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5 Ways to Teach Your Kids Olympic Values

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Updated Aug 08, 2016
5 Ways to Teach Your Kids Olympic Values

As many of the world’s top athletes gather in Rio for the 2016 Olympics, their incredible skills will capture the attention of people worldwide – including many children and teens, who love to watch young athletes in action. But what’s even more compelling than the fastest bobsled race, highest ski jump, or most elegant figure skating program is the Olympic spirit that runs through the athletes’ stories.

Olympians draw their inspiration from a set of core values that prepare them to do their best as they compete, and to respond gracefully to whatever happens as a result of their best efforts. Each of those Olympic values is consistent with the timeless wisdom of the Bible. So you can help your kids grow in their faith by teaching them Olympic values as you watch and discuss this winter’s Olympics together. Here’s how:

1. Help them develop a strong work ethic. Olympians are known for their hard work – practicing their sport over and over again to develop their skills to the highest level possible. Steven Holcomb, leader of the American bobsled team in Sochi, has credited the value of hard work in helping him overcome serious obstacles (a degenerative eye disease and depression) to succeed in his sport. Holcomb has said that Olympians “have to make a lot of sacrifices” in order to focus on working hard, but that doing so is worthwhile for those who love what they do. “You have to love what you are doing and when you do you put your heart and soul into it and that takes it to the next level,” he said in a Reuters interview. As you talk with your kids about the value of hard work, you can point out that Proverbs 14:23 says: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” while Philippians 4:13 declares: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

2. Encourage them to approach both success and failure gracefully. Whether they win or lose, Olympians often respond with graceful attitudes that inspire others to consider what matters most: not the results of a single event, but the character of the person competing in it. U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner exemplified a graceful response to success when she made the Olympic team for Sochi despite her poor performance in the national championships. Officials choosing who to place on the American team decided to give a spot to Wagner based on her reputation as a top skater at most events, rather than let her mistakes at the championships keep her out of the Olympics. Wagner responded to her successful bid for the team with humility and gratitude, bringing to mind James 4:10, which says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, who will also compete in Sochi, exemplified a graceful response to failure in the decisions she made after heartbreaking previous experiences: She missed the 2006 Olympics after a runaway sled hit and injured her during training, and she missed the medal platform at the 2010 Olympics by just one-tenth of a second in her sledding time. After retiring from the sport and having children, Pikus-Pace says she sensed a call to return to skeleton racing and decided that she wouldn’t let regrets about her previous Olympic failures hold her back. “We have a choice [when facing failure],” she said in an interview with Reuters. “We can look back and be upset or choose to learn from it, see what we can take out of it and just choose to be stronger and better people.” You can point out to your kids that God stands ready to help them learn from their failures and empower them to move forward. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God “said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

3. Teach them excellence. The International Olympic Committee states that excellence is one of the core values around which the Olympic movement is constructed. Olympians strive to put their best effort into each practice and competition. They aim to do their personal best, no matter what circumstances or other competitors they may be facing at the time. U.S. speed skater Shani Davis, who will compete in Sochi, is known for his commitment to excellence. Davis, who trains alone (unlike most other speed skaters, who train in groups), said in an interview for the Team USA website that when he goes to Sochi, “I just simply want to go there, do my best, and if I’m the best man that given day, I’ll be more than happy to take home a gold medal and add to my collection. If not, I tried my best and that’s the best I can do.” As you watch excellence in action at the Olympics, you and your kids can discuss Ecclesiastes 9:10 (“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”) and Colossians 3:23-24 (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”) Encourage your kids to do their best in every situation to honor God, who cheers them on to reach their full potential.

4. Teach them friendship. Another one of the International Olympic Committee’s core values is friendship. Olympic athletes gather from around the world to compete, and in the process they form friendships with each other. They watch each other work hard, encourage each other, and sometimes make sacrifices to support each other. Twin sisters Tracy and Lanny Barnes, American biathlon athletes who share a strong friendship with each other, made news headlines when both were trying to make the Olympic team for Sochi. Lanny couldn’t participate in all of the required selection races due to illness, but she had delivered strong performances throughout the season prior to the qualifying races. After Tracy earned a spot on the Olympic team, she chose to give her spot to Lanny because Tracy thought Lanny deserved it more than she did, given her stronger performance over the past year. “I would have loved the opportunity to represent my country but it means more to me to give Lanny that chance,” Tracy said in an interview with USA Today. “I think she'll do great things.” While discussing friendship with your kids, you can talk about Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, which declares: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

5. Teach them respect. The last of the International Olympic Committee’s three official core values is respect. Olympians respect each other’s value as people, and also as team players who make valuable contributions to others. Choosing players for the U.S. men’s hockey team, team general manager David Poile made some controversial decisions, leaving out some of the best American hockey players. But Poile said that rather than choosing an all-star team, he was trying to choose a team of players whose specialties complemented each other, so they could work together with respect and maximize their chances of winning a gold medal. When watching respect in action among Olympic teammates, you and your kids can discuss why it’s important to respect each other as members of your family’s team. You can also talk about what respect looks like practical terms, such as treating people well, just as you hope they’ll treat you.  Jesus says in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Watching the 2016 Summer Olympics can be much more than just a fun experience for your family. It can be an inspirational time full of teachable moments that help your children or teens develop stronger character. Whether or not your kids ever win gold medals, they’ll succeed in life if they learn Olympic values!

Whitney Hopler, who has served as a contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at:

Publication date: January 31, 2014