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Olympic Games Challenges for the Youth


Olympic Games Challenges for the Youth


“Not knowing that the task was impossible, he went there and did it!” Jean Cocteau

The purpose of this presentation is to overview “why” and “how” the Olympic Games continue to inspire our youth and how our youth can pay it forward by carrying out Olympism for generations to come. Focusing on insights provided by the International Olympic Academy and new issues emerging from the conceptualization of the Youth Olympic Games, new trends pose challenges and opportunities to a generation in quest of human interaction, sustainability, and human achievement. Furthermore, the coexistence of four distinct manifestations of the Olympic ideal (Summer Olympics, Paralympics, Winter Olympics and Youth Olympic Games) bring to light the hope of democratization of communities, increased accessibility to sports and the acquisition of a purposeful philosophy of life carried out through Olympism. This paper supports the implementation of Olympism in schools as a transverse theme. A cross discipline approach of Olympic values in schools represent a possibility that our youth can directly identify themselves with all manifestations of the Olympic ideals now and in the future, associating sports with major humanity themes such as social justice, sustainability, citizenship, freedom and democracy.

The youth quest for identity: Sports as a unique enterprise of Olympic education

In order to address the importance of the Olympic Games and the challenges that it poses to the youth of this generation, I would like to share an illustration from a young king from ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, a Sphinx terrorised the people of Thebes, killing everyone passing by unless they answered its riddle:

– “Decipher me or I will devour you! I have four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening, but I am weakest when I have the most legs. What am I?”

– “Man!” [A human being!] Oedipus replied. Oedipus became a Greek hero when he explained that the Sphinx referred to the enigma of humans. The eagle winged monster was describing the developmental stages of a human being, who walks on fours as a baby, on two legs as an adult, and with a cane as a third leg when he/she grows old. The Sphinx killed herself... In essence, this drama denounces the flawed nature of humanity and human’s powerlessness facing the complexity of life itself.

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The perspective of the Youth Games as a new venue for Olympism can be compared to the answer Oedipus gave to the Sphinx. As a new Olympic event, the Youth Olympics adds the balance once again to the international athletic community. Hopefully, the experiences lived in the Youth Olympics will be carried out into the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. As a whole, those three versions foster the quest for new possibilities intended to rescue the true identity of the Games for this generation and generations to come. The culture and education programme proposed in the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore represents an ambitious and comprehensive political-pedagogical project for participating governing bodies as well as for the host country (IOC, 2012). It represents a sports academy assigned as a lifelong experience closely related to the notion that sports are a unique enterprise of Olympic education. In light of the new Youth Games, this generation has an opportunity to create a mindset that embraces the person as a whole. Every time that we divide our views of a person, conceptually we create a new Sphinx. Every time we see each other as enemies instead of brothers and sisters we reduce our humanity into a mytho- logical beast. We are one! The Olympic Games provide our youth a challenge of self-identity, inquiry-based learning, civic purpose, and athletic bravery. Living the Olympic experience provides life skills unique to sports participation. Ontologically speaking, this is a lesson related with in a mindset of openness and commitment to fraternal relations. The new trilogy of the Games brings a new balance eliciting “let’s compete together so we can achieve great things despite our differences”. One must experience the Olympic Games to fully understand it. Therefore, the Olympic Games represent a school of life through sports in which psychological outcomes lead to positive youth development, social responsibility and positive leadership (Ullrich-French, McDonough & Smith, 2012).

New schools for the X-generation: In search of a school of sports

Schools all over the world need improvement, advancement and enrichment. Our schools are not perfect and children spend a great amount of their school time inactive. Moreover, there are still conservative-based schools that dichotomise the person and reduce knowledge to content that is not meaningful to students. In many of these institutions, athletics are viewed as a conflict to academics. Academics and athletics should be viewed and taught as one. In most schools we have eight disciplines for the mind and one for the body. In the dawn of the XXI Century we still hear the voice of the Sphinx saying: “–Academics first!” Why? Is movement knowledge? Yes, it is! Procedural knowledge, the knowledge of doing, the craftsman wisdom has been reduced into cheap labour. Talking, thinking, and moving are human processes that represent our indivisible being. Is it the mind over matter or the matter over mind? Is the cup half empty or half full? The truth is the brain is body too!

