Michael Phelps has produced a documentary which is now available on HBO (available on Crave channel in Canada). This is a must watch for all athletes, parents of athletes and definitely all coaches who work with aspiring Olympians, or those who they encourage to be aspiring Olympians.

This documentary is a much needed dose of truthiness about what it means to train and compete at the Olympics, and what it means to commit your life – all of it – to becoming an Olympian. Although most believe in the hype that standing on an Olympic podium provides a ‘pay-out’ of a lifetime and hopefully for a lifetime, this documentary paints the real cost of being an Olympian and the consequences… what happens the day after the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics, when the flags come down, when the flame is put out… the question asked by all Olympians, even those who stood on podiums, or multiple podiums…

Now what?

Having written in the past how sport organizations see athletes simply as assets that are to be monetized as long as they are a rising star, its validating to be vindicated by non other than the most decorated Olympian of all time.  That’s right… Michael Phelps, the swimmer who himself is responsible for the greatest growth in USA Swimming membership, more than any other swimmer in the history of the organization, more than any effort by USA Swimming, the swimmer responsible for greater interest in the sport of swimming than at any other time in the sports history, the swimmer who brought home to the US countless medals from Pan Pacific Championships, World Championships and Summer Olympics… 23 Gold Olympic medals from just 4 Summer Games… felt that USA Swimming cared only about his medal contribution and nothing beyond (i.e. his health, his well-being… that’s not our problem as a sport organization – even though we take ownership of all the success that our athletes achieve).

This coming from the most decorated Olympian of all time can only leave one guessing how any other athlete, how all other athletes have been treated through the years.

As a parent, if you see the Olympics as a panacea for your child, you better think again, and you better truly think again if you believe that the sport organizations care one iota about your athlete – your child – for anything beyond what they can do for them.

Am I saying that the Olympics are not a worthy pursuit? No. What I am saying is that athletes and parents of athletes need to go in eyes wide open… not swayed by the hype and horseshit that sport organizations will promise hoping that your promising junior can be turned into a celebrity to promote the sport (but that’s only while their star is rising… if the shine comes off for even an instant… be prepared for: sorry… who are you?)

Understand how ‘sport’ works, and work to make it what you want it to be for you… a path to self expression, a path to developing the skill set you need for life, a path to developing physical stamina, mental focus, and emotional stability… fabulous! As a path to fame and fortune that you think will be found on the podium… hah… there’s nothing there even though sport organizations paint the podium as ‘the promised land’ (FYI… the podium is ‘the promised land’… for sport organizations because their funding is linked to how well the sport does on the podium at major competitions. If you don’t know how the system works, be warned… you will be used to work the system for someone else’s benefit).

Athletes and parents need to have their heads screwed on straight because the moment you become ‘something’ in sport, everyone wants to link themselves to a rising star, everyone wants to see if they can gain from your dedication, your commitment, your sacrifice. Athletes and parents need to realize this, be prepared for this, and need to know what you are pursuing and why… otherwise, you will be used for someone else’s agenda, and when your star is rising, you better watch out: there are those who make a living being parasites attaching themselves to you and taking you for everything they can for as long as they can, and move on when another rising star appears.

Quotes by Michael Phelps in the NY Times

Its clear that sport should have evolved by now to be as Phelps’ states more “holistically” involved with athletes, but hereinlies the problem… a favorite quote of mine that explains why nothing will happen until sport organizations are literally forced by either funding cuts or at least threats of funding cuts from government and/or their sponsors to change:

It is difficult to get a man (or woman) to understand something when his/her salary depends upon his/her not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair

Whats the risk if athletes & parents of athletes don’t have their heads screwed on straight, well this happens…

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