By Erin Porteous, CEO

Every time the Olympics kick off, I hold a place of reverence for this brief time when people from every nation, time zone and walk of life are focused on the same thing: the Games. No matter your age, each of us can recall watching a race, a match, or a competition where a victory was won – and the power of that moment was captured in our hearts and minds for years to follow. That smile, those tears, the embrace with a longtime coach – these moments are embedded in our psyche in the same way they have captivated generations for (literally) thousands of years.

By Erin Porteous, CEO

Every time the Olympics kick off, I hold a place of reverence for this brief time when people from every nation, time zone and walk of life are focused on the same thing: the Games. No matter your age, each of us can recall watching a race, a match, or a competition where a victory was won – and the power of that moment was captured in our hearts and minds for years to follow. That smile, those tears, the embrace with a longtime coach – these moments are embedded in our psyche in the same way they have captivated generations for (literally) thousands of years.

As children, we watch the Olympics with awe, but also with little burning flames inside our hearts; the feeling that, just maybe, we could be like our idols we see on the screen. And our awe and wonder remain today as adults. Decades after watching my first Olympic Games, I also discover new sports that I was never even aware of before. The 10-meter air rifle competition, for example – where Coloradan Will Shaner set a new Olympic record and went on to win the gold. 

That’s because the Olympics give us a peek inside of our own greatness; the inspiring and incredible power of the human body and mind to do what often seems impossible. These are mostly amateur athletes who have worked, sweat and toiled for the absolute love of their sport, so there is a purity of intention that we feel when watching the Olympics that sets them apart. And after a year of our global community being bound together by a traumatic event, the opportunity to truly celebrate the strength, resilience and wonder of humanity together is such a welcome experience. 

Achieving greatness like this lies at the intersection of opportunity and talent. Malcolm Gladwell tells this story better than anyone else in his bestselling book, Outliers where he shares that those who are considered to be the greatest of all time often had significant opportunities to practice their skills and uncover their talents at a very young age – hitting that pivotal 10,000 hours way, way earlier in life. So, greatness is achieved because they had the natural talent and the opportunity, exposure and time to develop it. And if you take an honest look at how those two factors shuffle out, the opportunity is more important than the talent. Because talent, undiscovered or unrecognized, will remain dormant. Opportunity is what opens the door. 

Opportunity also begins with that spark, the flame that burns inside each of us, especially as children. The thought that… “Maybe I could do that.” And then the trips to the neighborhood pool or local gym give us the opportunity to explore our talents and dreams. 

Every child has that little flame within them; the wondering about their own greatness, their own potential.  

That’s why, when kids walk through our Club doors, they are often joyfully overwhelmed. Do they want to build robots in the STEM lab? Learn how to play volleyball? Try their hand at acrylic painting? Record a new song in the music studio? Build a new program for their fellow Club members? Or simply have a heart-to-heart with a member of our caring staff; one that might open a door to confidence and a newfound sense of safety. And some of them do, in fact, become Olympians: Club alumni Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Brooke Bennett, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal have all stood on the podium at the Games. 

That’s why the choices at Boys & Girls Clubs are limitless. Because we believe our kids are, too. 

And we know that, for all children, the opportunity to discover their own potential is one that has to be intentionally created. First, it takes exposure for children to discover what things in this great big wide world they might be great at – and second, it requires opportunity to cultivate those interests, passions and potential. 

We see a world of potential in every child. By creating opportunities, building relationships and making sure every child has an equitable opportunity to explore, the flame within them is cultivated and the door to their future is opened. This is an essential experience for every single child. So they can go from watching the Olympics on their living room floor to becoming Olympians in their own special and incredible ways, in their own lives.