The Resiliency Of The Olympic Games

resiliency olympics tokyo 2020 sign for Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Ariake


Posted in: Hot Topics

Topics: Culture + Society

In 1980, on the day that the US played the Soviets in hockey, I had a junior high dance to attend. Like many of my classmates, I had heard on the radio that the US had already won the match. If you know your Olympics history, you might remember that this particular match was actually not televised live throughout the United States.

Thus, while Canadian TV chose to broadcast the game as it happened, it was available only as a delayed tape for most of America. Media pundits predicted that the Soviets would win convincingly, and therefore thought the majority of viewers would lose interest in a lopsided game. Since I lived neither near the Canadian border, nor in region of the country that cared much for hockey, there was almost no way to know the outcome of that game unless you were listening to the news on the radio.

But this was 1980. Even in the Midwest, as the story of that amazing hockey team blossomed, pretty much ALL of America suddenly loved hockey. I remember hugging my buddies at the dance that night as if we had ourselves won the game. It wasn’t even the gold medal round, but it was the Soviet Union for goodness sakes! And, we were rare underdogs in our otherwise perceived American hegemony. This game mattered.

And that, I suppose, is my point:

The Olympics mattered. They mattered enough to make people all over the country, people who had never even watched a minute of hockey, actually care about the outcome.

I will submit to you that the Olympics still matter.  They’re old-fashioned, at least to kids; they’re like hot chocolate or an ice cream truck.   

Way before we had the possibility of watching five different programs on unimaginable laptops, servers, TVs and tablets, we had the Olympics to bring us all to the same screen. I can’t think of another television event that so consistently unites families. We may have lost The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, or even the Super Bowl as family-watching experiences, but the Olympics? In my house today, as it was when I was growing up, the Olympics means popcorn and smiles and bundling up (if it’s the winter Olympics) for a cozy night of genuine excitement.

The Olympics were the only sporting event that my mom consistently watched. And, they’re the only sporting event that my wife watches as well.  Though you may think this is a sexist, albeit entirely factual observation, I would like to make the case that this anomaly—people watching sports where they would otherwise profoundly eschew the activity—is because the Olympics have come to be about something way beyond athletics.

Pick your cliché. The Olympics — the resiliency of the Olympics — are about hard work, honest competition, healthy lifestyles, humble winners and gracious runner-ups. This year more than ever, even with serious concerns about COVID-19 and all of the other negatives, the overarching message is consistently about the power and good feelings of coming together.

The world can get so muddled, so busy, that we forget the little triumphs that are made possible by grand events. Making the world smaller, helping us to understand one another better, and demonstrating good sportsmanship when many spectator sports these days seem more about show than the game—you begin to appreciate the genuine good that comes of the Olympics mandates.

I know that this runs the risk of seeming too rosy. Some very bad things have happened in past Olympics events, and I am hoping that there will be no cause to add more of those as the games unfold. For now, just watch the events. Look up the countries. Marvel at the personal stories and journeys, the incredible worlds from which people have traveled.

And most importantly, help your kids to understand (and indeed remind yourself) that all those worlds…they’re all part of one big world. We know that engagement and community are strong predictors of resilience; right now, that resilience is waiting for you in this year’s summer games.

Share on Social Media

Was this post helpful?

Steven Schlozman, MD

Steven Schlozman, MD

Steven Schlozman, MD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS), course director of the psychopathology class for the MIT-HMS Program in Health, Sciences and Technology, and former co-director of the Clay Center for Youn...

To read full bio click here.