This week I have been reflecting on the binary nature of emotions on display at The Tokyo Olympics.
Watching an athlete win an Olympic medal is witnessing the highest of highs as the ultimate sporting dream becomes a reality. All their hard work has been rewarded, the sporting pinnacle has been reached and it is nothing short of euphoric. They get the glory of the medal ceremony, the media high, the adulations and family pride. It is life changing and rewards every moment of physical and mental pain they endured on the road to get there.
But if they fail, there are no words to describe the devastation etched on their faces. For those who fell, or made bad decisions, or let the nerves get to them, or just didn’t perform on the day their moment is gone, their dreams are in shreds, everything they sacrificed was for nothing. In sport there are no half measures. You can never ‘nearly win’ and feel good about it, and it is a very long way home with nothing.
I guess It’s like all big disappointments in life, lost loves, lost babies, lost jobs, lost opportunities; we must all be allowed to feel the raw emotions, so ultimately we can accept and acknowledge them. This allows us to process and then move on and work out our next steps.
As a parent of an aspiring Olympian, the emotions I have been watching on TV have made me reflect on the big disappointments that my own children have experienced along their journey to adulthood. I have learnt that when our loved ones are unhappy denying their feelings is sometimes our default option. It can feel like the right thing to do, to try to play down, distract or just ignore the feelings out of them. Their misery can feel unsettling, disappointing and upsetting for us too.
When feelings are disallowed they do not disappear. They merely go into hiding where they fester and cause trouble later in life. Every set back is a growing opportunity, but we cannot say this too soon, or rush to fix anyone’s pain for them. Our children also need space to sit with their feelings and this must be the focus. Most significantly, it is not about our disappointment. If we as parents are devastated, that must not land on their shoulders, they have enough to deal with!
I hope all those athletes who have not achieved their dreams at Tokyo have a brilliant support network around them. I hope they have someone to tell them that they are loved unconditionally, irrespective of their sporting successes or failures, and that their feelings are real and understandable. But they will pass.
I hope at some point in the future the stars align for them and they fulfil their sporting ambitions. I also hope that they appreciate that whether you live in the world of elite sport or just in the real world of family life, there will always be more losers than winners so enjoying the journey is also important, irrespective of the outcome.
Most importantly for those athletes who feel they have under-achieved but have now sacrificed too much, I hope they also have the courage to walk away and see they can live a wonderfully different life with no regrets. The world is full of new opportunities.