Selecting appropriate role models for our children

Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius….they all share common characteristics…athletes, elite athletes, world famous elite athletes…the cream of their respective sporting codes…

An additional – and unfortunate characteristic of the aforementioned athletes (and many more before them and many more to come!) – concerns their fall from grace. Over and above the demands of overcoming the titanic battle to gain supremacy in the gladiatorial world of competitive athletics, each of these athletes have been required to overcome their own personal challenges in order to reach the pinnacle of their respective professions.

This article addresses the issue concerning who we as parents – and ultimately our children – consider to be our role models in the sporting arena. What is our yardstick when it comes to selecting role models?

The modern world is swamped with superstars from every facet of life – sports, the arts and business to mention but a few. Given the endless glitzy media coverage and promotion of these superstars it is inevitable that they become role models – or do they become heroes? Or idols? Or celebrities whom we mistake for something more permanent?

Role models, heroes, idols and celebrities have been grouped together as one and the same.

A hero or “shero” can loosely be defined as a person who is admired for courage or noble qualities. A role model is considered to be a person looked to by others as an example and to be imitated. In contrast an idol is a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved or revered. Finally a celebrity is known as a famous person or a state of being well known.

Although the above descriptions differ from one another on a variety of levels, there is one common characteristic, namely that society at large is influenced by them.

So who should we encourage our children to admire; to imitate; to revere; to look up to and to be influenced by? What do we hope to achieve by adopting a role model? The answer lies in the values that parents instill in their children as they develop towards adulthood.

Sporting role models or heroes or idols or celebrities need to mirror the values that we want to instill in our children. The mistake that we make is to define a role model according to their success as opposed to the values that they live. Society has a tendency to use status, wealth and popularity as the yardstick when the question of heroes and role models is discussed. But the basic building blocks of any successful and happy society include honesty, trust, compassion, truth, responsibility, goodness and commitment. Of course there are many elite athletes across all sporting codes who display the aforementioned qualities.

The question that we need to ask ourselves concerns whether or not the athletes our children choose as role models or that we as parents promote in our homes embody the values that we wish our children to acquire?

The primary place that children learn values is in their home environment. Any sporting role model should therefore reinforce the values that the child is exposed to at home.

Ultimately the best role model remains the parents since we are in an extremely powerful position in terms of the influence that we exercise over our children. We need to nurture this influence and use it wisely for the benefit of our children. In this way healthy space is created for a sporting role model in our children’s lives who more than likely will reflect and reinforce the values that we are attempting to develop in our children. This holds true whether we refer to such influential people as role models, idols, heroes or celebrities.

Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, summed it up quite clearly when he said, “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

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