Lessons for a sporting life
From workshops about social media to discussions on the risks of doping, athletes’ development and preparation for life beyond sport are central to the Youth Olympic Games.
At the heart of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) – beyond the sporting endeavours and personal glories – sits the Athlete Education Programme, a series of courses and events to enhance the growth of every competitor at Buenos Aires 2018.
From 2 to 18 October, all participants will have access to a syllabus that includes workshops, discussion sessions and mentoring conversations with Games veterans chosen as Athlete Role Models (ARMs). The hub of the initiative is the Youth Olympic Village, which is central to the idea of putting the young athletes at the heart of YOG. The programme is divided into three main components: Protect The Clean Athlete – Be A Role Model, Athlete Beyond Sport – Be More Awesome, and Athlete Performance – Better Athlete.
Climbing ARM Josh Levin (USA) knows the positives of attending the programme, having competed in the sport climbing demonstration event during the Nanjing 2014 YOG.
“Behind the scenes they really tried to hammer home the Olympic values which are excellence, friendship and respect,” said Levin, now a decorated professional climber.
With the education components, kids learned about different cultures and we were shown what we could do in a future career. That really opened my mind to how impactful something like the Youth Olympics can be.Josh Levin USA
Courses in the Athlete Performance section of the programme cover subjects including injury prevention, nutrition and personal development.
“When you’re young, the tendency is to push the body as hard as you can and not to worry too much about recovery or nutrition,” Levin said. “It’s hugely important that we start getting these athletes thinking about those concepts from a younger age so they have more questions about how to approach issues such as injury prevention when (they get hurt)."
“I think the knowledge that, as humans, we’re pretty fragile and need to warm up properly is important. The idea when you’re young of, ‘Oh, I don’t need to warm up’ works when you’re super young. But over the course of an athletic career, knowing how to properly prepare and avoid overuse injuries is important. A shoulder injury I had could have been prevented if I’d used the warm-up routine that I do now.”
Daryl Homer (USA), an ARM for fencing who won the individual sabre silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, said: “I’m hosting a forum on social media use and how to use your platform for good. It was much easier before, you could just focus on your sport and not have to think about how others perceived your involvement in a sport, or sharing all the things you were doing."
“Now it’s about balance, it’s tough. I tell athletes to keep it authentic, to hone their craft and not to feel pressured into being something that they’re not, which is what happens sometimes on social media. It’s OK to not share everything, to keep things to yourself and process how you feel. I think it’s of the most importance to teach athletes about this stuff at this stage.”
Elsewhere, the darker pitfalls of global sport – such as doping, illegal betting and abuse – are outlined in the Protect The Clean Athlete programme. As a handball player with her own training camp for children, Serbian team captain Andrea Lekic is well-equipped to alert younger athletes to the perils of high-profile success.
“I like to make the sport popular, to work with the children and to lead them at some point,” Lekic said.
It is very important for athletes to realise they can be role models. Today you can find a lot of dirty things, like doping. This is ruining the picture of our sport.Andrea Lekic Serbia
“As much as we try to alert people that this is not the right way to achieve results, I think you can lift up awareness about what it means to use bad substances for success. The right information today is priceless. The Athlete Role Models will show them a good and healthy path.”
A significant introduction to the programme is the new role of IOC Safeguarding Officer, who will be on hand to deal with any reported cases of harassment or abuse within a comprehensive procedure.
In the Beyond Sport component, competitors will be taught the basics of finance and law, while receiving management techniques for social media and the traditional press.