Olympic fever is starting to rise, and here is the good news: There are enough benefits to watching the Olympics as a family that you can throw your standard TV rules out the window. Beyond sheer entertainment, there's much to be learned by watching the games on the demon screen -- exposure to different sports and their rules, learning about other cultures, and experiencing the more subtle points of competition like effort, loss, and sometimes winning.
Let's start here: The Olympics provide a glimpse into worlds totally different from the lives most children are leading -- the experience of a competitor. While most people tune in to witness the multitude of races and competitions, it is through the side stories about the athletes, the human interest stories, the stuff "serious sports fanatics" might tune out, that we get an expanded picture of the athletes' lives. The swimmer who has been in the pool 8 hours a day for the past 3 years; the gymnast who practiced every single day at 4 a.m., long before school started and long into the night after school; the archer whose fingers are bloody from practice. We see families whose entire operation centered around the athletes' development, parents and siblings who made incredible sacrifices, like moving home base to the city of the practice center or living without one parent for months on end. And there are the families who have held countless bake sales to afford the equipment, the coaches, the travel. There are great lessons for kids in the athletes' background stories.
Then there are the character lessons, in particular the model of perseverance. Olympic competitors are not born; they are developed over years and years. And they embody persistence, dedication, and grit. For the child who never quite digs into an activity, who tries this and gives up, or does that and quickly burns out, Olympic athletes are shining examples of stick-to-it-iveness. Isn't this a lesson that applies across the board? Whether working at a sport or acquiring any skill, it is through repeated, consistent, tremendous effort and practice that achievement comes. Olympic athletes convey that louder than any lecture by a parent or teacher.
Also, achievement doesn't necessarily mean winning. Every parent wants his child to learn sportsmanship, and there's nothing quite like the Olympics to show you how it's done. To be standing on the pedestal, decorated in gold, silver, or bronze is obviously the goal, but the great majority of Olympic competitors don't get there. The "agony of defeat" is just that, and the whole world gets to watch their good sportsmanship in action. You don't see a whole lot of foot stomping, storming away, and crying by the guy who comes in fourth.
There are reminders of sportsmanship for parents, too. I am sure we won't see the athletes' parents in the stands having a fist fight over a linesman's call, like the Little League video that went viral recently. Talk about poor sportsmanship! And while some parents are feverishly encouraging their six year old to find his passion, to hone a skill for listing on the college application, the Olympics remind us that only three athletes actually win the medals. Sometimes the sense of accomplishment or the fun of sport are good enough reasons to jump in. And there are many ways to be winners; athletics are just one tiny aspect of a whole person.
Don't miss this opportunity to teach your kids important lessons. Join your child on the couch and be a student in one of the world's great classrooms: The Summer Olympics.