Six Summer Olympics Lessons for You and Your Kids

by Andrea Bailey Willits on Monday, June 25, 2012

This article is from HomeLife Magazine.

Editor's note: The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are from July 27-August 12, 2012. Since the writing of this article

  • Shawn Johnson decided to retire from gymnastics due to a knee injury following a skiing accident.
  • Bryan Clay failed to make the 2012 Olympic team for decathlon after he hit a hurdle.

    This month, your family will gather around the TV to cheer for your favorite sporting events at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. As you enjoy the adrenalin-charged competition, remind your kids about the years of determination, discipline, and sacrifice that shaped these athletes into champions. Want to know how they got where they are today? We asked two Olympic gold medalists to reflect on the life lessons their own families taught them - lessons you can pass on to your kids today.

    Going the distance

    A broken home. Rebellious teen years. A dangerous violent streak. Bryan Clay faced these obstacles and more on his way to the 2004 silver medal and the 2008 Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, which he hopes to defend at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Looking back, the husband to Sarah and father of a 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old says he could have ended up in prison or worse. But through the persistent prayers of Bryan's mother, who insisted he go out for track and field in middle school, Bryan found a new passion.

    "As I entered high school, she repeatedly told me: ‘God's got a plan for your life. He's got something special in your future. I know it,'" Bryan recalls.

    Bryan eventually dedicated himself to the decathlon, but he still faced obstacles despite wins in high school and college. His height and weight were below average for a decathlete, and his scores fell short of qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Bryan had committed his life to Christ but still struggled with partying and bad choices. However, he managed to stay focused on Olympic gold - thanks to his family in Christ.

    "I had people in my life, a support system," Bryan explains. "Isaac Newton has a quote: ‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.' People like my mom, wife, and coach have been the giants in my life. They raise me up and swallow their pride, and sacrifice to see me succeed. God intended for us to be in community. Success in life and faith is all about the people you surround yourselves with - accountability partners, people to encourage you."

    Today, Bryan, 32, relies on God and his family for strength to help him perform well. He hopes to become the first decathlete to medal in three Olympics. Bryan also prays for and encourages his own kids to embrace the faith and work ethic that changed his life.

    "What I've learned from my mom is that parenting is one of the most important jobs in the world - it's what shapes the beliefs and values in your kids," Bryan says. "Though they may not understand or follow your lifestyle in the beginning, when they hit that time of need, they will come back."

    Three lessons I teach my kids

    1. God first

    "When I was in college, it was something they preached to us all the time," Bryan says. "‘God first' really has shaped the way I do things now. My priorities are God, family, and track, and everything else last. I hope our kids see that modeled and put God at the forefront of their lives."

    2. Always try your best - even when things come easily to you

    "My son's really gifted in academics; he's a first grader reading at an eighth grade level," Bryan shares. "But we try to teach him about always giving his best even though he might be able to get away with writing three sentences on his homework."

    It's important to Bryan that he teaches his kids to strive for excellence rather than succumb to society's pressure to be the best. "You simply give 100 percent in everything you do and let that be OK," Bryan says.

    3. Win and lose well

    "Let your kids see how you handle winning and losing," Bryan says. "I share a lot of my own real-life experiences ... ‘Daddy does this, and this is how he deals with it.' I don't win every time I go out, but I always give my best effort and that's what I'm proud of. That's why God needs to be first, so we aren't defined by our wins and losses."

    A perfect balance

    Four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson grew up in an ordinary family in suburban Iowa, taking fishing trips with her dad. And that down-to-earth upbringing was exactly what helped mold her into an extraordinary athlete.

    "My parents are the type who never pushed me or made me go to practice," Shawn, 20, says. "I never had the dad who said, ‘You can't give up,' or ‘You have to win.' They were so supportive and wanted to be in the front row cheering me on no matter what I did."

    In elementary school, Shawn began taking lessons at Chow's Gymnastics and Dance Institute. Gymnastics brought out her playful side and her love of adrenalin. Still, Shawn's parents made sure her passion didn't become her whole life.

    "Mom and Dad talked freely with me about God," Shawn says. "They taught me to look to God as a tremendous source of comfort and peace through all of life's ups and downs. They encouraged me to talk with Him, and I know my mom regularly prayed for me."

    The road to elite competition was long, but by the time she was 13, Shawn had made the national gymnastics team and continued to climb to heights she never thought possible. She was named the 2007 all-around world champion and the 2007 and 2008 all-around U.S. champion. As a member of the 2008 U.S. women's gymnastics team, she won an Olympic gold medal and three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics. She even won the eighth season of "Dancing With the Stars." But in 2011, a ski injury to her knee threatened to end her promising career.

    "What drove me to overcome my injury was the challenge in my mind of Can I?" Shawn relates. "I always loved the physical part of gymnastics, pushing yourself and proving the naysayers wrong. After the accident, I felt physically unfit and mentally unhealthy, but gymnastics helped push me into a better place and turn my life around."

    Shawn's comeback on the gymnastics scene means she will once again compete for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team in London. But thanks to confidence from faith and family, she doesn't feel overwhelming pressure to win.

    "It's almost impossible, and I want to prove to people that it's possible," Shawn says. "I don't have anything else to prove, but what if I could go one step farther?"

    Three lessons my parents taught me

    1. Home is a safe place

    Rather than use their home life to talk about gymnastics, Shawn's parents gave her a welcomed time-out.

    "My parents' unconditional support led to my success because I had that backing and not the pressure that so many kids face every day," Shawn says. "I had a place to go to get away from it - home. They made it a place I always wanted to come back to."

    2. Don't be afraid to be different

    "Growing up, you're always trying to fit in with the popular crowd and do what everyone else is doing," Shawn says. "My parents told me to be my own person and do what I loved even if it was different. That taught me to have confidence in myself and who I was instead of finding someone else to rely on."

    3. Your worth is not in winning

    "It's not about the medal or the placement. Your worth is not determined by that. Faith has a lot to do with it - you're giving it your all, and no matter what the placement, you're still proud. Too many kids get caught up in determining their success or worth in the color they're wearing rather than what they've worked for."

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