Every 4 years, the Olympic Games bring sport into sharp focus across the world, and in most ways the Games are the highest expression of human sporting prowess and endeavour that we have.

Why do we participate in and honour sport so much, and what does it teach us about the rest of life and work?

The Olympic Games are a celebration of being human. They symbolise and encapsulate competition and co-operation, tenacity, skill, mental toughness, physical excellence and sportsmanship. They are a celebration of who we think we are, what we prize most highly, and how we can strive for more.

For thousands of years, sport has been a crucial part of most good education systems, for good reason. Whether sport is played as an individual or as a team, it has important lessons to teach us which carry over into the rest of life, and which apply to business, politics, teamwork and leadership.

Sport teaches us tenacity, focus, perseverance, patience, strength, concentration, timing, courage, adaptability and skill. Sport teaches both mental and physical agility. Sport teaches us to time our run and to tolerate and overcome physical pain and limitations. Sport is about thinking and strategising, and its about mental toughness and resilience. Ultimately, sport is more about the mental challenge than the physical one.

Sport teaches us sportsmanship, which is essentially how to handle ourselves with grace, dignity and humility in victory and defeat. And whether we are participants or spectators, to be good sports there can be no complaint, tantrums, weakness or bad grace, and the only tears we are allowed to shed are tears of joy.

Since ancient times, when children in Ancient Sparta, for instance, were taught to hone their physical skills and compete in sports because the experience prepared them mentally and physically for tough adult life, sport has played an extremely important role in both preparing young people for adult life and for symbolising the human traits we hold most dear. Sport also provides safe battles between teams and nations, and in many ways negates and compensates for potential war and conflict.

Every four years the world comes together in a glorious display of competition and celebration. Though nations compete for glory and success of their individual champions and collective teams, the Olympic Games nevertheless represent human co-operation more than they represent competition, because we are universally united in our deep-seated  and common respect for underlying principles that sport represents.

Sport embodies and develops physical and moral courage and the the Olympic Games allow us to celebrate our species with joy and pride, and to paradoxically come together in our shared delight in competition.

As the Games of the XXX Olympiad, London 2012, draw to a close, we do well to learn the lessons that sport teaches us, and that the Games symbolise:

In work and the rest of life, sport reminds us to do better, last longer, be stronger and aim higher. And strive, individually and in teams.

Lynette Jensen


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