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[This is a going to be a long and somewhat abstract one, so please bear with me. ]

From my experience [ and I stress this is my experience only] , its something very different. Our modern society is built on the logical, the defined, the things we can measure, pattern into an algorithm. Our entire educational system and our social education at home is mostly about meeting metrics and having defined patterns of doing things.
The reality of human nature, the universe and sex and relationships is that these fall into the category of mystery, they exist outside and beyond the capability of logical tools to measure & master.
Because this reality is so abstract, people either dismiss it with an eye-roll or it falls into the category of religion, philosophy and mysticism. It also becomes hard to describe, as everyone will have a different experience of it. So its not something anyone can teach you. Its living in the world by doing, not just by thinking and this goes against everything we are taught, and forces us out of our comfort zones.
I would recommend Taleb’s book, Skin in the game , page 218 . He exactly describes the situation.
Both your friends were athletes. So they know what its like to physically face a challenging situation, feel all the fear at the start of a match, and yet play and give it their best. They have learnt to be in their bodies and be comfortable with that. They are not over intellectualizing. Instead they have developed courage.
In Eric’s earlier posts on this blog he described the crucial quality a man must have to be a man : the ability to take initiative.
I would add that a complete man has as his base both the ability to take initiative and the ability to take responsibility.
Initiative demands courage and boldness/imagination
Taking responsibility demands courage and a basic moral code.

Real women, that is women that are not overly masculinized or logical, have a sixth sense for men. Actually we men have it too, but we have never learnt to trust our intuition, so we default to our logical minds instead. We shortchange ourselves.

Women can sense when a man has the innate qualities they seek. They were probably able to sense these in your friends.
Eric’s book is actually a method to develop some initial courage by desensitizing our selves from the fear of approaching and making our sexual intent known to a girl.
The entire journey to become an authentic man who can simply be , this is a journey of many years, a rabbit hole of challenging ourselves, our beliefs and constantly learning and reading and meeting other people who are on this journey of self-improvement. At the end what emerges – there is a blog post by Eric on this somewhere here as well – is the best version of who you really are. Although the journey never ends….

In the English speaking world, plus much of northern western Europe, there is a current social zeitgeist which is anti-male and trends towards gender enmity so how you’re going to navigate around that is your challenge. Often your authenticity is going to be shut down by judgmental criticism, shaming tactics, etc……this metoo nonsense isn’t helping either……