us create the peaceable kingdom (a Quaker metaphor) more often in our games.

  1. To what extent is your sports participation an expression of a playful affirmation of life and movement, a love of the sport, and an active concern for the growth and well being of all the other participants? To the extent that other motives predominate do they deprive you of the potential gifts which sports can offer you?

  2. How do you feel about yourself, your teammates, and your opponents following a game? If your feelings are not consistent with a Friendly spirit, what prevents them from being so?

  3. Do you modify your behavior in games to match the skill levels and social goals of recreational games? Do you resist the temptation to show everyone what a good player you are by not using your highly developed but situationally inappropriate skills? Do you find yourself encouraging others by word and deed, thus creating an opportunity for them to improve their skill levels? Do you give them a chance to learn even if it may lose a point?

  4. Are you sometimes willing to withdraw from participation if the skill level of others is higher than yours so that they may enjoy the game at a higher skill level?

  5. Do you help maintain the Friendly atmosphere of games by your words, actions, and the use of conflict management skills? Are you willing to withdraw from competition if, in spite of your best attempts to change the situation, the game is still not being conducted in a Friendly manner?

  6. What are the aspects of the sports competition in American society which tend to prevent sports from being Friendly? To what extent have you internalized these attitudes or understandings of sports? Are there ways that you contribute to the perpetuation of non-Friendly sports competition?

  7. Do your ethical rules and personal style change when participating in sports? Are those changes consistent with Friends' testimonies?

  8. Do you often find yourself becoming angry in sports competition? What is the real source of that anger? What can you learn from it? How do you express or control that anger? Anger and playful participation are not compatible; how can you change yourself or the situation so that you can again play in a Friendly way? If you can not seem to solve this problem even with the help of others, should you withdraw from this situation?

  9. How do you feel when you win? How do you feel when you lose? How do you act in each of these situations? What can you learn about yourself from these reactions?

  10. Why do you participate in sports? Are the reasons legitimate in your mind? Do a cost benefit analysis of your participation. What does the balance look like? Are you surprised? Are there other activities which could give you the same benefits with lower costs?

  11. To what extent are you an embodiment of Friends (Quaker) testimonies as you participate in sports competition? What do you need to work on to move in this direction?

  12. Do you periodically evaluate your participation in sports with regard to its effects on your health, personality, relationships with others, time priorities, and spiritual progress?

Jim Flory, a member of Corvallis Friends Meeting.

A former volleyball player who is still active with the Senior Center Table Tennis Club in Newport, OR; where at age 72 he is still improving his game.