Responsible Sports: Lessons from Former Champions

July 5th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Listen to exclusive podcasts by Olympic legends.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

With the 2012 Summer Games approaching, we’re not only gearing up to root for our favorite athletes and home countries. We’re also taking a cue from Liberty Mutual’s Responsible Sports initiative – a program supporting volunteer youth sports coaches and parents – to celebrate the spirit of the Olympics, captured poignantly by Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic Creed. Considered both the father of the Modern Olympics and the International Olympic Committee, de Coubertin asserted, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

From the beginning, the Olympics have presented the opportunity to embrace the life lessons that sports teach all of us. In an ongoing series of podcasts on the Responsible Sports site, Jim Thompson, Founder and Executive Director of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), interviews Olympians about their inspiration and motivation; the positive influences of coaches and parents; and the message they hope to send to young and aspiring athletes. Here are some of our favorite excerpts from recent interviews. Listen to the podcasts and watch these related videos with your own aspiring Olympian for inspiration.

“Can Do” Attitude: Rulon Gardner

Most will recognize Rulon Gardner as one of the top amateur wrestlers in U.S. history. He won a gold medal in Greco Roman at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney – where he also won the U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year Award – and a bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Still, some of the circumstances Gardner has overcome are what have forged his name in so many minds. In 2002, he was stranded while snowmobiling and suffered hypothermia and frostbite that cost him one of his toes. Undaunted, he resumed training and battled to the 2004 bronze medal.
In this episode (listen to the entire podcast here), he speaks with Jim Thompson about the “can do” attitude he learned growing up on the family farm and from great teachers and coaches.

On the Importance of Family   

The people Gardner wanted to make proud, he says, were his parents and nine brothers and sisters. “And I wanted them to say, ‘You know what? My brother Rulon may not be the best looking or the hardest hitting football player or wrestler, but he is a hard worker. He’s committed and he’ll give 100 percent and he’ll finish a job […] My family was proud of me, and that meant so much to me. And having morals like that, it wasn’t a question. It was about me being who I was.”

To Young Athletes

“Have fun in the sport. Go out there and engage in it. And there’s nothing wrong with competition, there’s nothing wrong with losing. You know,
I lost all the way through high school to my brother until the end of my junior year [...] It wasn’t about winning, it wasn’t about victory, that’s not the only thing. It was about the journey and the experiences.”

Motivation: Summer Sanders

Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders has won two gold medals in the 200-meter butterfly and 400- meter medley relay, a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley, and a bronze in the 400-meter individual medley.

After the Olympics, Summer became a broadcaster for major professional sporting events. She is also the author of “Champions Are Raised, Not Born: How My Parents Made Me a Success.” Here, some excerpts from her Responsible Sports podcast (listen to the entire podcast here): 

On Being a Sports Parent 

“I think this is what I’ve taken away from my parents, that my relationship with my kid has nothing to do with how they did on the soccer field or in the swim pool or on the ski hill. My relationship with my kid is to be there for them, build a grounding support system and home life, and keep it consistent. That’s what I said in my book. If I did poorly at the swim meet, we would still have the pizza party.”

On the Courage Sports Gave Her in a Later Career 

“It’s just a confidence factor. I mean, the fact that I was not intimidated to walk up to anybody that I was interviewing -- I just saw them as real people. And especially, you know, the Finals, the NBA Finals, Shaq’s out there or Jordan’s out there, I felt like I have experienced that kind of pressure and those moments where it’s all on the line in sports. And so there’s some connection there. Whether or not they knew I was an athlete or not, I felt it.”

Leadership: Julie Foudy

Julie Foudy is best known for her career with the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team. She competed in four World Cups, including the 1991 and 1999 champion team as co-captain. She also played in three Olympics, on a team that won gold in ’96 and in ’94 and silver in 2000.

Since retiring from the game, she has become a soccer analyst for ESPN and ABC and was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. She also launched her own organization, The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which provides sports and leadership training in summer camps for girls age 12 through 18. She has served on the board of Women’s Sports Foundation since 2000 (serving as its president from 2000 to 2002). Here are selects from her Responsible Sports podcast (listen to it in its entirety here):

On the Effect that Sports Leaders Have in Human Rights 

“I was sponsored by Reebok when I was playing with the national team. They came to me, actually, and were really proactive about talking about how the stitching of soccer balls was being done by child labor. They said, ‘We want to do something about it […] so we can control the environment and make sure that there’s no children stitching soccer balls. You know, would you like to go check out the factory?’ And, I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ So, I went over to Pakistan in the early ‘90s, and then came back and talked about it.”

On leadership among young female athletes 

“Because I work with so many young girls, [I see] this insecurity because they don’t look a certain way or act a certain way or talk a certain way. Or, they weren’t educated at “x” school or come from a lot of money. And so, you get this real insecure time period, which we all go through in our teen years. And when you get a [retired Women’s National Soccer Team champion and National Soccer Hall of Fame member] Joy Fawcett up there talking to the kids and saying, ‘You know, I was so quiet and shy. And yet, you know, this is how I led. And, this is how I found my way,’ it makes a world of difference for them. Because all of a sudden, this light bulb goes off, this epiphany, like ‘Oh my gosh. You know, I can do it.’”

To learn more about these and other athletes’ personal stories and inspirational messages, visit the Responsible Sports website.