Post Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Reflections: Athletes and Discipline

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The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are over, and… Wow, what a ride! Those were probably the most intense Olympics I have ever followed and am so proud of all the athletes, especially the Canadian ones who brought in a record-breaking haul. Congratulations!

On top of that, I had so many amazing discussions with friends & strangers alike while watching everything from speed skating to snowboarding, from figure skating to hockey. Caught in the excitement of the Games, I didn’t have much time to do more than jot ideas down. Plus I highly doubt anyone was in the mood for the types of questions I’m known to ask. However the warm afterglow of an extremely successful Games (especially for Canadian hockey fans!) seems to be a great time to start sharing reflections and asking questions.

This first post has to do with athletes. Whatever one might think of the Games themselves, no one can deny that they were a fabulous showcase of the power of discipline, the beauty of the human body and the amazing things it can be taught to do. It brought together some of the world’s top athletes who dazzled and amazed us with the fruits of their seemingly tireless labors. The elegant skating, be it speed or figure, the dexterity it takes to go down a slope, be it on skis or on a snowboard, the speed of bobsleighs, hockey players’ puck handling – it was at times breathtakingly beautiful.

Which is why I find it rather disrespectful to these wonderful athletes when their achievements are evaluated solely by the number of medals that they contributed to their country’s overall medal count.

After all, being an athlete good enough to make it to the Olympics isn’t only about talent or drive, but rather about discipline & hard work. It’s an athlete’s discipline that made him hone a natural ability into a medal-wining one after countless hours of practice and numerous sacrifices. And so the gold medals that Alexandre Bilodeau, Maelle Ricker and our other athletes have brought home are a source of inspiration because they are an achivement due to the rigorous practice of discipline.

This rigorous discipline is all the more important if we accept the fact that humans are spiritual beings by nature. After all, it takes great discipline for a typical Canadian teenager to go against the tidal flow directing him or her towards popular yet idle pursuits, instead turning towards activities that are spiritually elevating such as excellence in sports. By the same token, such discipline can strenghten said teenager to turn away from idle pursuits throughout the course of his or her life and choose to contribute sacrificially to the advancement of human civilization.

Acquiring discipline is already very hard when it comes to concrete things such as sports; it’s even harder when it comes to abstract things such as virtues and spirituality, especially when the major forces of society are dragging us towards idle pursuits that do not contribute to the advancement of human civilization. Learning discipline through sports gives the individual an important tool that he or she can apply to his spiritual endeavours.

Discipline is all the more important that the standards for human civilization as set by various Holy Scriptures are extremely high. In (very) short, we must: “develop along every line, show forth the excellent gifts and blessings of the Lord, and combine human perfections; that (we) may advance in all aspects of human endeavour, whether outward or inward, hidden or visible, material or spiritual, until (we) make of this mortal world a widespread mirror, to reflect that other world which dieth not.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 128).

Hopefully Canadians will be able to look beyond the record-breaking gold medals and see what they really represent: hours and hours of disciplined effort that are only sometimes rewarded with a medal, but always with the acquisition of a precious tool.

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