Our temporarily able bodies represent the essence of our lives! Yet, we do not have a school that contemplates the person as a whole. The body is neglected, physical education is undermined and sports are ostracised in many schools. Schools should be a place for movement but what we have are schools out of balance. Schools must implement a balanced curriculum that makes learning fun, engaging and effective. A major challenge of our time deals with the notion that we need to provide quality education to all children and this education should embrace sports, music, arts, dance, physical education, foreign language, and humanities. Instead, we need to think about the Sphinx “the parts” are disconnected from “the whole”. We need the sum of seven B’s for an A+ in schooling! For instance, modern schools depend on the bell (quality time), the banana (nutrition), the broom (cleanliness), the bus (transportation), the black-board (instruction), the books (resources) and the ball (athletics). It is time that we value all aspects of schooling and education; however for students, many schools still exclude the body. As a physical educator and multisport coach I still see false dichotomies in our public school systems. How awesome if we could offer more balls (sports) for all of our children? I would be thrilled to see our communities transforming schools for peace through sports, culture, education, and arts! Notice that I said “transforming” suggesting a continuum...never ending! Teaching Olympic Education, in my opinion, could be a start for this transformation.

Becoming an Olympian: A child’s dream!

Inspired by our young Greeks and many other Olympic heroes, I want to discuss the nature of expertise in sports and also talk briefly about Olympians as humans in a changing world!

“As babies” or during the early stages of their careers, Olympians need the nurturing protection and support of their parents. Then, with time, athletes with more autonomy learn how to train, how to compete and how to win. Later in life, in their temporarily able bodies, the need of a cane becomes inevitable as we transition into an aging phase. We need a school of sports or a continuum sports academy. Using this illustration, I would like to explain the need of a better understanding of the Olympic Games and its meaning for the youth of our time.

If a parent asks: “–What does my child need to do to become an Olympian?” My first answer is: – “Is this a dream or a vision?” Either as a dream or a vision, an interpretation is needed with further appropriate action. A child’s dreaming is very serious. A young child dreaming about winning a gold medal in the Olympic Games or a soccer player from the slums of Brazil dreaming to become a star is a true challenge. I have said last year that the Olympic dream poses the challenges of opportunity and possibilities. Therefore, I would like to discuss the Olympic Games as such in a thought-provoking way.

The understanding of how the Olympic Games poses challenges for the youth requires a deep reflection upon: (1) the meaning of the Games for youth; (2) youth perceptions of Olympic sports’ participation; (3) current issues and constraints in talent selection and (4) philosophical views of how and why Olympism relates to young children, teenagers, and young adults.

First, we know that youth have a need to acquire a philosophy of life, to live dangerously, and to socialise while exploring adventures. From a sport play theory stand-point, we know that sports provide all of those needs to athletes. The Olympic Games represent a challenge and a purpose of life in itself for youngsters. Children love sports and its meanings. Olympism is in fact, a way of life! This is neither a linear nor a rational process, but rather unpredictable, interdependent, complex, and dialectical.

Second, with the conceptualization of the Youth Olympic Games, children and teenagers from all over the world have a new realm of possibilities to make their dreams come true and to create an unparalleled social connection and promote Olympism in their home countries and communities (IOC, 2012; Ullrich-French,, 2012). Thirdly, much effort, motivation, planning, proper utilisation of resources, and quality of coaching is needed if one wishes to pursue the path to excellence in sports (Da Matta, 2004; Salmela, 1995; Salmela & Moraes, 2003). Finally, it is imperative that parents, coaches, administrators, and the athletes themselves live the Olympic values believing that it is possible to live the dream on and off court. For instance, is it possible to achieve excellence without doping? Is it possible to be on top of Olympic glory and not become insane? Can the Olympics provide a philosophical stance that fosters equality, sustainability, and a true Olympic legacy of peace and prosperity?

