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Using the Olympics to Help Your Kids Learn a "Gold Medal" Attitude

02/24/2014 12:30 EST | Updated 04/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Since the opening ceremonies on February 7, my family had a serious case of Olympic fever. Along with many Canadians, the winter games have become a permanent fixture on our television screen, and a major topic of discussion around the dinner table. Occurring only once every two years, the Olympics present valuable learning opportunities for adults and children of all ages. Even as the 2014 Sochi Olympics end, parents can use these great learning opportunities to foster "a gold medal attitude" for children.

1. Do not fear failure

For every one athlete on the podium, there are thousands or more who don't make it. Olympic athletes commit to a lifelong journey of hard work and dedication, whilst knowing that failure to make the podium is a very possible outcome. Thus, these athletes have a level of intrinsic motivation that drives them past the fear of failure. Whether they succeed or fail, Olympic athletes must see each event as a learning experience.

Ever since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, our family have been fans of short-track speed skater Charles Hamelin. In this year's Olympics, Hamelin represented Canada in the 500-metre, 1,000-metre and 1,500-metre races. My son was saddened to see Hamelin fall during his 500-metre and 1,000-metre heats. "He was supposed to win the gold! How could he fall?" he shouted as Hamelin slid into the boards.

So, how did Hamelin handle the fall? Hamelin is a great example of how intrinsic motivation elicits pure passion and desire for self-improvement. He accepted his fall, displayed gratitude for being in the games, and a positive attitude to keep going (which he did when he achieved the gold in the 1,500-meter race!). The highs and lows of the Olympics can teach children that "unfortunate" things can happen in life, no matter how prepared you are. They can teach us that failure is not something to be feared or avoided, but rather a necessary step towards success.

2. Never give up

With less than four minutes left and the Canadian women down by two, many may have thought the game was "over" -- well it certainly was not. "Uh-oh, they're going to lose!" my son shouted. "Don't give up just yet," I responded. "They are still working really hard." As soon as those words rolled off my tongue, Marie-Philip Poulin scored the go-ahead goal for Canada.

The lesson to "never give up" and the benefits of a "growth" vs "fixed" mindset could not be highlighted more than in this women's gold medal game. According to Stanford's Professor Carol Dweck's http://mindsetonline.com research, excessive praise leads to a "fixed" mindset of being the "best", which makes kids more likely to give up if they are falling behind rather than try harder. In contrast, praising effort, not results leads to a "growth" mindset of continuing effort and working around obstacles. As parents, it is important to create an environment that fosters a growth mindset: an outlook where children see bouncing back from mistakes, effort despite being the "best", and persistent hard work as the keys to success. Kids need to learn the valuable "you get out, what you put in" lessons in life -- and the Olympics are a great display of how individual fortitude can ultimately lead to success.

3. Put yourself in another's shoes (or in this case skates).

The women's gold medal hockey game was a great moment to experience the feeling of empathy. Although we were happy for our Canadian team, one could not help but feel heartbroken for the American defeat. Empathy is in our nature, so go ahead - ask your kids questions like, "What do you think it feels like to be the American players right now?" In the last minute, when the puck hit the post instead of the empty net, perhaps the Americans were feeling life was not "fair" at all! Providing opportunities for children to connect and discuss personal and external experiences can provide rich learning experiences.

4. There is no "I" in team

As my children and I watched the Canadian men's hockey team celebrate their gold medal victory, we could sense the strong team unity that they displayed. The men's team were so successful because every player was focused on their individual responsibility as well as the teams overall mission -- to win gold. Jonathan Toews told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, "A huge credit goes to our commitment to playing a team game and will to win."

This men's hockey gold medal win illustrates to children the importance of collaboration and teamwork skills. After watching cooperative sport games, ask your children how they think each team worked together. Point out the positive behaviors you see between the team members, and connect these to child's own personal efforts, such as their excellent passing skills in soccer last weekend!

5. Believe in something beyond yourself

The Canadian speed skater Gilmore Junio illustrated his value for his community and country when he offered his Olympic spot to Denny Morrison, because he knew it was the best decision for his team as well as his country's chances to win. In an interview, Junio said, "[I am] proud to be Canadian, [and that] is something I wanted to give back to the country." As an Olympic contender, Junio knew he was not only in the games for himself, but for his team, and for all of Canada as well. It is important to educate our kids on the value of community and how it is important to think beyond oneself for the greater good. We are only as strong as our communities and Gilmore Junio provided a great value for that.