“Citius, Altius, Fortius” and other lessons to be learned from The Olympic Games

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are about to start. Given the magnitude of the event and all the media attention directed to London right now, this post I guess is neither the first mention nor the needed reminder of The Games for you. We all know about The Olympics. However, if asked about ‘Olympism’- the philosophy behind the games- it’s likely that many would struggle to provide an answer.

The first fundamental principle of Olympism describes it as ‘a philosophy of life; exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles’ (Intenational Olympic Committee, 2011, p.10).

To put it more simply, the idea behind The Games is to build a better world through sport, as it can develop desirable personal and social characteristics in a person. Although sport can be seen as a force for positive psychosocial development, the mere participation in sport does not necessarily lead to this positive direction. Just a glance of contemporary doping control activities or, taking the most recent example, of the Euro 2012 racism solicitudes clearly indicates that Olympic character and Olympic values still remain the ideals that we need to strive for. Thus, sport is not positive in its own right, but it can be positive if well educated. The good news is that the Olympic ideals can still be taught, developed and, most importantly, transferred into generally useful life skills.

Echoing with this notion is the message from the current IOC President, Jacques Rogge (2004), proclaiming that, “The world of sport is not separate from the rest of the world. Sport breaks down barriers, promotes self- esteem, and can teach life skills and healthy behavior. Athletes can be an inspiration and role models for the youth of the world”.

By now you should be convinced that sport can be used as a powerful educational tool. However, you might be wondering about the practicality and timeliness of this information at the moment.

Well, the three weeks of The Olympic Games is perfect timing for trying to transfer the Olympic Ideals into life skills just by watching and learning from this major sporting event. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) argues that ‘Sports provide an excellent opportunity to observe athletes in positive and negative situations; and watching the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and beyond can be a source of valuable life lessons’. In order to support the idea, the AASP offers a series of interactive learning guides that adults can share with children and youngsters while watching sports together. What follows is a brief summary of the lessons proposed by the AASP (detailed learning guide is here):

  • The Olympic Games provides a great opportunity for discussing topics of Importance of Good Sporting Behavior and Cooperation vs. Competition within a Team, by watching for athletes shaking hands, supporting each other, respectfully interacting with their coaches and teammates, playing by the rules of the game, and cooperating for achieving the same desired goal of honorably representing one’s country.
  • Questioning whether an Olympic athlete is successful only if he or she wins a medal is a good base for lessons on Defining Success. Here adults should emphasize effort, remembering The Olympic Creed, created by Pierre de Coubertin, which states that, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
  • Similarly, Setting Goals in Sport and Life lesson should teach the difference between outcome and performance goals,  the easy-to-remember SMART model can be introduced as well.
  • Furthermore, discussing the life and athletic career of one’s favorite athlete leads to thinking about What Sacrifices Do We Have To Make In Order To Do Great Things?
  • Following The Games is also a great resource for learning about Preparing for Performance, Dealing with Nervousness, and Learning to Focus. Observe athletes immediately prior to their performance, notice if they have any routine, watch for signs of nervousness or loosing focus, and think how athletes can cope with these matters.
  • Finally, disappointments are part and parcel of this event, as with any competition; this provides an opportunity to learn from the ‘tough’ ones about Dealing with Disappointment and Resilience after making a mistake during a performance.

Certainly the same lessons can be taught also during other sporting events, however the magnitude and importance of an Olympic event usually provides us with strong and colorful examples of Olympic Ideals, inspires a will to achieve and revives beliefs in endless human potential. London 27.07-12.08 will truly be a place to learn from, both for sports and for life.

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1 Response to “Citius, Altius, Fortius” and other lessons to be learned from The Olympic Games

  1. A really constructive and well-written piece – thank you. And it’s good to know I’m not the only one in Britain looking forward to the Games; they deserve to be remembered for brilliant events, not the frustrating aspects that have been focussed on too much.

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