11 conversations to have with your children while you're watching the Olympics

Experts share the best conversations to have with your children to help them get the most from this special spectating experience

Cheerful extended family watching sports game on TV at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Olympic Games Paris 2024, held in France this summer starting on July 26, offer the perfect opportunity to spark meaningful conversations with your children.

With the opening of the 2024 Olympics set to fall in the middle of the school summer holidays, the opening ceremony and games will undoubtedly be watched by millions of children across the country and worldwide. 

With that in mind, we asked the experts to share the best conversations to have with your children to help them get the most from this very special spectating experience.

From the importance of hard work and perseverance to the celebration of cultural diversity and the spirit of sportsmanship, these conversations are sure to inspire, educate, and connect, making family memories that will last well beyond the closing ceremony.

11 conversations to have during the Olympics 

  1. Praise the effort, not the outcome - ‘People who persevere in sport rather than dropping out are typically the ones who have been praised for the effort they put in more so than the outcomes,’ explains Becky Lyne, former professional athlete and British Female Athlete of the Year, who won a bronze medal at the European Championships in 2006, and is the Founder of Graceful Running. ‘So when you’re watching the Olympics with your children try to point out how impressive it is that the athletes are working so hard and how mentally and physically tough they must be, rather than just focusing on medals.’
  2. Ask your child if they know the Olympic Creed - The Olympic Creed famously states: ‘The most important thing in 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.’ ‘This is a key takeaway for children in sport,’ explains Becky. ‘A lot of top athletes who have won Olympic gold medals realise afterwards that it hasn’t brought them the fulfilment and everlasting happiness that some people assume it does. It can be an anti-climax for them afterwards and many athletes suffer with post-game blues. So it’s important for children not to think that hinging everything on these markers of success, whether that’s a gold medal in their school sports day or a gold medal at the Olympics, will necessarily be the answer to all their problems and guarantee happiness. The Olympic motto encapsulates this and is a great lesson for children to grow up learning.’
  3. Look at the friendships and camaraderie amongst the athletes - ‘When I reflect on being an athlete, it’s the people that I met along the way who were significant and who shaped that time in my life,’ says Becky. ‘In the words of my all-time favourite athlete, Emil Zatopek, ‘Great is the victory, but even greater are the friendships.’ People say that victory is lonely if you have no one to share it with and so making children aware of the importance of the friendships that the Olympians make, will help them to reflect on this in their own lives and appreciate the importance of the friends that they make through sport, whether that’s their local grassroots football team or competing at a national level.’
  4. Resist the urge to comment on the athletes’ bodies or physical appearance - ‘In general when watching sport women’s bodies are commented on more than their male counterparts, and girls are also more predisposed to eating disorders,’ points out Becky. ‘So instead of commenting on the athletes' body shapes, try to focus instead on talking about their technique or the beauty of their movements. This will help to discourage any comments which may be taken in the wrong way or promote unhealthy body ideals.’
  5. Point out how happy the Olympians are - ‘Athletes need to have a balance in their lives,’ says Becky. ‘When I was competing I fell into the trap of being an athlete 24/7, but this isn’t healthy because it inevitably leads to burnout. So pointing out to your children how happy the Olympians look will help to reinforce the fact that if they’re happy, they’re more likely to be doing well.’
  6. Discuss what the word ‘compete’ means - Becky says that this is something that she’s looked into for her work with Graceful Girls.  ‘One school of thought from the Latin origin translates as seeking to be the best and beating your rivals,’ she explains. ‘However, another school of thought suggests that the root of the word compete means to ‘seek with’.  I think focussing on this meaning of the word changes the mindset into realising that to take part in a competitive event such as the Olympics doesn’t mean the athletes are fighting against each other to achieve something, but actually that they’re seeking to be the best they can be together. In so doing it moves you from a place of fear to one of courage when competing.’
  7. It’s ok not to support the same team - ‘If family members are not supporting the same person or team in the Olympics, that’s a great lesson in healthy competition on the spectator side of sport,’ explains Sarah Perrett, Insight Happiness Coach of The Happiness Gap. ‘Showing that it’s okay to be in separate camps and honouring each person’s right to choose who to support, even if that choice is different to yours, is an emotionally intelligent outlook. Children learning how to handle rivalry in a fun, rather than aggressive way, provides a healthy dose of competition and an exercise in how to navigate and cope with having a different opinion to those that you are closest to and respect (especially parents).’
  8. You can ‘hack’ yourself happier with sport – science says so - ‘The benefits of physical activity are well-known for the effects on your physical body, but there’s also a big effect on your emotions and feelings of positivity,’ explains Sarah. ‘Teaching children that engaging in sport is also a way to ‘hack’ some happiness chemicals is powerful knowledge that they can use to support their ongoing emotional, as well as physical, wellbeing. Several chemicals in the brain influence our happiness and could be linked to sports: Dopamine, known as the reward chemical, is produced when we feel anticipation and are striving for something such as winning a sport or even a medal. It increases our feelings of happiness. Oxytocin is the love and connection chemical. This is produced when we feel close and bonded to others, such as being part of a sports team competing together against others. Endorphins are natural pain relievers. They help you to ‘power through’, masking pain and/or discomfort, such as is felt when engaging in challenging sports. This is often why you feel a natural ‘high’ after a session at the gym.’
  9. Being optimistic like the athletes will help you live longer - ‘A long-term study conducted with 180 nuns from the Sisters of Notre Dame showed that having a more optimistic outlook may help your longevity,’ explains Sarah. ‘The researchers found that 90% of the most cheerful nuns were still alive at age 85, versus only 34% of the least cheerful nuns! Having an optimistic outlook such as that of an Olympian focussing on winning a gold medal could help you to live a longer life.’ 
  10. You won – now what? The Olympics are all about winning, but what happens next? When an Olympian finally achieves the long-strived-for gold medal, they’ve reached the pinnacle of success, and achieved all they’ve trained for their whole lives. But as Insight Happiness Coach Sarah Perrett explains, ‘It can be a downward hill from there if that dream isn’t replaced with something else to strive for, a loss of meaning and purpose in life.’ ‘It’s great to win,’ she says.  ‘But seeing beyond the win is also an important life lesson for children, so perhaps this is a great discussion point. From my perspective, I’d say ongoing happiness is more about seeing progress in life, no matter how small the steps you’re taking, or how small the goal. It’s great to have a big goal but having small things you’re moving towards will keep you going longer term.’
  11. Talk about the scoring - ‘Whilst watching the Olympics, the primary mathematical concept that presents is the different methods of scoring within the events,’ explains Maths Teacher, Francesca Dyas, who can be found on Instagram at @FSMaths. ‘These can be discussed between children and parents, along with measurements of time - especially when it comes to athletic events involving milliseconds, as these aren't a standard unit of measurement used on a day-to-day basis. By pairing time with a discussion on distances, of which comparison of distances travelled on land vs in water could be included, this lends well to older children calculating speeds.’ Francesca goes on to explain that; ‘In many events where the sport is repeated several times, there is opportunity to calculate averages (throws, jumps etc.), and events that involve several different disciplines (the -athlons) can open up discussion on the meaning of prefixes such as bi, tri, pent, hept and dec.’

For more content on a sporting theme, check out 'You can quit... but not today' - the game-changing words to use when your kid wants to give up a sport and You might want to hold your tongue when watching your kids play sports.

Rachel Tompkins

Rachel Tompkins is a freelance journalist and mother of two. She has over twenty years of experience as a writer with a wealth of knowledge and expertise when it comes to all things family, health, and lifestyle.