Ever since Title IX guaranteed equal funding for girls' sports programs 40 years ago, we've seen the results in school, the workplace and women's self-confidence. Studies have shown that girls who play sports in high school are more likely to do better in science classes, complete college, avoid substance abuse and join the workforce. And the more time they spend participating in team sports, the higher their self-esteem.
Naturally, there's also an effect on the playing fields. For the first time in Olympic history, women competed from all represented countries and there were more women than men on the United States team in London. We can look to them as role models for positive traits to emulate. The strengths they've gained from years of hard work and dedication to their sport are more than just physical. They also illustrate many of the character virtues identified in Positive Psychology. Consider how to integrate these into your own daily life.
Teamwork. Kami Craig, who played on the national championship USC women's water polo team, and Courtney Mathewson, who was on arch-rival UCLA's national championship team, put their competition behind them and worked together as friends to win gold for the USA. Your team may consist of family, friends or co-workers and dedication to the common good of that group sets the tone for everyone's improved input.
Loyalty. Missy Franklin, approached to make endorsements, turned them down so she could remain an amateur and swim for her high school and future college teams. Missy is devoted to friends in school, family and her hometown coach. After 4 golds in backstroke and team relay and one bronze, she looked forward to getting back home and hanging out with friends. Your own sense of responsibility to your community and the value you place on giving back will help you remain true to your ideals.
Gratitude. Serena Williams is the second woman ever to complete the "Golden Slam," taking the Olympic singles gold as well as winning at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open. Serena has expressed gratitude to her family for the education she received, and shown it by supporting educational projects in America, funding a school in Africa and mentoring aspiring athletes. You'll find that when you too express gratitude your mood improves, you feel better about yourself and more connected to the world around you.
Perspective. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won gold in women's beach volleyball in 2004, repeating in 2008 - the only women's team to have accomplished that feat. After Misty was injured and Kerri took time to have children, some wondered if they could still be on top of their game. Yet with the perspective they gained and the balance in their lives, they won a third gold. When you're faced with difficult situations and important questions in your own life, consider what you have learned from your past experiences and trust yourself to make the right decisions today.
Generosity. The Fierce Five USA gymnasts are a close-knit group, supporting each other through the Games – even when they are competing against one another. When they all worked together, they drew strength from their friendship and won gold in team gymnastics. The commitment you and your own friends make to each other nurtures each of you and creates emotional bonds that provide the foundation for a fulfilling life.
Persistence. Dana Vollmer didn't make the Olympic women's swimming team four years ago. But she persevered and worked harder than ever to make it this year. All her practice paid off when she broke the world record, winning gold medals in butterfly and women's medley relay. When you're discouraged and tempted to give up working toward your own goals, believe in yourself and you'll find the strength to continue.
Hope. Kayla Harrison won the gold medal in judo, a first for any American, after almost giving up the sport several years earlier due to sexual abuse by her coach. But starting again with a new coach, she regained her love of the sport and her self-confidence. When you are dealing with a trauma or are frustrated by a setback, put all your energies into recovering from that challenge, think about what you can still control and work toward resiliency and achieving your new Plan B goal.
Vitality. Gabby Douglas, dubbed the flying squirrel due to the actual height she achieves as well as the high level of energy she exudes in her routines, won gold medals in women's all-around gymnastics and team all-around. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she engages everyone around her with an electrifying smile. What passion energizes you? When you pursue it with zest, you'll feel more alive than ever.
Although the spectacle of sport in London has ended, you can still reflect on the strength of purpose and commitment that the athletes – female and male – developed over the years. It's a nice Olympic ideal to follow.
© 2012, Her Mentor Center
Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are consultants in family dynamics. If you're coping with marital stress, acting out teens, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, they have solutions for you. Visit their blog and website, http://www.HerMentorCenter.com, to subscribe to their free newsletter, "Stepping Stones," and download complimentary ebooks, "Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching for Your Goals" and "Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm."