Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

August 1, 2012

When Going for Gold . . . Follow the Golden Rule

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 9:50 pm
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         I confess I am an Olympic groupie.  My eyes tear up at medal ceremonies.  Even when I’ve already heard the outcome my car radio ride home, I am glued to the swimming races in the evening, poised to see arms arc out of the water and touch the wall.  I was amazed, and quite heartened to hear that the International Olympic Committee disqualified the 8 badminton players who deliberately threw their matches in order to better position themselves for later match-ups.

Athletes are, for children and most of us, literally larger than life.  Nowhere is an athlete on a grander, or more global stage, than at the Olympics.  As parents and educators, we may worry about some of the negative behavior we see in professional and amateur sports (see for examples my blog post Poison Penn and When Recovery is Impossible ).   The Olympics offer us an opportunity to underscore the value of hard work, and that sometimes it is a privilege and honor just to compete.  As I watched the US women’s gymnastic team take gold, I saw how the Olympics can help us teach teamwork, healthy competition, and the ability to learn and rebound from and one’s mistakes.

I am certainly not a bright eyed innocent in my love of the Olympics.  I know there are questions of doping, and there are the geopolitical issues of which countries have the most financial support for training Olympians.  But when I heard about the badminton teams, basically throwing their early matches to the dismay of viewers in the stands who roundly boo-ed them, I worried that the high stakes nature of Olympic competition would become an excuse.  I expected a warning, censure or some other symbolic slap on the wrist.  How powerful and appropriate was the World Badminton Federation’s ruling to disqualify the players.  The International Olympic Committee applauded their decision, agreeing that when you display conduct unbecoming a gold medalist . . . you give up your chance of becoming a gold medalist.

We are teaching and raising children in an age of excuses. Too often our children learn from politicians, athletes, celebrities and other public figures, that bad behavior doesn’t need have devastating consequences – as long as you have a good enough excuse.  It makes it difficult to have our children and students take responsibility for their bad behavior, when the adult examples seem to be able to elude punishment.

Today’s decision to expel from competition the players who demonstrated no sportsmanlike spirit of competition is a terrific teachable moment.  It doesn’t matter how long and hard you train.  It doesn’t matter how high the stakes.  It doesn’t matter that you had a reason for your bad behavior.  Certain behavior is simply unacceptable and it will cost you.  The Olympics are also a lesson in hard work, dedication and always giving one’s all.  With the calculating, manipulative badminton 8 disqualified, perhaps we can underscore for our children and students the importance of always, every day, under every circumstance, giving our all, doing our best, playing not just within the letter of the law, but in the true spirit of the game.


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