Life Lessons from Team USA Athletes

Feb. 17, 2014, 2:05 p.m. (ET)

Currently our American athletes are thousands of miles away from home in Sochi, competing against the very best of the world.  And our kids are watching these men and women on TV in awe, wondering how they got "there."

Of course, these U.S. Olympic participants aren't just lucky or talented.  They've learned a lot over the years to be able to make it to the top.

Lessons like the courage it takes to respect an opponent.  Taking a "big picture" perspective.  How to recover from setbacks.

As parents, these are great lessons for your kids to keep in mind as they're watching the Games.

Liberty Mutual Insurance has spoken with some of America's top winter athletes and coaches about what they learned in play—and how that made a difference in life.

Set Goals Together.  At the beginning of any season, it's important that both you and your child each write down a separate list of youth sports goals.  Then compare lists.  Hopefully, there's agreement in important areas.  J.R. Celski, 2010 U.S. Olympic Bronze medalist, said his goal is to “be the best athlete and competitor I can be.”

The Right Coach Is Important.  It may not necessarily be the one who gives the most playing time or wins the most, but the one who teaches your children how to succeed off the field and sustains their love for the game.  So take your time choosing your child’s team!  Picabo Street, 1998 U.S. Olympic alpine skiing gold medalist, has strong opinions about this because of her four kids: "I will literally skate across town [for the right coach.]" 

Give Them a Break.  There can come a point when a young athlete plays so much that it isn't play for him or her anymore.  This is referred to as "burn out."  This can happen when an athlete practices too much, plays too many sports, or simply doesn't enjoy the game anymore.  Let them leave the game if they don't love it.  Sometimes, kids just need a long break to re-fill their Emotional Tanks.  J.R. Celski took a year off after the 2010 Olympics and began training again in the summer of 2011 for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Respect Your Opponents.  Your kids look to you in the stands and will emulate your behaviors.  So try to cheer for everybody, even the opponents!  Sometimes, for various reasons, it can be difficult to respect the other side.  It can take real courage.  Jenny Potter, U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey silver medalist, once received a post-game compliment from a Team Canada goaltender, of all people!

Be a Supportive Base.  Kids need to know that no matter what, win or lose, there is one place where they have unconditional support.  It's not necessary to talk about the game at home, unless they want to.  And if they do, remember that home should be a place of positivity.  Alyson Dudek, 2010 U.S. Speedskating bronze medalist, has a strong support system in her family. Her mom said, “We’ve never talked about the Olympics with Aly. That’s not what got her here. She just loves doing it.”

Patrick Meek, 2014 U.S. Speedskating Olympian, has a strong support system in his Father and Grandfather. They have always been there for him not only in skating but also in life. He said “That kind of support is absolutely invaluable for an athlete and a person.”

Look at the Big Picture.  As we mentioned, kids take their cues from you, their parents, and from their coaches.  If each game's result is treated as a matter of life and death, that pressure will seep into the fun your kids are having.  Results matter, but another way your kids can "win" is with what they learn from playing.  Tony Granato, 2014 U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team assistant coach, says, "If we could just look at it as a game…understand that there's a lot of learning that goes along with it and valuable lessons that will be important later on in life."

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