The Olympics teach children valuable lessons

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics began on July 23, drawing in millions of fans who will root for their country’s top athletes. Young children may not know the hundreds of Olympic events or quite understand the magnitude of hundreds of countries coming together to celebrate the peak of human athleticism. Still, children join us to cheer on and be inspired by our nation’s Olympic athletes. Here are some of the valuable lessons children can learn from watching the Olympics:

Hard work and dedication can take them far

Olympic athletes are a testament to what we can accomplish through determination and effort. This lesson doesn’t escape even the youngest Olympic fans. Watch this toddler marvel at a female Olympic weightlifter’s strength and wish that she could have strong hands too:


Watching women’s weightlifting 🏋️‍♀️ #olympics #olympicweightlifting #tokyoolympics #funnytoddler #toddlertok #toddlersoftiktok

♬ Women are so strong – Tina

The Olympics illustrate that even those of us who face adversity in life can rise above expectations to make history and make our families proud. Our children may want to be astronauts, teachers or firefighters instead of professional athletes when they grow up. But when they see athletes fulfill their dreams by competing at the Olympics, children learn that they, too, can accomplish incredible things through hard work and dedication.

The importance of mental health

Fans were stunned when Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, abruptly withdrew from multiple gymnastics events at the 2021 Olympics citing mental health issues. Biles later spoke about this decision, saying that, possibly due to the stress caused by so much pressure, she experienced a case of the “twisties,” a phenomenon that gymnasts describe as losing their sense of spatial awareness during a routine. Competing with this frightening issue wouldn’t have just made winning more difficult, it would have worsened her mental health and put her at a greater risk of suffering a disastrous injury. By withdrawing, Biles demonstrated that she prioritized her mental health and overall well-being over scores and medals. And by supporting her, Biles’ medical staff, coaches and teammates showed that they cared about her more than her athletic prowess.

When we see athletes suffer from pushing themselves or being pushed too hard, we see that “winning at all costs” can indeed cost a lot. But when Olympic-level athletes put their well-being before their accomplishments, children see that prioritizing health over success is a strength, not a weakness. Someone who is both physically and mentally healthy is better prepared to succeed in sports as well as in their relationships, career and other areas of life. As more and more professional athletes shine a light on their personal struggles, children learn an important lesson: caring for our mental health and the mental health of those around us is a bigger win than any athletic feat.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The prominence of team sports in the Olympics teaches children the importance of working together as a team to achieve a common goal. Without each team member contributing, they cannot win. And when children watch a team succeed, they learn that trusting in each other, communicating with each other and relying on each other’s strengths will help a team achieve more together than alone. Children who learn to collaborate effectively with others can build strong relationships and excel in all kinds of group settings.

Appreciation for others in our world

The Olympics are a unique event in which hundreds of countries come together to celebrate athletic competition together. When children see the vast array of unique rituals, flags, clothing, body types and skin tones, they start to understand the huge diversity of cultures and people around the world. Cheering on our country’s athletes is a chance for parents to talk to their children about cultivating a community with those around us and celebrating that connection. It’s also a chance to discuss the importance of accepting and appreciating other cultures and seeing what we have in common. Cultural appreciation and awareness contribute to a child’s positive self-image, and having a strong foundation of belonging through cultural celebration and education helps children create a diverse social network as they grow up.

Winning isn’t everything

While winning is traditionally held as the most important goal in sports, the medal ceremonies aren’t why people love the Olympics. The stories of strength, struggle, redemption, perseverance and motivation are what draw us in. Children should understand that although only a select few athletes win medals, they have all still achieved something extraordinary and are an inspiration to their countries. Watching the Olympics with our children is a great opportunity to discuss the values of learning from our losses, not giving up after failing, coping with disappointment and having good sportsmanship. We can have empathy and respect for those who don’t win and we can also celebrate success even when it’s not our own. Who can watch American swimmers Lilly King and Annie Lazor celebrate South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker winning a gold medal and breaking a world record without smiling along with them?

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.