I’m a big sports fan and have always enjoyed the Olympics. I remember the unbeatable Cuban boxer Teófilo Stevenson, the Russian weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev, and the Michael Phelps of my childhood, U.S.A. swimmer Mark Spitz. (I actually wore the same Speedo bathing suit that Mark Spitz did, with its U.S.A. flag-design.) I also know about many of the legends before my time, such as runner Jesse Owens and boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali’s name before he changed it).
I don’t watch a lot of the Olympics because I simply don’t watch a lot of TV. But, I like following some of the stories, I like the fact that for a couple of weeks any time I turn on the TV I can watch if I want to, and I enjoy watching sports I never otherwise watch or follow: beach volleyball, swimming, gymnastics, and more.
What I don’t like is the “win gold or go home a loser” vibe that I often sense.
Everyone is a winner at the Olympics. And happiness will be the result if the athletes’ parents and coaches are helping them to understand that.
Just making your country’s Olympic team is a gigantic accomplishment. I know it takes time and perspective for young people to recognize that. As such, I hope that the leaders in these young peoples’ lives—their parents and coaches—are telling them that message over and over.
It’s easy for me to say because I’m not an elite athlete, and from the outside I know that if I could say that I was on my country’s Olympic team, that would be an incredible thing for me and for my descendants for many generations to come.
I do understand disappointment in sports. I’m very competitive and have lost far more games than I have won. I have second guessed myself, replaying sports decisions for hours, days, and more. As I wrote this, I started to replay my most recent big-stakes (for me) competitive situation. Before I could realize what was happening, I had slipped back in time, back to two years ago.
I’m standing on third base. There is one out in the last inning of a single-elimination softball playoff game. I had just hit a triple to knock in two runs and bring our team to within one run of the other team. My teammate hit a grounder to third. If I tried to score, the third baseman would have easily thrown me out. So I waited and when the third baseman threw the ball to first, I broke for home. Only a perfect throw from third to first, followed by a perfect throw from the first baseman to the catcher could have gotten me. And that’s what happened. Out at home. Inning over. Game over. Season over.
Should I have stayed at third, hoping that the next batter would have gotten a hit to allow me to score before the third out? We will never know. But, that question haunted me for a while, and immediately comes to my mind again as I replay that slide into home, and the disappointed looks on my teammates’ faces as we packed up our things.
Moments earlier I, and my teammates, had been euphoric about my clutch triple. And now we were moping. And I was replaying the play in my mind, for the first time of what would be many that night and in the coming days.
So, I get competitive disappointment.
But I also get that life goes on; that it was only a game.
Yes, I know that I’m not a professional athlete, nor am I a young Olympian who has trained hours a day, every day, for most of my life for that moment. And I am sure that if I was one of those kids, I would be deeply disappointed.
But, if I was extremely fortunate, I would also have leaders in my life—parents and coaches—who would help me to realize that instead of measuring myself against the goal I failed to attain, that I needed to celebrate all that I have accomplished, a lesson that I would take with me for the rest of my life. A life lesson that I would pass along to my children and any other children who looked up to me as an Olympic athlete.
And if I could attain that kind of perspective, at that young age, then I (along with my parents and coaches) would have achieved a most Olympian feat.
p.s. We can all learn from that type of thinking—remembering to celebrate our progress and achievements, rather than lamenting the distance to our goals, or the ones that got away. What do you think? What are your experiences? Join the conversation with your comments…