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Full Contact: 10 Sports Romances to Bring Out Your Competitive Side

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Whatever sport you like to watch, there’s probably a romance about it. I can’t say this with 100% certainty, of course — I’ve yet to find a romance featuring jai alai, for example — but it’s undeniable that sports and romance make a perfect pair. There’s passionate rivalry, physical contact, the agony and the ecstasy — you get it. Speaking of physical contact, please enjoy my favorite sports Twitter feed: gentle sports touches. It’s more wholesome than romantic, but supremely enjoyable nonetheless.

The familial nature of sports teams lends itself well to romance series that turn the spotlight on various players. Plus there’s so much opportunity for conflict. I will admit, though, that I’m rather picky about my sports romances. Because let’s be real, both romance and sports can and do uphold lots of societal ills: racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, and toxic masculinity, to name a few. I’m always on the hunt for romances that celebrate the best of what sports has to offer. I want the pursuit of excellence, fierce competition, and above all, drama. So I’ve rounded up a fun collection for you. I took care not to overlap with fellow Rioter Silvana’s truly excellent list of sports romances. Each romance in my list also represents a different sport, in an effort to convince you of the truth of the very first sentence of this article.

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Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang

Conflicts in sports romances do not need to be as simple as the rivalry between two teams. Ruby Lang demonstrates this with Hard Knocks, a novel that pairs neurologist Helen Chang Frobisher and hockey player Adam Magnus. Helen wants to ban hockey to prevent traumatic brain injuries; Adam Magnus is just trying to make a living. Because it’s a romance, they’ll butt heads until they kiss. Ruby Lang always brings a unique perspective to romance; this time she investigates a thorny issue thoughtfully while still keeping the story fun and sexy.

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A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian

Can historical romance readers find sports romances by their favorite authors? Yes, especially if you like boxing. A Gentleman Never Keeps Score features retired boxer Sam Fox doing a little art heist on behalf of his friend, who needs to destroy a painting before it destroys her reputation. The painting’s owner, Hartley Sedgwick, catches Sam’s eye, and fans of Cat Sebastian will adore the wit, the class consciousness, the three-legged dog, and of course the tender depiction of love.

cover of Bring Her On

Bring Her On by Chelsea M. Cameron

The Netflix documentary series Cheer certainly raised awareness of cheer as an incredibly intense sport. Bring Her On also nods to the classic cheer movie Bring It On with its title. Both Cheer and Bring It On focus on rivalries, so naturally Bring Her On is a rivals-to-lovers sapphic romance between two coaches. Ten years ago, the fuse between Echo Rosenthal and Kiri Kentwood was lit, and as cheerleading competitions bring them back together, the result is explosive.

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The Perfect Game by Elley Arden

There are many people who lament losing the TV show Pitch, which imagined the highs and lows of life for the first female major league pitcher. When television lets you down, romance is reliably there to pick up the pieces. This book, the conclusion to the Arlington Aces series, chronicles the growing attraction between Pauly Byrne, a female starting pitcher, and Ian Pratt, a backup catcher promoted back to starting position. It’s an opposites-attract romance between a character who fought tooth and nail for everything she has and a partier who needs to get his act together.

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Huddle With Me Tonight by Farrah Rochon

Farrah Rochon has made a splash with her excellent series The Boyfriend Project. Fans of that will be sure to enjoy her football series that starts with Huddle With Me Tonight. It’s also perfect for fans of reality television romances. In it, NFL standout and cookbook author Torrian Smallwood faces off against one of his critics, entertainment columnist Paige Turner, in a televised cook-off. Will you be able to stand the heat? I bet you will, so get into that kitchen.

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Throwing Stones by Avery Cockburn 

With the recent conclusion of the Winter Olympics, I am already fondly recalling the evenings spent on my couch trying to parse all the terminology the curling commentators spouted. If you, like me, want a romance set in the curling world, there are quite a few, believe it or not. Throwing Stones follows Oliver Doyle, a Canadian curler relocating to Scotland amid a scandal to coach their next big team. There he falls for Luca Riley, the skip of a rival team. If you love lots of sports detail in your romance, and your sport of choice is curling, you can’t go wrong with this one.

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Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker

Am I biased toward sports romances that feature the Winter Games? Absolutely. I grew up someplace very wintery and I love ice and snow. Am I doubly biased toward romances with women athletes? You betcha. Fire on the Ice is indeed fiery, with a sapphic, opposites-attract romance between a brash short track speed skater named Blaze and a hard working figure skater named Maisy. Their relationship started as a hook-up during the book’s version of the Olympics. But it turns into more when the two meet at their second Games. Trust me, this one’s a scorcher.

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Roller Girl by Vanessa North 

Roller derby romance. Need I say more? I will. When Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario comes to fix Tina Durham’s plumbing woes, Joe sees a spark in Tina that could use some tending. She invites Tina to join the roller derby team she coaches. There Tina, a trans woman, finds so much love: for her newfound friends, for her newfound sport, and for the woman that brought her into that community. It’s a sweet romance with dirty talk, a truly winning combination.

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Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Sonali Dev’s Austen retellings are not to be missed. This one takes the “hometown boy made good” story of Persuasion and recasts its lead as Rico Silva, a famous soccer player. His first love, chef Ashna Raje, is so desperate to save her floundering business that she agrees to team up with her ex on a reality cooking show. This seems like breezy romcom fodder. But there is a lot of trauma explored in the back stories of these characters, so be ready for a really emotional journey.

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One Last Shot by Alexandra Warren

True cinematic rom-connoisseurs recognize Love and Basketball as one of the greats. And fans of that gem are sure to enjoy One Last Shot. Selena has earned her nickname “Sharpshooter” as a member of the Nashville Nymphs. DeAndre “Dre” Leonard shows up as a new coach. He’s trying to rebuild his own career after a failed drug test bounced him out of his league as a player. They share a goal, championship, and that shared dream turns into so much more over the course of their journey.

We’re all looking for different things in our sports romances. I hope you’ve found a bunch that piqued your attention here. Still, if you’re in it for the enemies-to-lovers vibes, we’ve got more recommendations there. If you really just want a romance reminiscent of Ted Lasso, they’re out there! I’ll be over here trying to stump my search engine with “random sport + romance novel.” Today I learned that pickleball romance exists! Feel free to recommend me your favorite niche sport romance over on Twitter.