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Thursday Thought: It’s Not All About Winning…Or Is It?

Recently, The Wall Street Journal featured an article about how Olympic gymnast John Orozco is forced to head home after some disappointments. Although this young man overcame injury and other challenges in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics, he didn’t do all he set out to do–and it certainly makes sense for him to feel that not having a medal to show for his efforts is a personal fail. The way I see it, the fact that he worked hard enough to compete on a world stage, and the fact that he did so many things so well are, indeed, wins.

Reading about John, and seeing him perform at and be interviewed about the Olympics, has made me think about the lessons the rest of us mere mortals can learn by watching them. It also makes me think about how we parents can use those lessons to guide our children–especially those who love sports and the thrill of competition.

So far, I’ve found the Olympics to be riveting. I have especially loved watching the gymnastics, the diving, and the swimming. And while my children are spending another week and a half at overnight camp and are unable to watch the Olympics (incidentally, just today, their camp broke their own Olympics…so excited for them!), I will continue to email them about Olympics (especially about men’s basketball!). When they’re home, I plan to talk to them a little about the ups and downs, the successes and disappointments, and how they can apply the lessons inherent in all of that to their own lives as they pursue their goals and dreams, both in sports or in life.

When I watch the Olympics, I cry a little when I see the look of exuberance on an athlete’s face when he or she medals. I cry when I see how proud the athlete’s parents, siblings, and other family members are as they watch from the stands. I cry when I see the tears of disappointment that stream from an athlete’s face when he or she fails to win a gold medal, or any medal at all. Hearing the athletes stories moves me, and they also inspire me. The sacrifices they make are so great, and I hope and wonder if, no matter what the results, they truly love what they’re doing and have enjoyed the process. But, sad as it may be, it’s easy to understand why not winning may very well make athletes have regrets.

As a little girl, I watched in awe as Dorothy Hamill took to the ice. With my hair cut like hers at age 8, I took ice skating lessons, which I truly loved, and had dreams about skating like her to win an Olympic gold medal. Falling off of a balance beam at age 7 (I did a split and waved my arms in the air, just as an Olympian would–before I fell, that is!), and falling down a flight of stairs at age 8, I recovered from both a broken arm and two broken vertebrae, still thinking I could be an Olympian. But by the ripe old age of 11, I remember deciding, once and for all, that while I truly loved figure skating, I probably didn’t have the talent, nor was I really willing to make the commitment and sacrifices necessary to train towards that goal. To this day, I have no regrets about that decision, and I still love to ice skate.

Now, as the mother of two sons–ages 14 and 10–who truly love basketball, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to one day see them play in a national championship (or two). If they are good enough and want to play on their high school or college teams, you can bet I’ll be at many of their games–even if I need to fly there! But my one wish for them when it comes to sports and life is for them to do what they love, and to try to do it dream big, and to work hard to achieve their goals and ambitions. Who am I to say they’ll never make it? I won’t lie to them and tell them they’re amazing if they’re not, but I will always support them and try to be positive. More than anything, I want them to enjoy the process of trying to improve and to play the best they can. I want them to be a team player, and to know there’s no “i” in “team.” And I want them to know that even if they don’t make a team they want to play for, or win an award, that doesn’t mean that their efforts haven’t paid off. I want them to know that one can learn so much just from being a part of a team, and from setting goals and working hard.

Although the lessons my sons may learn while pursing their goals and dreams may not be obvious, they will become ingrained in who they are, and who they become. And even if they won’t get to ultimately stand on a podium or enjoy a moment during which all their hopes and dreams are actualized, perhaps they’ll learn to see the light and take pride in how hard they’ve worked, and to be happy they really went for whatever it is they wanted in the first place.

When you win a gold medal, or a big championship, of course you should savor the moment and be proud. But I imagine that some who do so at some point realize that what goes up must come down, and there’s only one direction in which to go from that point on. Pessimistic as that sounds, it may be true–though it shouldn’t be. And shame on the news media, so quick to pounce on Michael Phelps for not winning a medal in his very first race in the 2012 Olympics. He’s now the most decorated Olympian in history–go Michael! He could have easily retired, but instead sought to extend his career and compete in these games when he could have very well rested on his laurels!

I want my sons to learn from these Olympics that even if they don’t reach an athletic or other personal goal they set for themselves, they can still aim for a personal best; for some, just staying in the game by continuing to play or do the sport or activity you love is enough of an accomplishment in and of itself. In my mind, while winning is everything to some–especially when it comes to sports–sometimes, simply putting yourself out there and trying the best you can should be, and sometimes has to be, enough. We’re all not meant to be Olympic athletes, or superstars. But we can all be good enough. I just hope my children can appreciate and learn from the stories of those who triumph, those who miss the mark, and those who fall somewhere in-between. There are so many lessons to be learned from all of these experiences if you simply seek to find them.

What lessons have you learned–or hope your kids learned–from watching the Olympics?


About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized and award-winning health and nutrition expert, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books. An avid walker, she loves motivating others to #moveitorloseit. A book lover, she recently earned a certificate in children’s literature from Stony Brook Southampton and is currently working on several young adult novels. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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