This is a matter of commitment from all stakeholders. This depends on what we believe and on what we want to believe as individuals and as a collective community.

– “What am I?” Said the Sphinx... What is our answer?

Back to the daily life of the Olympians, once one acquires the vision, the dream must be conquered through every practice, every week, and every match (blood, sweat, and tears)!

Walking on your own: The commitment to autonomy and practice

The Olympic thrill is not based on the glory to win but on the will to prepare. A vision towards being successful in sports at any level requires a realistic understanding that much preparation is needed in order to make [the neighbors’ team], the school team, the regional team, the state select high performance team, the college team, and finally, be selected and stay at the national team. Success in sports requires lots of effort and practice. And Olympic success is only possible with proper instruction, practice, and expertise (Baker & Côté, 2003; Maxwell, 2007). The vision will be the sparkle for one to take the first step. Procedural skills develop over time with quality of practice, good coaching, and an intentional drive to perform. This is excellence!

The Olympics are not only games, they are something much more. The Olympic Games represent a wealth of possibilities for human socialisation, human development, and human interaction. They are a way for the world to come together as one, enjoying a few days united, and to celebrate their countries culture, finding pride in what their countries represent. For the first night of the Olympics the world comes to a stop, while everyone watches the opening ceremony and sporting events that unfold during the games. During the Olympics the world almost becomes one “village” instead of many “tribes”. Like in the ancient times, every day there is war [or a rumor of wars] going on in our world. We never hear about the good things that happen in the world. We never hear about friendly competition between countries, only the fatal conflicts, threats, catastrophes, and violence that arise between them. The Olympics is a time for countries to compete in a peaceful way, against each other but nonetheless practicing and playing with each other (Orlick, 1990).

According to the voices of Olympic athletes, the Olympics are a time for countries to put their differences in perspective. In the Theatre of the Oppressed the philosopher Paulo Freire elicits a new background that advances the meaning of shaking the hands of enemies in a hope that the catharsis of a sports experience might change the status quo (Burlesson, 2003). We all know that we cannot be naïve about class struggles, social justices, and international conflict; however the Games present an ultimate peaceful experience that can, perhaps, be transposed into prosperous relations in a pluralistic world. The Olympic Games teach democratic education!

“Democracy and democratic education are founded on faith in (humans), on the belief that they not only can but should discuss the problems of their communities and the problems of democracy itself”. (Freire cited in Jennings & Da Matta, 2009)

In fact, for those who embrace Olympism, there has been reported a mysterious but real feeling of human camaraderie on court and at the Olympic village. It is not unusual to see young and old, men and women that are competing in the games meet and greet each other, and while some matches may not always be the nicest of confrontations, they usually bring a sense of togetherness between the athletes. This is respect!

The triad of the undone: Living the dream; paying forward!

After experiencing an Olympic adventure, one must think about what is next. What is the next season? What is the next step as a player, a coach, a parent, or a person? Life must move on! The Olympic experience does not have an end, or at least it should not. This is the third stage [sphinx: three legs] where everyone needs to use the cane to face the joy or the disappointments of sports while thinking about the positive lessons acquired throughout the journey. Being optimist and not done depict a successful approach of trying your best. Olympians are humans! It is critical to live a balanced life and to honour the main reasons why one became successful: family, friends, fun, and fans. In every age and in every stage elite players have described that they play and perform their best because it is fun! So, at this stage it is so important to pass this “fun” on. Athletes sometime become inspirational speakers, journalists, business people or even Hollywood actors, but regardless what the new career is, a healthy detachment from the Olympic arena requires a certain level of counseling, support, advice, and guidance. In my opinion, this is the role of the National Governing Bodies. The dissemination of the Olympic education, Olympism, and Olympic ideals in communities, schools, clubs, and grassroots systems as a new phase of expertise development: Being an Olympic ambassador!

