Chances are good that you know what a friendly is, but what words would you use to define it?
A quick roundup of terms and interpretations yields a variety of words and language that paints broad strokes, and that’s ok. It’s an “exhibition.” A “demonstration.” A “preseason game” or “warm-up match.” If you said that a friendly is “a game where nothing is really on the line and your standing won’t be impacted whether you win or lose,” you wouldn’t be wrong.
But would you be right?
By definition, yes, but what about by interpretation?
This is what makes a friendly such an interesting topic, especially for us at WorldStrides Sports. There’s so much more to it than winning or losing, than counting or not counting. Indeed, friendlies are exhibitions and demonstrations, but they’re certainly more than an exhibition or a demonstration of the sport itself, right?
Friendlies carry a weight and standing outside of the table and beyond qualification requirements. Friendlies present a new opportunity for all involved – the club, the manager, the players, the supporters. It’s a chance to mix things up, a laboratory to experiment. Playing in a game designated as friendly might take some pressure off from earning a winning result, but that doesn’t remove the competitive feeling. Friendly or not, at almost every level, you want your side or the side your rooting for to win, even if it doesn’t “matter.”
What does matter then? Friendlies give teams a wonderful lens that enhances the spirit of the meeting. We see this all the time on our programs. There’s a certain buzz about playing outside of a usual league or schedule, away from the competition usually encountered. This special energy that teams bring to a friendly is…different. There’s something about a friendly that turns some of the focus directed at an opponent and shifts it to a more internal place, and we’d argue that this shift puts a unique spotlight on a team’s chemistry and camaraderie.
You could say that there’s less pressure to conquer an opponent and more freedom to test yourselves. You could say that there’s less pressure to stick to what works and more liberty to see what happens. You could give that defender a chance to play striker or give your keeper the chance to play on the field.
We certainly see this when our players travel abroad, and then some. Taking a friendly to the international level tests and enlightens our players in profound ways that stay with them forever.
Friendlies teach us what it means to be a host and a guest.
Friendlies challenge our assumptions to reveal deeper truths.
Friendlies build new bridges that connect people through experience.
Friendlies show us what is universal about a sport and what is unique about the players who play it.
Friendlies tell us that we grow outside of our comfort zones.
It turns out that friendlies count for a lot.
This holiday season – the one that’s happening this time, during this year – could use a “friendlies” interpretation. When we look back on this year, through the lens of our sports and our roles in them, it’s easy see where things were disrupted, where things weren’t normal, where things were different. Does that mean they didn’t count? That they didn’t matter?
We were tested and challenged. We lived with being uncomfortable. We submitted to rules we didn’t write. We found joy where we could with what made us happy, and for many of us, that required a deep look within. We had to try new ways, we had to mix things up. We had to work together in a new environment, and determine what matters most.
As a result, and much like a friendly experience, we grew because of it – and that will last longer and feel deeper than any game that “counts” or “matters.”