As a parent, I’ve become something of an expert in finding life lessons to share with my kids in our everyday activities. Sports have proven to be an unending source of educational opportunities, whether we’re participating or just watching. As we have spent a lot of time watching various sporting events lately, from national titles to large international competitions, I’ve had several different opportunities to use athletes as role models for our children. While we’re wholeheartedly swim people, I love being able to point out the same lessons in other sports, especially when athletes are competing on a larger stage.
Hard Work Pays Off
I love the fluff pieces that networks tend to show leading up to a big sporting event. The personal stories of adversity and following athletes during training allow me a chance to show my kids that these are real people who work at their sport, just like they do. They aren’t robots and don’t wake up ready to win. Yes, they may have some physical characteristics that give them an advantage, but they are not uniquely and inherently the best at their craft. It took work and overcoming the odds to get where they are.
Support Your Teammates AND Your Rivals
This is one that I push hard with my kids and it can sometimes be difficult to find examples in the professional world to show them. We encourage our swimmers to stay in the pool until the race is complete and everyone has touched the wall. We tell our relay teams to stay at the block and cheer on their teammates. We expect our kids, win or lose, to congratulate their rivals in the next lane. Almost everyone is participating to do their best and they should be recognized.
Use Your Influence for Good
The biggest example of this recently for me has been JJ Watt. Watching how he has used his influence to help people in need – from after-school athletic programs to the victims of natural disasters – and how he has encouraged others in a place of financial privilege to do the same, sets an amazing precedent to teach our children. He has the means and a platform to make a difference and is using it to do so. Even young athletes can learn to do this on a smaller scale.
Sometimes the Underdog Wins
Even if you aren’t on the team with the immaculate record or the fastest kid in the pool, sometimes you will still come out on top. Just because the other guy has a stack of trophies or rings, doesn’t mean that THIS TIME he’s walking away with the prize. There’s always a little luck involved even in a test of skill, so get in there and give your best because today just might be your day!
Life’s Not Always Fair…and That’s Okay!
Ever watch a crash in speedskating or snowboard cross that takes out half the field? Or watch a swim race where the official missed a clear disqualification call on the winner? It’s painfully unfair to those who are affected negatively. Learning to deal with disappointments like these and not being resentful toward the person who made the misstep is an important lesson for everyone to learn.
Personal Bests Can Be Just as Satisfying as a Win
You see much of this on the international stage, but you often have to dig deeper than the coverage shown to you. In every large sporting event, there is someone who qualifies at the bottom of the pack. It’s unlikely that they’re going to ever show up on the screen or finish at the top of the leaderboard. But their personal best resulted in them getting there. My 12-year-old had one of those seasons at swim this fall and winter. In one race, he got in the pool and slashed 10 seconds from his Individual Medley. Then in the next meet, he knocked off another four in the same event. Did he win either of these races? Nope. But the feeling of pride and accomplishment when he saw those times up on the board was unmatched.
What lessons have you taught your kids through playing or watching sports?