We also forget that not only do men and women competing in the games meet many others from different countries, but also millions of fans come to watch these games from all parts of the world. These fans also get to come into contact with people from neighboring and enemy countries [Enemy countries...until when are we going to continue this nonsense?]. But for those few days they put what grudges they have behind them and enjoy the scenery around them. They enjoy the atmosphere they are in even though they may be sitting next to people they thought they did not like. These few days are a blueprint for what our world should be when it comes to democracy, youth expression and the ways our borderless countries interact. Our humanity, the diversity of thoughts and caring for humankind should prevail and inspire us all through the Games and through the prowess of our youth role models, winning or losing, at that level, always heroes and never villains. To see two arch enemies shaking hands after an Olympic match and know that these later become friends for a lifetime...this is friendship!

Therefore, the Olympic ideals must be disseminated among youth so they can reap the benefits of (1) how they can become better than themselves (excellence); (2) relate to others with equality and dignity (respect), and (3) nurture strong relations that will last a lifetime (friendship). This intrinsic motivation might be a true leverage towards achieving the Olympic dream (Santo & Mildner, 2010; Andranovich, Burbank & Heying, 2010).

More education, less politics and more sports

The youth are the protagonists of the Olympics. As stated by the IOC, the Olympics should prioritise education, peace, and the awareness of global issues.“In addition to the sports competitions programme, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) feature an extensive Culture and Education Programme (CEP), which aims to introduce young athletes to Olympism and the Olympic values in a fun and festive spirit, and to raise awareness of important issues such as the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, the fight against doping, global challenges and their role as sports ambassadors in their communities” (IOC, 2012).

Athletes are the heroes of our time. For the youth, the performance in the sporting arena has created fascination, admiration and a true devotion to the point that Olympic athletes can even inspire children to embrace a sport as their life-long sport careers. So, sports heroes must always be presented in a perspective of being flawed humans therefore, realistically, youth will not experience the disappointment and frustration that perhaps their idols have fallen into a drug enhancement abuse, negative behavior, crimes, or scandals of any sort. In a way, the Olympic Games are the one time that our world can come together as one and be unified by what elevates humans: The joy of human (youth) achievement! I do not understand why our countries cannot just look at what takes place at these games and build youth positive experiences/relationships on that. There is evidence that youth can benefit from social competence, practice, leadership, physical competence, self-worth, affiliation to physical activity, and hope as a result of physical activity participation (Maxwell, 2007; Ullrich-French, et. al., 2012).

The legacy of democracy: The challenge of dialogue through sports!

The Olympic Games show that it is possible to reach dialogue and democracy under extraneous circumstances. The human interaction during the Olympic Games and the friendship environment at the Olympic village is amazing. Holding doors for people from other countries, helping them out when they are in need, that’s all we need in our world today. If we had this happen every day, there would be no war and hate in this world. We let the people decide on the outcomes that occur during the Olympic Games. By the people deciding the outcomes in a fair and equal environment, we are taking the democratic vision and applying it firsthand the way it should be. The Games are not decided by one person or one group; they are decided by thousands of people that take part in them. This shows that democracy can work without any flaws if it is used correctly in its purist form. If we let ourselves decide on the outcome by being fair and using friendly competition the world would be a much better one. Competition, cooperation, and conflicts speak a common language in any sports environment and we can learn so much through them (Andranovich, et. al., 2010).

Olympics and Youth Sports: From “Zeros” to “Heroes”!

Perhaps with few exceptions, the Olympic Games and its values bring universal challenges for a generation that has affiliation towards excellence, respect, and friendship. The sports arena offers the ideal environment that matches the needs of youth regarding the Olympic ideals and their search for competition, adventure, and curiosity. The lessons learned in sports cannot be acquired anywhere else. More specifically, the Olympic Games invite youth to think about sports as a socialisation tool, as means to promote peace, as a way of self-actualising, and a good reason to preserve earth for future generations (IOC, 2012; IOA, 2013).

