As the 2014 Winter Olympics wind down, it's time to remember that there is something very special about the Olympics -- and it's not pride in the USA or the Americans' medal count.
For two weeks, the world comes together and is focused on watching people from different nations represent their country and compete for the gold. The tradition appeals to people of all ages -- most especially, it seems, families. For these few weeks, kids seem less interested in their iPhone and iPad, and parents engage with their family instead of with their emails every night.
Why does watching the Olympics as a family feel like a treat? As we collectively learn about the athletes in our living rooms -- their stories, tragedies, triumphs, and their culture -- we become engaged in the larger world. Our kids' minds and worlds expand in front of the screens: they ask questions, they cheer when there is a strong performance, they feel bad when someone "chokes" or takes a bad fall, and they learn to be good and fair fans and not critical or judgmental as they witness the world's finest athletes win and lose.
The Olympics can be a wonderfully engaging tool to teach kids life lessons.
When you tune in tonight, I hope you consider these:
Many Olympians start training when they are in early elementary school, many leaving their families to live in dorms. They become great not only because of exceptional talent, but after years of practice and thousands of hours of training. Dedication is what our kids need to accomplish any goal set before them, or goals set by themselves.
Not only do the athletes need to be dedicated, they need to persevere when injured and when they have trouble mastering a new trick, strategy, or style. They do not give up when their coach and the media is critical of them. They do not give up when they are told they may not have what it takes to be among the world's greatest athletes. They do not give up when they start to believe what others are saying. Our children need to learn to persist when they meet an unexpected obstacle because life is full of them.
Olympic athletes devote their lives to their craft. They train for the opportunity to represent their country and compete when everyone is watching and everyone is expecting them to win. When they fall, they have to get back up and continue their performance. They have cameras on them when they receive their undesired score. They are interviewed about their poor performance and asked how they feel about it. And then they go back on the ice or slopes and give their best effort -- for all to watch and judge again. Our children need courage to take chances and pursue their goals.
Many of the Olympic sports are team sports. Even the individual sports (speed skating and figure skating for example) still compete to earn an overall team score. It's inspiring to watch athletes cheer for other athletes... and for their larger team, their country. Our children need to learn to be a part of something larger than themselves.
We watch the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." We see athletes win and show appreciation for their fellow competitors. We see athletes take hard falls, under-perform, fail to achieve their life long dream and still rise up to celebrate the victories of their countrymen and competitors. Sportsmanship shows a person's character and show our children how to learn to both win and lose with grace.
Cultural and Economic Diversity
The Olympics gives the global audience a "reality show" like no other! Our children are arm chair travelers learning about life both inside and outside the United States.
As the final medal tallies add up, I'm counting the ways my own family has "won" during these Olympics. Of course, scheduling regular family dinners together is an important ingredient for raising well-adjusted children. But after the last two weeks, I also believe the same principle applies to watching the Olympics as a family.
Many of us remember where we were when the US hockey team beat Russia in 1980, when Mary Lou Retton solidly landed from the vault to earn the gold in 1984, and when Kerry Shrug "stuck" her landing on one foot for the team gold in 1996. The Olympics bind us together and teach us all to be our very best selves -- and those lessons are timeless, genderless, ageless, and ultimately worth their weight in gold.