Relationship Skills

Family Resources on Flag on the Play, Part 1

Project and Purpose

Students identify warning signs of unhealthy friendships and create metaphors using flag and card systems from different sports.

Essential Questions

What are the warning signs of an unhealthy friendship?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students identified the warning signs of a potentially unhealthy friendship. In class students used warning signs from various contexts to help with the discussion. Discussion included the types of comments and situations that could be the warning signs in an unsafe friendship.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Just like it is important to learn how to make and maintain friendships, it sometimes is necessary to end or limit friendships that are unhealthy. Students discussed the warning signs of unhealthy friendships and actions that can be taken if they encounter an unhealthy friendship.

Conversation Starters and Practice at Home

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

Describe how you discussed warning signs in class? Did the warning signs discussed make sense to you? Why or why not?

Does a disagreement with a friend mean that your relationship is unhealthy? Why or why not?

What are the steps you should take when you realize that you need to back away or end a friendship? Why would these work?

If you ended a friendship that was unhealthy, could it be possible to restart that friendship at some point in the future? What would need to happen for that to work? Think of an example if necessary.

School to Home Resources on Flag on the Play, Part 1


  • Chart/Board to write “warning signs” list and a means to save the list
  • Slides/handouts of flag systems for different sports (provided)


Note: We suggest completing the session on Friendship Values before beginning this session. This lesson is the first of two parts.
1. Ask students to define and give examples of a metaphor. Merriam Webster provides the following two definitions:

  • A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language
  • An object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor: symbol

2. Discuss some of the warning signs of an unhealthy friendship. What are some of the things people do or say that should warn you to re-evaluate your friendship with this person? Make a list of their contributions to the discussion on the board or on a chart to save for later use. Some ideas that should be considered include:

  • Your friend decides what you are going to do together.
  • Your friend has a temper that scares you.
  • Your friend makes fun of you or people you care about.
  • Your friend decides who you will hang out with all the time.
  • Your friend threatens you.
  • Your friend bullies you or other kids.
  • You feel like you have to agree with your friend all the time (even if you don’t), and you’re afraid they won’t be your friend if you disagree.
  • Your friend makes you feel like you have to do things you don’t really want to do.
  • Your friend sometimes shares personal stuff you have told them with other people.
  • Your friend teases you.
  • Your friend physically hurts you.
  • Your friend posts things online about you followed by “JK” (just kidding).

3. If you have completed the Friendship Values lesson, emphasize that the behaviors listed there are signs of a healthy friendship. If you have not done the lesson, collect a list of signs of a healthy friendship.

4. Explain that students will use the metaphor of flags and cards in sports to create an understanding of the signs of healthy and unhealthy friendships. Use the following information to introduce or review the use of flags (and cards) in different sports. They may be very familiar with some of them, and some may be brand new to them.

5. Use the American’s Guide to Soccer slide/handout to talk about warning cards in soccer/football. Yellow cards are used to caution players for committing any of the following offenses:

  • unsporting behavior
  • showing dissent by word or action
  • persistently infringing the Laws of the Game
  • delaying the restart of play
  • failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner-kick, free-kick, or throw in
  • entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
  • deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

Red cards result in the player’s dismissal from the field of play for receiving two yellow cards or for committing any of the following offenses:

  • serious foul play
  • violent conduct
  • spitting on an opponent or any other person
  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball
  • denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or penalty kick
  • using offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

6. Ask students to think of how the yellow and red cards could be used as metaphors for the signs of an unhealthy friendship. Look at their list and determine which offenses would be considered yellow card offenses and which would be red card offenses. Which seem to be warnings (yellow cards) and which seem to be the behaviors that will end the person’s time as your friend (red cards)?

7. Point out that some people might feel like they want to give more than just one warning before ‘cutting off’ a friendship. Use the Coastal Warning slide/handout to talk about weather warning flags for sailors and boaters. Explain that this system was created by the Coast Guard in 2007 to warn of:

  • small craft advisories (rough seas, changing winds),
  • gale warnings (sustained surface winds, or frequent gusts, in the range of 34 knots (39 mph) to 47 knots (54 mph) inclusive, either predicted or occurring),
  • storm warnings (A warning of sustained surface winds, or frequent gusts, in the range of 48 knots (55 mph) to 63 knots (73 mph) inclusive, either predicted or occurring),
  • and hurricane warnings (An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds)

8. Ask students to think of how the Coastal Warning Flags and the descriptors could be used as a metaphor for signs of unhealthy friendships.

  • Which are the small craft warnings, things you can talk to your friends about and hope/expect to see a change for the better?
  • Which are the gale warnings that things might surprise you and require you to have a deeper discussion?
  • Which are the storm warnings that should warn you this is not a healthy friendship and you should think about ending the relationship?
  • Which behaviors will be the hurricane warnings and definitely end the friendship?

9. Ask students to share other sport card and flag systems they are aware of and consider how the signs would fit into those systems as well.


Tell students they will use the information from today in Part 2 session to create their own flag system for helping them identify the warning signs of unhealthy friendships. Ask them to identify what they consider to be the clearest warning that they are in an unhealthy friendship relationship and defend their answer.

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