Athletes’ perceptions of the Olympic Games: Becoming an expert!

The pursuit to excellence is one of the challenges experienced by Olympians. In the case of women’s volleyball, at the elite level, the will to prepare implies enduring approximately 8,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach the threshold of expertise and then, from 2,000- 4,000 hours to consolidate exceptional levels of performance towards an Olympic Medal (Da Matta, 2004; Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer, 1993). Inevitably, once an athlete reaches top levels of performances he/she will engage in at least one or two Olympic cycles depending upon the sport modality. The combination of winning the Olympics, the international world championships and then winning the Olympics again have been emphasised as criteria towards expertise in team sports. In certain cases, like in Beach Volleyball, the team Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings epitomises the example of dominance through practice after winning three consecutive gold medals in the Olympic Games. But... in which extent does May-Treanor/ Walsh Jennings 12 years of dominance impact girls participation in sports? Is it possible to win three Olympic Games? And, still have a family? The answer is yes! But there are lots of sacrifices to be made!

This is the empowering legacy. The legacy of reality being achievable! This is the bridge/challenge posed to our Olympians in regard to their social responsibility within their own community, engagement into practice and search for excellence according to the rules (Ericsson, Charness, Feltovich & Hoffman, 2009; Hellison, 2011; Maxwell, 2007).

The creation of new sports: Adapting to new Olympic events programme.

Another challenge posed by the Olympic Games consists of providing a sport for every person. Since the conceptualization of the modern Olympic Games we have observed that sports participation is contextual, cultural, and conventional. As such, it would be appropriate to say that there is a sport for every person. But, another point of view is: there are many sports in every culture. Sports development is a dynamic process. As we speak, there is a child playing a sport and perhaps, re-inventing one. For instance, from observing the five continents, it seems that new sports are being played as an integral part of a cultural expression. As part of this cultural context, the Olympic Programme Commission (OPC) has added and dropped sports over the past Olympic Games. This certainly poses a challenge for every youth community across the globe. In order to add six sports at Sochi Winter Olympics, the OPC considered factors such as universality, gender equity and youth appeal (IOC, 2012).

In 2006, I led the Sports Ambassadors in a study abroad programme in Brazil aiming to document new sports played systematically in an organised fashion. In order to validate our criteria the observed sports need to be clearly identified as “organised” with scheduled tournaments, specific rules, regulated clubs, coaches associations of that given sport, and public recognition through a cohort of spectators. Moreover, the sport should represent a viable product for the sports management industry in order to self-sustain businesses for spectators, media, and sponsors for a long run. As result, investigators found six unique sports such as Capoeira, Beach Handball, Biribol, Peteca, Futsal, and Futvolei that fulfill all the criteria for the new sports research project (Da Matta, 2010).

Finding a sport of a lifetime: Sports identification vs. talent identification

How does a person find a sport of his/her lifetime? How can we find or develop new experts? How can a club or a country search, develop, and retain expert athletes? How can a parent guide their children on the road to expertise in sports? How can athletes conciliate their athletic career with their academics? Is talent identification or sports selection a matter of genetics? Is talent development programmed in our genome?

