Was There Mindfulness at the Olympics?

Remember back to high school when you had to do a team project and there was always that one person who didn’t pull their weight? Working as a team requires communicating, innovating, showing dedication to the process, perspective-taking and persevering. Once called “soft skills,” these critical attributes are now sought after (and tested for) by HR Managers during the hiring process. Many schools are even adjusting curricula to ensure that classes are collaborative in nature and build these essential skills in our youth. 

Interestingly, this year there were more team competitions in the 2018 Winter Olympics than in years past. When interviewed about their team bronze medal, members of the US Figure Skating team spoke about not wanting to let the team down or wear a medal around their neck if they hadn’t earned it. Each one said how important it was for them not only to be at the games for their own medals but that being a part of something bigger than themselves was so powerful.

How about the story of perseverance in the men’s team curling gold medal? Coming from last place in the 2010 games and second-to-last place in 2014, the team skip, John Shuster, had his last name added to the Urban Dictionary. The verb, “to shuster” can be used this way in a sentence, “did you see that losing team shuster their last throw?” John Shuster not only found a new team and continued his dedication to a sport he loves, but he went out and gave it everything he had in 2018 to win the gold.

In preparing for the competition of a lifetime, Olympians must include both demanding individual physical training in addition to working together with others as a team (humbly, and with self-awareness and compassion, of course!) to become a cohesive unit. With the added motivation of all team members’ support, they are better able to manage the pressure of both individual and team competition, while building lasting memories and strong relationships. It is helpful to remember this applies to each day as well, as we rarely do anything in life alone; and in general, the team is stronger than any of its individual parts.

While most of us are not Olympic-level athletes, we can learn from these events.  Even in a competition where the intention is to set you apart from other people and the structure often requires you to work and advocate for yourself alone, you still need other people to be successful. And, as we have seen with the teamwork in the Olympics, having others to support and motivate you can raise you up and bolster your resilience.

Effective teamwork requires many of the social and emotional skills that we teach in schools, which are similar to the emotional intelligence skills we teach in the workplace. Specifically, self-awareness, focused attention, self-management, and compassion are becoming imperative to success; and all of these skills are strengthened through the practice of mindfulness.