Life lessons from watching the Olympics



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From February 7 to 23, millions of Canadians will be cheering on our country’s athletes competing for gold in Sochi, Russia. We won’t have done any training, and we won’t be risking any injury. We won’t even try to break any records. So why bother to watch you might ask? Experiencing the Olympic Games as a family is not only a great bonding activity, but can help reinforce some important lessons.

Tune in to learn these 10 lessons

Respect the Competition

Watching athletes at the highest level of competition high fiving and shaking hands with their competitors is a great way to showcase good sportsmanship and encourage kids to bring those values into their own competitions whether in sports, music or spelling bees. “You don’t see gold medalists taunting anyone else,” says Marnie McBean, Olympic gold medalist and author of The Power of More. “When I was on the podium, I needed to respect the efforts of the people who were fourth and fifth because they pushed me to do better,” she says.

Be a good loser

Not everyone walks away from the Olympics with a medal, but even athletes who finish in last place don’t sulk in corners and throw tantrums. Olympic competitions are a great way to show kids what losing gracefully looks like. It’s also important to note athletes who don’t win, but who achieve personal best scores and are proud of their efforts, proving it’s not only the medal that defines a winner.

See perseverance in action

Olympians never give up, even when they fall behind. Listen carefully to broadcasters talking about a winning athlete who had a disappointing finish at a previous Olympics. “If you want to become the person who wins, you’re probably at one point the person who didn’t win but kept going,” says Marnie.

Become a proud(ER) Canadian

Patriotism is infectious during the Olympic Games. Jessica Fraser-Thomas, Assistant Professor at York University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science, conducted a research project with preschool-aged children before and after the London 2010 games and says even little ones can express national pride. “This was two- to four-year-olds’ first exposure to seeing the Canadian flag and hearing the national anthem,” says Jessica, who notes by the end of the games the children could pick out these iconic Canadian symbols. Make up a family chant – “go, Canada, go” – while you’re watching at home, or encourage kids to create an inspiration board of their favourite Canadian athlete or team.

Get active and try new sports

While most kids think of winter sports as hockey or skiing, they may not know about luge, biathlon or skeleton. “Allowing kids to watch the different sports showcased in the Olympic Games widens their ideas of what sports are and opens their minds to new sports they may have never thought of,” says Marnie, who has the 1984 Olympic Games to thank for turning her onto rowing. “I saw the rowing competition and I thought it was beautiful and I asked my mom ‘how do I learn to row?’” recalls Marnie. At the end of the day, ask your kids which sports they remember seeing and what they liked about that sport. You may find new sport coming to your own home.

Encourage teamwork

If you’re tired of forcing siblings to work together or listening to complaints of uncooperative behaviour in school group projects, you might want to take the opportunity to watch some team sports such as bobsled or hockey. Pointing out how athletes support each other can be an easy transition to talking about other collaborative efforts, noting that the best teams are the ones that worked the best together.

Learn the value of practising

If your child struggles with tying his or her shoe or learning how to tell time, watching athletes fall and make mistakes is a great way to transition into talking about the importance of practising a skill. Remembering a favourite athlete’s struggles can help ease frustrations during homework time, quelling cries of “I’ll never be able to do it, it’s too hard!”

Increase global awareness

With more than 75 countries competing against each other, the Olympic Games present a unique opportunity for kids to learn about different cultures. Introduce children to other flags and symbols. Medal ceremonies and opening and closing ceremonies are an ideal time. Get out a globe and see if children can locate each country as its athletes walk into the stadium. While older children may be able to identify the flags, younger children may begin to recognize that all the Swedish athletes are wearing blue and yellow clothing or that the American athletes’ uniforms have stars and stripes. In her study, Jessica Fraser-Thomas noted an increased global awareness and interest in other cultures among children who had watched the Olympics.

Sneak in a geography lesson

To get the most out of this educational opportunity, keep your tablet or globe handy and when you hear of a new country, find it on the map. Encourage kids to go even further and research what people from that country eat and what language they speak. While tracking your favourite Canadian athletes, use a map of Canada to mark which parts of the country they come from.

Learn about goal setting

The Olympics are a great example of what it looks like when you put your mind to something and work hard to achieve it. Athletes spend years training in their sport, all to achieve one goal – to compete in the Olympic Games. Talk to kids about what goals they would like to accomplish. This could be within a sport or a different activity such as learning how to paint or saving enough money to buy a desired video game.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Feb 2014.

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