Life Lessons the Olympics Teach Us

Since the start of the Winter Olympics on February 9, I’ve spent too many hours glued to the television.  Bedtimes have stretched to the wee hours of the morning as I sat mesmerized by daring athletes seeking medals, personal best records, and honour for their country. After 16 days, I’m afraid that I’ll suffer withdrawal now that the games are over.

I’ve been transfixed by the risk-taking of snowboarders and skiers, the grace of ice dancers, the power of speed skaters, and the strategy of curlers. Canadian hockey teams kept me glued to the screen and I ached with disappointment at their losses.

I cheered when a Canadian athlete succeeded in winning a medal; I also celebrated outstanding performances of athletes from other countries.  What tenacity and courage it must take to be a competitor! What courage it must take to recover self-esteem when a small mistake costs so dearly! A place on the podium can be lost in 1/100th of a second!

Watching sports is not an activity to which I devote much time but, every four years, I make an exception for the Winter Olympic Games.  I’m suddenly invested in sports that I’ve never tried, in sports that I hardly understand, and in medal counts. Almost every event has fast-paced action with tough competitors vying for gold, silver or bronze.

Elements of uncertainty, judgments by officials, and weather conditions played an important role in many sports during the games. From where I live, I accessed major television networks from Canada and the US in real time.  I went online to look at events I missed or wanted to see again.  I considered virtual reality and apps that offered specialized information but knew I was dangerously close to overload so I opted for traditional media.

Life Lessons from the Olympics

Aside from the entertainment value of sports, the Olympics provided valuable life lessons for everyone.

Let’s begin with how athletes handled success and the satisfaction that comes from winning.  The unbridled joy on the faces of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir when they won the gold medal for ice dance is unforgettable.  Seeing their joy made me wonder how often we show joy in our life experiences. How often do we celebrate joyful experiences of ourselves or of others? My life lesson #1 is to show joy and to celebrate accomplishments no matter how big or small these may seem.

On the flip side, it was sad, yet inspirational, to watch athletes handle disappointment. Winning is an expectation for each athlete; I’m sure none were trained in handling defeat or disappointment. In many sports, winning came down to 1/100th of a second.  Again and again, I watched grace demonstrated in defeat and painful failure.  Both teams and individuals, sometimes with tears, acknowledged winners and praised their success. Life lesson #2 is to learn to deal with disappointment with acceptance, grace, and goodwill.

Many athletes who lost in previous Olympic games continued to train and eventually reached the podium.  Some athletes faced serious health issues or injuries yet made a come-back.   Their tenacity and determination paid off.  Life lesson #3 is that it pays to keep trying; we need to hold on to our dreams and never give up.

Whether a team or an individual athlete wins a medal depends on countless factors.  Training, coaching, diet, body type, determination, and access to resources all play a role.  Sometimes luck is involved.  But winning a medal isn’t everything. When an athlete attained a ‘personal best’ but was not part of the winners’ circle, it was evident that personal achievement in the chosen sport outweighed winning a medal. Life lesson #4 is that the intrinsic satisfaction of achievement in an activity you love provides fulfillment and confidence regardless of winning.

Finally, as I watched the athletes perform and listened to interviews, their belief in themselves was a critical factor in their success — success in getting chosen as Olympic athletes and also success in winning medals. They rightfully acknowledged family and team support but they never doubted themselves.   Their self-belief gave them confidence that made the difference.  Words like ‘I just went for it’ or ‘I knew it would work for me’ were common. Life lesson #5  is to believe in yourself and your capability to make goals happen.

Watching the Winter Olympics brought a range of emotions including anxiety, delight, disappointment.  It provided 16 days of winter enchantment although sleep and other routines were disrupted.  I’m sad to see the Winter Games end but I’ll reflect on the life lessons and inspiration of the athletes.

Thanks for reading my post. If you watched the games and considered what you might learn, please send a comment.  If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive future posts by email.

2 Replies to “Life Lessons the Olympics Teach Us”

  1. Excellent list of lessons! I too spend many hours every two years watching the Olympics. I was not blessed with athletic ability and I marvel at the skill of the athletes, as well as the incredible sacrifices they and their families make so that the athletes can train and compete. Thanks for your post. It summed up and placed an end point to my Olympic session.

    1. Ah, that Olympic journey! A couple of days ago, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir returned to my (newish) home community where a gala welcome awaited. The little skating club in a nearby small town of fewer than 500 people where they began was awash will well-wishers. So many young skaters have idolized this pair of ice dancers. It is wonderful that athletes are allowed to have big dreams and even better to watch them realize their goals. I hope they continue to have lives filled with aspirations and success. Your observation of the sacrifices of athletes and their families is prescient. I often wonder what’s next for young adults who have spent years training. They ‘retire’ in their 20s or early 30s — only to start over with living a more ordinary life. Why don’t we hear the stories of what happens after the glory fades?

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