The XXII Olympics sent the right message – Hard Work and Resilience

AT Staff24 Feb, 2014

For two weeks every four years my TV viewing spikes. I’m enthralled with the Winter Olympics. Though I am confronted by the fact that my best athletic days are long behind me (No moves like Ligety in my future), I love watching the Olympics.

It was great for my kids to get a break from their normal teen media.  The standard theme of much of the youth oriented shows I witness seems to follow a familiar theme:  Someone, usually with some type of a troubled past, comes to the rescue. This usually happens only after the CLUELESS adult figures in charge have messed everything up. Usually the hero has a ridiculous amount of innate talent, smarts or strength (MacGyver as an example.)  He or she uses this talent to solve an unsolvable problem, foil the bad guys, or both.  In media world heroes seem to succeed magically without any inkling of hard work, and as for the adults?  Why are we always made to seem so CLUELESS?

Contrast this with the Olympics. With the help of great messaging from sponsors P&G and Liberty Mutual, the themes of hard work and resilience stood out brilliantly.  It was clear that even young superstar prodigies like slalom gold medalist 18-year old Mikaela Shiffrin earned their Olympic gold through dedication, hard work and study… not good luck and raw talent. Sure talent helps, and I could have worked forever and never made the Olympics, but talent only goes so far. Hard work almost always wins.

The tension between hard work and talent brings to mind a wonderful book by Carol Dweck called Mindset (The New Psychology of Success). The basic premise of her book is that there are two mindsets in this world:  a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In her book, Dweck describes ways to move from a fixed to a growth mindset.

People who have a fixed mindset think their intelligence and talent are innate. They try to maintain the image (or belief) that they are smart and talented by avoiding challenges. Dweck posits that people with a fixed mindset give up easily (because failure hurts their self-image), and don’t see hard work and resilience as valuable, because they think people are either talented at something… or they aren’t.

People who possess a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their intelligence and talent as malleable – they see intelligence and skill as something that can be improved, and have a desire to learn, work hard and embrace new challenges.  Growth mindset folks see hard work as the “secret ingredient” to success and self – improvement. They see failure as a necessary part of the learning process. They are not afraid to fail publicly, which is a great lesson for adolescents.

The Olympics have provided my sports minded kids two straight weeks of media viewing featuring great role models who possess growth mindsets.   Besides watching athletic success, we have learned about the failures the athletes have endured and overcome in order to reach the Olympics. My kids have caught a glimpse of how much hard work and dedication the athletes have invested in order to be rewarded with a shot on the global stage.  It’s especially great to see people who didn’t succeed in a past Olympics (Ted Ligety, for example) who have kept plugging and worked even harder in order to succeed beyond expectations. In this age of instant gratification, I’ve been excited to have the Olympics reinforce the message of working hard, pursuing your dreams, pushing yourself, and never giving up.

It is our hope that an Adventure Treks summer reinforces the same messages as the Olympics.  Though we appreciate talent, at Adventure Treks, we positively reinforce hard work and contribution.  We take situations that aren’t always comfortable and turn them into fun, learning lessons in order to build resilience. We create a realization within our students that they are part of something bigger than oneself and that hard work and contribution leads to everyone’s success.

Thank you athletes for a wonderful winter Olympics.  It’s made us all even more excited about the summer ahead.


John Dockendorf

Executive Director


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