These questions represent critical issues towards a holistic view of Olympism and empowerment through youth sports legacy. There is evidence that shows that both genetics and environment contribute to success in sports. Nonetheless, searching for sport talent is a very complex process, as complex as one trying to find a sport that will become his/her passion for a lifetime. Talent development and talent retention are two specific phenomena that sports scientists have dedicated much attention to, in order to explain youth exceptional performance in sporting arenas. From a coaching perspective, recruiting an athlete who possesses the physical characteristics, the fundamental skills, and the passion for a given sport represents a challenge; however the true challenge is a child, who dreams of being an Olympic athlete, choosing the sport that he/she loves. Researchers have studied the anthropometric measures and physical characteristics of elite youth in order to better understand the relation between sport selection, physical characteristics and physical ability (Haiachi & Da Matta, 2012). Findings were very counter intuitive due to environmental factors, maturational, motivation, and accessibility. In this study, 80 elite volleyball players U19 of three distinct levels of expertise were tested on ability, maturation, and physical characteristics. Physical characteristics were a major factor for selection but essentially only early mature athletes were starters. Although undergoing maturation, athletes with the potential to reach higher indexes of height peak velocity in commitment, readiness, and ability were also selected. A discussion on the identification, selection, and use of the sporting talent must be revised and re-visited in some sports. When establishing parameters for understanding motor performance of young athletes the use of scientifically-based information might lead into a more reliable decision towards long-term athletes’ development. The study presented results describing high capacity motor coordination combined with a provision for speed, strength, and coordination, facilitating the implementation of technical changes during practices and eliciting the optimization of long-term athletes’ performance through practice and education (Haiachi & Da Matta, 2012).

Studying the volleyball national teams of Brazil from 1994 through present, researchers found that athletes were socialised into their sport because of available resources, access to specialised coaching, family support, and due the implementation of a national sports development programme that prescribed the increase of amount of practice for their high performance youth programmes as well as through a national standardisation of sports excellence project (Da Matta, 2004).

Talent Selection: What are the criteria?

Anecdotal and research evidence shows that most the early mature players are selected, in most sports based on immediate performances. Coaches for the most part reported that the main criteria for identifying a talent are immediate performance during tryouts at all levels.

“I can see a good child playing with great skills and accuracy and that is enough for me to say that I want that athlete in my team...I know that many players might have potential but we live in a culture that winning is still the most important thing, so I know I can get parents, players and my director happy if we have a winning season”.

Intermediate/ Regional Coach

Moreover, many potential players are simply eliminated because they don’t have the financial support to pay for sports expenses. The economics of modernday American youth sport programmes carry with them the high probability of exclusion of individuals of lower SES status; Such high stakes approach is not fair and it might lead into a huge waste of human capital; loss of youth talent! To date, we have virtually little knowledge that explains how youth with minimal access to skill development opportunities become highly proficient and have access to the Olympic dream as a concrete possibility (i.e., Marta in soccer).

The need of science in youth sports: The challenge of research!

Overall, there is a major need for research, knowledge dissemination, and scientific application in youth sports. The lack of scientific grounding to most talent identification systems represents both a challenge and an opportunity. For instance, “talent identification” tends to become synonymous with immediate performance, where the early mature athletes are selected. Immediate performance is again the only criteria for selecting and detecting talent. Thus, there is a need to disseminate evidence-based studies on expertise development to practitioners in clubs, junior Olympic and other competitive youth groups. Such dissemination aims to create more opportunities, choices and increase participation, instead of excluding players that would have the potential to become great. Moreover, there is a need to research more efficient ways to select, detect, develop, maintain, and retain talent [young athletes] in sports. The traditional approaches are neither neces- sarily fair nor effective; however, the use of evidence-based approach represents a new paradigm in youth sports, thus being a closer bridge towards achieving the principle towards Olympism and the Olympic ideal. Physical precocity, the effects of maturational rate, and timing has rarely been addressed as leading to poor inclusion choices. Evidence of talent identification bias requires further investigation regarding the “relative-age effect” and its implications for tryouts, elite selection and other participation issues as it constrains accessibility of late mature children in a given year due to the cutoff date (Ericsson,, 2009). A “continuous drive to learn” is one of the hallmarks of retrospective reports of athletes who reach elite performance as world or Olympic champions. Redefining fun is much needed. Many athletes tend to find appropriate practice enjoyable and motivating across all developmental stages. Certainly, the skill development process is a prerequisite towards achieving the Olympic dream but practice hard is not necessarily fun (Côté, 2003; Salmela 1995). Thus, it is appropriate to say that playing sports (having fun) without acquiring proper skills to sustain performance is actually not ideal neither (Da Matta, 2004; Helsen, Starkes, & Hodges, 1998).

