This 2012 Olympics season, we’ve seen all the ups and downs — celebrations of a life’s dream come true, as well as the shock of seeing that dream disappear in a tenth of a second. For some, such as gymnast Gabby Douglas and swimmer Michael Phelps, a lifetime’s worth of hard work had paid off. For South African Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius, just being able to compete was a dream come true. There were also the heartbreaks too. We saw a two-hour triathlon race end in a virtual tie, making our hearts wrench for whoever finished second. Then, there was gymnast Jordyn Wieber’s shocking exclusion from the all-around final due to a technicality. No matter the result, however, these athletes’ parents stood in the stands, supporting them all the way through victories or losses.
Your kids can learn a lot about life from sports– I sure have. I’ve learned how to win, how to lose, how to struggle, and how to succeed. I have been the hero of the team that saves the day and the goat that loses the game. Below, I will show you three lessons every child can learn from sports: teamwork, setting and achieving goals, and persevering over obstacles and failures.
A great example of teamwork at the Olympics comes from the USA men’s basketball team. These NBA stars committed to train outside the normal NBA season, sacrificing their hard-earned rest time. Not only that, instead of focusing on their individual scoring stats, these athletes became leaders in their respective positions — defense or offense — and worked together to focus on winning a gold medal for USA basketball.
Teamwork focuses on cooperation, trust, and sacrifice. When you work as a team, you sacrifice your individual needs and work together to achieve a common goal. Even if a team has some star athletes, it’s impossible for them to be able to do everything. Everyone has something to offer. Some may be fast runners, or good throwers, or have a high sports strategy IQ. Others may be great motivators. The best part is that teamwork skills are not just useful in sports. Children can learn many useful skills through team sports that help in school, at work, or anything else they may encounter in life.
Tips for parents: Organized team activities are one of the best ways for your kid to team valuable life lessons. Remind them to focus on each team member’s strengths and what each person brings to the team. If your kid is not interested in team sports, incorporate teamwork activities and responsibilities into your daily routines, such as cleaning the house, buying groceries, or making a meal. Give each family member a responsibility (cleaning their own room, being in charge of picking out fruit, washing dishes), and focus on the contributions each family member bring to achieving that goal.
2. Setting and achieving goals
One of the best Olympics examples of setting and achieving goals comes from gymnast Gabby Douglas, who has already won the individual all-around gold medal and the team all-around gold medal. Douglas started training in gymnastics at the age of six, even though her mother was reluctant. By the time Douglas was fourteen, she realized that the best chance for her to achieve her goal of an Olympic gold medal was to move over 1,000 miles away from home to train with a renowned coach. After being away from her family and friends for two years, Douglas achieved her goal and became an Olympic champion.
Setting goals is an important part of life. Whether your child’s goal is to become the next Tom Brady or to simply make his or her high school varsity swim team, it all starts with setting goals. To achieve goals, kids must be motivated and willing to put in the effort. They can’t expect it to be smooth sailing the whole time. Goals help them on the days where they’d rather not train or practice. The best athletes are the ones who are naturally talented AND put in the most effort. This concept applies to getting good grades at school, attending a good college, maintaining a good career, etc.
Tips for parents: Appreciate the goals your child has set and do your best to help him or her achieve them. Douglas’ mother did not want Douglas to start gymnastics training because she didn’t want Douglas to get hurt, nor did she want to send her youngest child away to train. But, she relented in the end because she knew that her fears were outweighed by the chance for Douglas to achieve her dream.
3. Persevering over obstacles and failures
There may be no greater sports story this year than that of Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius, who was born with a medical condition that required his legs to be amputated before he turned the age of one. As he grew up, Pistorius received constant support and encouragement by his sports-crazed family, leading to an active life that included playing sports such as water polo, rugby, tennis, wrestling, and more. In recent years, he trained with the goal of running in the Olympics against able-bodied athletes. At first, he encountered another obstacle due to questions of whether his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage. Putting the merits of this point aside, Pistorius did not give up and was eventually allowed to compete. Earlier this week, Pistorius’ dream came true when he made it to the semi-final round of the men’s 400m dash.
Everyone will face many obstacles in life. Learning how to persevere and overcome obstacles may be the most important lesson of all for your kids. The lessons learned from a normal week of training and practice only take them so far. Throw in an injury, bad refereeing, and questionable rules, and it gets much harder. The key is to not let obstacles get them down and to maintain a positive attitude towards the future. After Pistorius finished last in his semi-final heat, he immediately claimed that he wanted to compete in the 2016 Olympics and that he would be even better. Obstacles are only bumps in the road, and in life, the road ahead is quite bumpy. Your kids may experience failure from time to time, but it’s how they respond to failure that makes them who they are.
Tips for parents: Parental support and encouragement during these moments is crucial. To help your child achieve the consistent perseverance of athletes like Pistorius, you have to step in and help him or her understand that while today may be not be a great day, tomorrow is a new day. If you can teach your children to pick themselves up, maintain a positive attitude, and focus on improvement, they will be well on their way to becoming successful adults.
Some other important notes: Win or lose, your child has to have a fun experience. While practice may be pretty rough at times, if your child cannot enjoy the overall journey, then all that hard work has been undone. Whether your child wins easily or suffers a tough loss, go for some ice cream or pizza and enjoy the rest of the day as a family; your kids will cherish that family memory over whatever happened earlier that day!
I want to hear more from you all: what are some of your Olympics highlights, and what are other important life lessons you can teach your kids?