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Olympic Inspiration
By Caroline Silby, Ph.D.

Most of us catch Olympic Fever by watching TV—and lots of it. But, moms and dads can prevent their kids from becoming Olympic couch potatoes by seizing the opportunity to use the Olympic Games to get them excited about sports and fitness while also teaching them some powerful life lessons.

Recently, there's been an explosion of children participating in sports at all levels. However, the highest drop out rate in sport occurs around the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Young girls in particular drop out of sports at a much higher rate than boys. This may be attributed in part to the fact that adolescent girls show a marked decline in self-esteem—some studies say a decrease of as much as thirty percent. They tend to lose interest in activities that once challenged them; have difficulty believing in their abilities; rarely question authority even when they perceive the authorities to be wrong; and feel pressure to meet external standards. All of these factors can lead young female athletes to feel depressed, moody and self-critical.

The good news is that you can use the Olympics to ignite their passion to play. Here are some tips on how to use the Games to inspire your children.

  1. Think Alternative: The role models at the Olympics are not all cut from the same mold. There are athletes all ages, sizes and nationalities participating in a variety of sports. Instead of solely tuning in to the traditionally popular sports of skiing and figure skating, encourage your kids to check out curling, biathlon, bobsleigh and skeleton. Also, don't miss snowboarding, which was recently added at the Nagano Olympics.

  2. Focus on the Mental: Be sure to point out to your children the mental skills required of high-level athletes. Instead of making a big deal about Michelle Kwan's triple jump, highlight the confident body language she shows even after a shaky landing. Spend time processing how the athletes deal with mistakes, errors and frustrations. This lets your children know that even Olympians make mistakes and must learn to control their emotions.

  3. Revisit Dreams: Use the Olympics to help your children learn the benefits reaped from participating in sports. Discuss the numerous physical benefits like lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Educate them about the psychological benefits that include higher levels of self-esteem and better grades in school.

  4. Identify Life Lessons: The Olympics are an opportunity to discuss the life lessons that can be acquired through sports participation. There are character lessons about work ethic, commitment, responsibility and perseverance. There are mental skill lessons of goal setting, imagery, and positive thinking. There are lessons about friendship, teamwork, and communication. There is the lesson of seeing your body as the place that houses your many talents rather than just something for the sake of appearance. Finally, there are lessons about performance such as trusting your training, creating the illusion of confidence, and bouncing back from mistakes and errors.

  5. Transfer Life Lessons: Your child may not be the next Picabo Street but rather a budding actor, artist, writer or musician. While watching the Olympics, pay close attention to the athlete interviews. Very often Olympic athletes discuss what they need to focus their attention on to perform well. Let your children know that they too can use their thoughts, perceptions, images, body language, focus and reactions to enhance performance—be it in sports, academics or the arts.

About Caroline Silby
Caroline Silby, Ph.D., M.Ed holds a Doctorate and Master Degree of Sports Psychology from the University of Virginia. Her specialty is performance enhancement with adolescent athletes and she's worked with Olympic Champions in gymnastics and figure skating. As an elite athlete, Dr. Silby was a member of the National Figure Skating Team. She later served on the U.S. Figure Skating Association Board of Directors and Athlete Advisory Council.

Dr. Silby was appointed to the US Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council, Collegiate Sports Council and Finance Committee. Currently, she assists the Women's Sports Foundation as a member of their Advisory Council and is a faculty member of both the USA Gymnastics and the US Figure Skating Association training camps. Dr. Silby's first book titled, Games Girls Play is published by St. Martin's Press. She resides in Washington, D.C. and has an active national practice.

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