“When I was 16 I was already a veteran and somehow old in my sport. Throughout my career my practices have been extremely hard. I have endured it, but it was not what I can call fun at all” (Expert 4 – Olympic Gold Medallist 2012).

A biologically mature athlete has different practice needs that an early mature athlete. Such differentiation is even stronger when athletes’ psychological and technical development adds into the equation. “When I stopped playing, that’s when all this came crumbling down”, Capriati told the New York Daily News in 2007. “If I don’t have [tennis], who am I? What am I? I was just alive because of this. I’ve had to ask, ‘Well, who is Jennifer? What if this is gone now?”

In summary, understanding the complexities of expertise development in sports is as important as engaging in purposeful systematic practice across ages. Learning motor skills take time therefore; young athletes increasing in maturity and skills levels will also require distinct coaching and practice regiments in order to continuously optimise their overall long-term development.

The Olympic hope: Dreaming and acting fearlessly!

The Olympic reality is a dream that the youth have chosen to dream fearlessly. Look at the example of Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin during the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Both swimmers at distinct stages of their careers decided to have fun and triumphed in their purposes. They have certainly accumulated thousands of hours of deliberate practice across their careers but without loving it they would not have endured their first month of practice. I would also like to mention Misty-May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings third gold medal achievement...they all have defied the notion that fun is not part of the equation. As a matter of fact, working hard, practising smart and purposefully is and should be fun. It is about dreaming and doing!

We have mentioned about positive youth development so it is important to also stress the need for positive reinforcement, which is backed by years of research in various disciplines. Too often, some coaches utilise corporal punishment in young children when they miss a serve or when they “freeze” before going to a ball. Many coaches might even think that for a teenager growing a couple of millimeters per week it is easy to play a ball moving at 40 km/h, but the truth is that children are not adults in miniature. Therefore, it would be understandable for a coach to tell their players: “–Come on! Go to the ball!!!” Or, if those players would happen to have lost a match, it would be reasonable for the coaches to be upset and truly get on their players so they would not lose again. But to make them run to exhaustion, as punishment!? That is not recommended and there is no research to support this practice (NASPE, 2012).

Do young athletes (teenagers 12-18 years of age), lose on purpose? Don’t they listen to their coaches? If they do, maybe they “deserve a lesson”, but if not, why punish them? If a coach makes a bad decision, or misses a time out (in volleyball), do they run sprints or do 10 “suicides” because of their mistakes? Maybe they should, but the fact is they don’t. So, why are we punishing our younger players? Research show that the positive coaching is more effective and efficient that any punishment (Nakamura, 1996; Ullrich-French,, 2012).

In London, Olympians from sand volleyball, soccer and swimmers performed fearlessly. They decided to live their dreams for their families, teammates and friends with an outspoken intent to enjoy the Olympic Games. Their performances were optimised by inspirational parenting. Yes, this Olympic dream for swimmers and beach volleyball players was only possible because their parents/families provided good meals, transportation, counseling, coaching, moral guidance, and financial support (Bloom, 1985). In fact, there is a wealth of evidence showing the importance of family and parental support in achieving expertise. In theory, it makes sense to utilise parent skills in talent development; however such resources are often overlooked by practitioners and sports managers (Bloom, 1985; Vianna, Jr., 2002). Indeed, both contexts (pool and beach) represent a challenging stage for our youth. Some might say that they cannot train or go to competitions because of family constraints. Well, both Kerry Walsh Jennings and Misty-May-Treanor went to the London Olympics with their families. Kerry, mother of two, was preg- nant and yet, she delivered a world-class performance that should get every girl in the world “on fire”. Their performances were sharp, “hot” and delivered with huge smiles. The only regret Missy Franklin had was not to be able to teach lessons to young kids because she had no time. In an interview to ESPN she explained:

“Those children represent the future...when you see young swimmers loving it so much it reminds me why I love it too!” (Missy Franklin – ESPN, 2012)

These young Olympic heroes are re-shaping the meaning of human movement for our youth. Yes let’s create pools so all children will learn how to swim properly and enjoy the democratic and fun endeavors of playing Olympic sports such as beach volleyball with any bathing suits of their choices (Santo and Mildner, 2010). Just to point out that the challenge here deals with universality, accessibility, and choice. Thus, it is imperative to implement Olympic sports in all levels of schooling, but first and foremost at higher education physical education programmes.

