Wednesday, July 27, 2016
In just a few days Rio de Janeiro will hold the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The city, which once evoked as “tall and tan and young and handsome” and bathers on sun-drenched beaches and dazzling Mardi Gras celebrations, has of late been portrayed less favorably. There are stories centered around body parts washed up near the beach volleyball venue, police warning tourists that they will not be protected, the threat of the Zika virus, rampant pollution so bad that venues for rowers, long distances swimmers and sailors have installed showers onsite to immediately cleanse the participants of all bacteria and toxins as soon as possible, and panic that several complexes will not be completed in time. This all is playing out against the backdrop of extreme political unrest and a severe economic crisis. It’s no wonder that several American athletes have opted out of this Olympics. Nevertheless, NBC, which owns the broadcast rights, has remained upbeat, counting down to August 5th with interviews and human interest stories of athletes, occasional on location reporting, and constant messages flashed at the bottom of their programming.
I choose to stay positive and, along with many others, am looking forward to these amazing two weeks, especially for the soccer. Although the US men didn’t qualify, there will be plenty of great men’s soccer to watch. We can also cheer on the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) while watching some high caliber female soccer players from around the world. The USWNT will play against New Zealand, France, and Colombia. Matches for men and women begin August 3rd and 4th, with the USWNT playing New Zealand on August 3rd at 6 p.m. EDT on NBCSN. The USWNT roster has several well-known members fans will remember from the 2015 World Cup team including Hope Solo, Ali Krieger, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd (ussoccer.com/stories/2016/07/12/15/35/160712-wnt-jill-ellis-names-2016-us-olympic-womens-soccer-team). The entire men’s and women’s tournament schedule can be downloaded at resources.fifa.com/mm/document/tournament/competition/02/73/19/20/olympicgames_rio_matchschedulemix_fifa_02052016_neutral.pdf and the TV schedule for all the Olympic events can be seen at nbcolympics.com/live-stream-schedule.
I remain hopeful that these Games will be as powerful as ever because the Olympics are inspirational for young athletes. Watching competitors who have achieved the highest level in their chosen sport gives these kids something to strive towards. More importantly, kids can observe techniques, preparation and skills that these premier athletes exhibit, which the youngsters can emulate. Kids can stretch the boundaries of their experience by watching athletes from all over the world while understanding that as great as the United States is in sports, we are not the only country in the world with the best of the best competing. Hopefully, despite the overall negative atmosphere of the Olympics, kids will be able to see and learn about the country of Brazil along with video postcards of other competing nations. Additionally, our children will be watching sports that aren’t big fan favorites in the United States, but have huge followings elsewhere around the globe such as rugby, cycling, table tennis, archery, and water polo. Perhaps they will be inspired to seek out one of these lesser known yet well-appreciated sports to pursue for themselves. Athletes need a sport that fits them, rather than trying to make themselves fit a sport. There are plenty of athletic kids who aren’t fast or strong, but have steadiness or quickness that would make them right for archery or table tennis. We don’t want to limit them to the four or five top sports played in the US. There are 32 sports represented at the Olympics but even these don’t include several significant sports such as cricket, baseball, and walking. That makes options for our children nearly limitless.
Generally following the Olympics there is a bump in girls who sign up for gymnastics and kids who clamor to dive. Using the Olympics to judge our own kids’ interest in sports can be very important. Many children are reticent to try a sport because they don’t see themselves in the athletes of sports like soccer, football, and basketball. Short girls will suddenly realize that their statue is valued in gymnastics, boys without speed will be delighted watching the moves of Taekwando and Judo athletes, and kids who love the water but aren’t the best swimmers may be excited by the prospect of diving. When our children show enthusiasm for a sport we need to jump on that interest to provide training opportunities. Many sports have state youth associations that are listed I would say in the phone book, but in truth we now find them with search engines. Likewise all sports have some type of governing organization which would be happy to steer us parents to coaches, teams, and clubs nearby where our children could participate in a sport. After an Olympics both of my daughters fell in love with the equestrian events. This is a sport that requires top dollar to pursue, but luckily we were living in Europe at the time where there is training for novices for a reasonable cost. The girls even got a week of training from the top equestrian rider in Ireland at the time for a mere $10 an hour. Amazing when training in the US can cost thousands. By the time we returned to live in the US, the girls’ interests had shifted to dance and swimming, so I didn’t have to face the question of “what are we going to do now?” However, I have since learned that there are affordable riding academies in many communities which can get kids started in the sport. So I would say that whatever sport sparks their interest during the Olympics is a sport we can provide for our kids.
I’m hoping that all the horribleness we’ve been warned about in these weeks preceding the Olympics don’t come true. I love the opportunity every four years to get a peek into sports I often forget about or just haven’t had any contact with. I don’t know the names of stars in most of the events, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying watching them. I’m amazed at the level of ability and for the most part humility that these competitors exhibit. I watch my kids and grandkids play sports, and naturally I think they are remarkable, but then I watch these super humans for two weeks and realize how far beyond most of us they fly. That’s good for all of us to experience. We parents need to accept that most of our kids will never compete at that level, but they can have a great sense of accomplishment, a world of fun, and develop life-long friendships, not to mention learning perseverance, team work, and setting goals. It’s good for our kids to see top athletes because they understand the work that lies ahead of them and the skills they need to hone. Robbie and Bryce would see a player execute a complicated step over move, which they would then go out in the courtyard and practice repeatedly until they had mastered it to their satisfaction. Seeing how good they could become motivates our kids to try to get there. The Olympics only come every four years, so we need to seize the chance to watch these athletes with our kids because in another four years our children may no longer be actual children and at the least will be far older and possibly past the time to begin a new sport. Therefore I hope that at the very least you’ll watch the soccer and at best you’ll look in on some of the less glamorous sports to get a taste of what’s out there.