5 Character Lessons Kids & Teens Can Learn from the 2016 Rio Olympians

It has been thrilling watching the 2016 Summer Rio Olympics these past 2 weeks.  It has been full of stories of dedication, redemption, comebacks, and unbelievable achievements as we have cheered our American athletes but also athletes from other countries.  Sadly, the Olympics has also been marred by controversy:  doping scandals, and lawless behavior by athletes we’ve looked up to and cheered on.

How do we as parents then explain this to our children and teens?  Is cheating OK, is it OK to excuse a night of drunken behavior and how much is it OK to push for achievement and perfection.  Here are 5 Character Lessons Kids & Teens Can Learn From the 2016 Rio Olympics:

  1. Accept Responsibility For Your Defeats: The US Women’s Soccer Team came into the Olympics with high hopes.  When they lost to Sweden in the quarter finals, goalie Hope Solo, who is much admired by young girls called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards.”  In contrast, when three-time Olympic volleyball gold medalist, Kerry Walsh Jennings, lost with her teammate, April Ross, in the semifinals, she took full responsibility for not being at her best.  It is important for kids to learn to take responsibility for their defeats and be “a graceful loser” instead of a sore one, even if they feel they’ve done their best.
  1. Help Others When They Fall: Track & Field is thrilling to watch.  As we have cheered for our countrymen and women to win, it also brought to light wonderful examples of sportsmanship.  One such example, was the 5000 meters qualifying run.   American runner, Abbey D’Agostine, fell hard during that run after colliding with New Zealand Nikki Hamblin and injured her knee.  The runners helped each other up and both helped each other cross the finish line.  In life, kids and teens need to know that wining should not just be the goal, sometimes finishing is enough and feels even greater when you are help others in need.  Something simple like saying a kind word to a kid who gets picked on or giving encouragement to a friend who is depressed over the divorce of their parents can help to lift them up.
  1. Dig Deeper Even When You Think You Don’t Have To. Too many kids find it easy to give up these days in homework, sports, and in life.  Parents even feel it’s OK to settle for participation trophies.  For Olympians Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, who between them have earned a total of 32 gold medals in past and in this week’s Olympic games they did not have to compete in Rio.  Both are worldwide superstars already earning millions of dollars.  Achieving your goals does not necessarily mean you stop.  Kids and teens should be encouraged as to how they can be a better student, friend, athlete, brother or sister in what they do and say.
  1. Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends: Gymnastics is one of my favorite Olympic sports to watch.  Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and the other ladies of the US Women’s Gymnastics Team were unstoppable in their quest for Olympic Medals with the US Team winning the all-around competition and most of them winning individual medals.  However, even when one girl was competing on an apparatus and the others weren’t, the other girls were in the stands cheering each other on.  This camaraderie was also evident in the track & field relay races where the US Women’s Track & Field team won gold and in interviews afterwards they spoke much of their faith and the admiration of their fellow teammates.  It is important for kids to remember to be grateful for the people that help them achieve their goals in life: their teammates, their coaches, their mentors, their teacher, their parents.
  1. No Excuses for Bad Behavior. The achievements of the US Olympic Swimming Team were marred by false allegations made by swimmer Ryan Lochte and three younger U.S. teammates that they were held up at gunpoint at a gas station last week by robbers in Rio who were dressed as police men.  This story quickly unraveled as the police were unable to corroborate their account and video footage emerged of them at the gas station where they had instead committed vandalism supposedly in a drunken stupor.  Lochte eventually apologized for his behavior citing it as immature but the damage was already done to the U.S. name and perhaps Lochte’s reputation.  In life, it is important to not just take responsibility for your mistakes but to tell the truth even when you make poor choices.  Kids need to realize that poor choices can hurt their reputation, their families, future opportunities and mar any achievements they might make.

As the Olympics come to a close, many will remember the history they witnessed in athletic achievement.  As parents, process with your kids the highs and lows they witnessed and ask them to identify any lessons learned.  Encourage them to strive for the best in all they do and realize that greatness in life is not just measured by athletic prowess but also by their heart and character.

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Author: Lyris Steuber, MA, LMFT is a Lake Mary Child Play Therapist & Teen Counselor with Total Life Counseling Center. If you’re looking for Lake Mary Adolescent Coaching Services or Lake Mary Child Teen Counseling our experts can be reached at (407) 248-0030.