Conclusion: The Youth, Winter and Summer Olympics: The trilogy of possibilities!

In summary, the Olympic Games have everything to do with challenging our youth to strive for excellence, be respectful, nurture good relationships, and have fun! Overall, the challenges posed by the Olympic Games to youth must be seen as major opportunities to empower youth in regard to embracing Olympism and the Olympic Games legacy. Sport psychologists and sociologists have highlighted the drawbacks of using corporal punishment but even today I can still see it happening. We have banned the use of drugs but we still have long ways to go in regard to respecting the Athletes’ Bill of Rights (Martens, 1976). Fortunately, nobody has to face the Sphinx anymore. But in our generation we still have to face illiteracy, obesity, intolerance, bigotry, gun violence, youth violence, climate change, and poverty (Banks, 2006). It is highly suggested to implement Olympic education in Physical Education programmes, in Physical Education higher education and also implement Olympism in our community sports programmes. After, interviewing 18 elite players and 14 Olympic gold medallists, I documented them reporting that they played and practised for more than 16 years because they have fun and love the game. Research suggests that whether winning or losing, a follow through set of guidance (psychological, moral, and social support) should be present allowing the “super heroes” to become mere mortals again and live a healthy, happy, and active Olympian lifestyle.

The Youth, Winter, and Summer Games have created more challenges and opportunities for our youth than ever before but we are still falling short in providing sports as a fundamental right of every child and citizen. Those three events and their correspondent Paralympics represent the trilogy of challenges for our youth. It is time to get off the screens, get outside, and be active (Metheny, 1968; NASPE, 2012)!

The self-determination, self-discipline, and intrinsic motivation helps one to be responsible in the decision making process of an athlete’s life. In Paralympic Games, teaching towards coaches’ autonomy and basic needs satisfaction was the key factor towards empowering and developing true Olympic ambassadors (Banack, Sabiston, and Bloom, 2011). Athletes must be in charge of their own process of learning and being intrinsically motivated. Bottom up approaches truly help to develop the need of dialogue as well as the desire to achieve greatness (Hammerness, 2006). Top down approaches ignore the needs of athletes and do not help to solve problems. In addition to the Paralympics, all the Games represent a set of challenges, adventures, businesses, and lifelong endeavors that any young person, like Alexander the Great, could embrace and knowing that it is possible... knowing that it is at their reach, just go there and do it. At age of 25 Alexander, the Great, conquered the world. Perhaps, he knew he could do it. Perhaps, being a noble king he already have the resources, ambition, and the military power to face his challenges, nonetheless, he did it! Nowadays, history has documented the prowess of young people, young experts, and youth re-shaping the lines of history.

The human capital and the amount of talent among youth are limitless. One way or the other, all children and talented people across the globe are simply waiting for an opportunity.

The Olympic Games can be the symbioses of youth challenges and opportunities! And, certainly the youth will be the ambassadors of Olympism in every corner of this world carrying on the hope, peace, and ideals of the Games for the generations to come. As Rio leaps into the next Summer Games, each Olympian should promote their own “Street Olympic Games”, “School Olympic Games”, or even “Neighbors Olympic Games”. How challenging! Carry on. Thanks!


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DA MATTA Gylton B., "Olympic Games Challenges for the Youth", in: K. Georgiadis(ed.), INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC ACADEMY, 53th International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia, 11-25/6/2013), International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2014, pp.169-189.

Article Author(s)

Olympic Games Challenges for the Youth
Prof. Dr Gylton B. Da MATTA
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