How to reach your potential living a healthy and balanced lifestyle

Did you watch any of the 2020 Olympics? Was there a particular moment or event highlight for you? Have you thought about ways to use the 2020 Olympics to motivate and inspire a young person to reach their potential?

Anyone who reads my blogs will know that I love most sports, played plenty of sport when I was younger – with differing levels of success – and then coached for over thirty years.

However, I also appreciate that many people do not enjoy sport and probably did not watch the Olympics. Perhaps they saw glimpses of the opening and closing ceremonies on their news channels? Well, that provides an opportunity to discuss the effective use of innovative and creative gifts with youth.

Success and failure?

Of course, there were the moving scenes of an Olympian achieving a medal, being overcome with emotion in the moment of realizing that something they had been working towards for twenty years had been achieved.

There were many others who achieved a “personal best”, and the sheer satisfaction and enjoyment as they attained this goal was celebrated with such fervor even if there was no medal gained.

And then there were others who stumbled and fell, crashed out of an event for which they had trained so hard for so long, or fell short by one hundredth of a second, for example, from attaining a medal, or were part of a team and a team mate stumbled and fell or crashed out, robbing them of a chance to display their talents on the Olympic stage. How many dreams were shattered, I wonder? How do those Olympians work through their experience?

There will be a multitude of emotions experienced at an Olympic games, which I will always think of as the “masked games” because of all the pandemic restrictions. Spare a thought, too for those who had to withdraw from the Olympics because they picked up Covid – all that training, hard work and sacrifice for what?

What does becoming an Olympian involve?

If the young person you are guiding to reach their potential watched any aspect of the Olympics, you can have many discussions around lifelong lessons one can take from preparing and participating in an Olympic games: goal setting and achievement, how to handle setbacks, dealing with inner and outer conflict, how to communicate effectively with others in a variety of situations, and the importance of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

As I listened to some of the interviews with Olympians, I wondered how many of them are actually living a healthy and balanced lifestyle in the “real world”. And then I saw a headline about how the Olympians will need to be supported now that the Olympics is over and they return to the “real world”.

It should go without saying – yet this is important to share with youth – that no Olympian reached the Olympic stage without the support of a coach, team mates and probably some family and friends’ support. Most participants acknowledged this when they spoke to the media. So, even during these strange times in which we live, positive relationships were a key indicator in most Olympian achievements.

The young person we move alongside for a season can also have their “Olympian” moment: selection for a specific team; achieving a significant grade; overcoming a particularly challenging obstacle, or working through a particularly difficult time.

8 Mentoring lessons from the 2020 Olympics

We can discuss ways to live a healthy and balanced life with youth – indeed with anyone – and here are eight mentoring lessons from the 2020 Olympics that can fan that discussion.

1. Organization – every Olympian would have set a realistic, achievable, specific goal which would be measured by their result at the games. However, to achieve this goal they had to follow a plan, or a roadmap of sorts, which they could have worked out with a coach: a training program, diet, events to participate in as preparation for the games, or people who could support them on this journey. So, we must be organized and continually evaluate our progress, being unafraid to make changes and improvements when necessary, or to ask for more help as we learn to be vulnerable and trust others to help us reach our potential.

2. Leadership – every Olympian becomes a person of influence as they enter the world stage. Others, especially youth, look up to them, are inspired by them, regard them as role models and want to emulate them. Discuss different leadership styles and qualities – empathy, patience, teamwork, loyalty, maintaining a sense of humor, being a peacemaker at times, tolerance, and looking for the best in others – as well as embracing the other seven lessons mentioned in this blog.

3. Youthful – it is so important for anyone working with youth to remain youthful. Empathy again becomes an important mentoring quality. What is this young person’s story? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their fears? Who influences them the most? So, we take a positive attitude into our mentoring relationship, including gentleness, compassion, kindness and tolerance towards a young person whose brain is still developing as they seek meaning and purpose in their life.

4. Motivation – the mentor’s consistent presence, travelling at the pace of the young person, can be transformational in that young life. Ongoing encouragement, no matter how small the step achieved towards the ultimate goal, builds resilience. Explore together the lives of the young person’s hero or heroes, as well as any heroes you have had over the years. Why these people? How are they Olympians? What positive qualities did they possess? In another blog I have shared the life of one of my Olympic heroes, Eric Liddle. You can imagine different scenarios and discuss these with your mentee to prepare them as thoroughly as possible for the challenges ahead.

5. Perseverance – there will likely be a few times when a young person finds the goal setting process too hard, or they are distracted by other people – often negative peer pressure – or other things. They are scared of failure or moving out of their comfort zone. Every Olympian is likely to have been through such experiences, but they persevered, bounced back and continued the journey to achieve their goal. Youth need to hear the mentor’s authentic voice speaking to the potential they might not be able to see at that moment. Remind them of people like Thomas Edison who refused to think of failure during the thousands of experiments before he successfully developed the light bulb – learn something from every unsuccessful attempt and keep striving to reach the goal. Effort is more important than the eventual outcome in the eyes of an effective mentor. The encouragement from the non-judgmental mentor cheerleader can transform a young life. The aim is to hear your mentee echo the words of many Olympians: “I gave it my all”; “I left everything out there”. This is what doing your personal best is about.

6. Integrity – focus on being authentic at all times. Coach the young person how to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat; not to be too hard on themselves; never to cheat; never to be afraid to ask for help, and to have a positive and honest attitude at all times, no matter what the personal cost might be.

7. Choices – a great lesson from the Olympics is how Olympians have made choices along the road to the Olympics, even in their individual events at the games: “Should I try this strategy?” “Should we take a calculated risk?” “What if we do this or that?” Share thoughts with youth about the importance of self-discipline, self-control, and always striving to be a positive role model because “people are watching” them. Share a photo like that below of the world number one tennis player smashing his racquet in frustration at the Olympic games. Ask questions like: “What do you think of this behavior?” “How do you think the player’s sponsors will feel?” “Should there be a more serious consequence than simply receiving a warning (code violation)? Why, or why not?” “How much do you think a racquet like this might cost?” “How do you think this sort of behavior could be linked to becoming a professional athlete who earns millions of dollars a year?” “Is he a role model you look up to? Why, or why not?”

8. Selfless – the most challenging quality of an authentic Olympian is selflessness, though many would disagree with this point: an unselfish, generous, self-sacrificing, even altruistic attitude which inspires others. For example, when one athlete heard that they would receive a financial payment for theirĀ  medal achievement, they immediately gave the money to their needy parent. Selflessness inspires others, epitomized so well by Nicola McDermott in the photo above. Nicola genuinely expressed joy, enthusiasm, courage and humility – as did many other Olympians – as she participated in the high jump and won a silver medal, also achieving a “personal best”. I loved her smiling approach each time she jumped. She was authentic and, when asked about this after her event, she shared the power of her Christian faith which inspired her to reach great heights, while also expressing gratitude to her coach for all the sacrifices he had made in support of her. A mentor who models selflessness must never underestimate how this will impact a young life.


Words of encouragement


If you are looking for words of encouragement as a parent, teacher, coach, youth worker or mentor, here are some short user-friendly books available on my website, or through Wipf and Stock publishers, or on Amazon and Kindle. May your light burn brightly – like the Olympic flame – in the life of your mentee as they seek a pathway to reach their potential.