It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part: Olympics-themed activities for the whole family

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Family movie night, a ritual observed by families as a way to enjoy a relaxing evening together, is endangered. Entertainment that targets increasingly specific segments of the population threatens its very existence: Vine for teenage boys, for tween girls, Pokeman Go for adults who should know better. Thankfully, the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro begin on Friday, August 5, and for families, this is a great chance to get together for some bonding, cheering, snacking and serious couch-potato fun. It's also something children are likely to remember for many years to come.

The Games draw our attention to the infinite potential of the human body, mind over matter, the coming together of countries and the raw power of perseverance. Young children are drawn to the feats of the athletes and even the most reticent sports fan can find something intriguing to watch – maybe a dive that spins on both axes, or an athlete who can run, swim, shoot, ride a horse and fence in rapid succession, as modern pentathlon competitors will do. Most of all, the Olympics give us a sense of awe at the human body and what happens when discipline, coaching, teamwork and talent converge.

Setting aside time as a family to watch the Olympics offers benefits cited by the magazine Psychology Today. Within set timings and arenas, sports events offer a cathartic release at a win or loss. In a world where there are many shades of grey, but rarely a chance for the finite, sports are cut-and-dry. When we watch sports, we shift our focus away from our own problems while we cheer for our team, country or the underdog. We learn from the strength and discipline of sport's role models, keeping their performances in mind, and we push ourselves.

The Olympics, in particular, unite families when they cheer for the same country, in the same way that they call forth patriotism on a larger scale. This year, 13 ­Emiratis will take part in the Summer Games, competing in cycling, judo, shooting, swimming, and, in a last-minute opening, women’s weightlifting. Families watching the Olympics from the UAE can multiply their allegiances – home country and adopted home.

Tej Rae rounds up five family activities that can make summer a memorable Olympics-inspired event.

The Olympics opening ceremony starts at 2am on Saturday, August 6 in the UAE. BeIN Sports will air 16 hours of live programmes each day until August 22. OSN will also broadcast in Arabic and English on OSN Sports 3, 4, and 5. The official Olympics YouTube channel will also stream highlights.

1. Thrill of the new

Play a new sport as a family. During the Games, common sports are played alongside the unfamiliar. So archery and volleyball take their place alongside the modern pentathlon. The latter includes pistol shooting and épée fencing, in rapid succession with showjumping, cross-country running and freestyle swimming. Elsewhere, rugby union sevens and golf are new to the Olympics roster this year.

Some of these sports, both strange and ordinary, might be fun to try as a family. Moves from the synchronised swimming competition can be improvised in the pool, or perhaps try a game of water polo. Take a trip to the beach to practise sprints on rentable kayaks at Saadiyat ­Island, or try your aim in the air-­conditioned Abu Dhabi Archery range, Jebel Ali Shooting Club or the Sharjah ­Wanderers Golf Club.

2. What’s the big idea?

Talk to your children about the “big ideas” of the Olympics, with open-ended questions that challenge your child to consider the ­complex issues that follow the Games. With younger children, topics such as what it means to be a good sport, how practising helps the athletes and losing gracefully will come to life with the examples they see on the screen. Older children can talk about how money, in the guise of corporate sponsorship, influences the Games and athletes, or how performance-­enhancing drugs have led to many disqualifications this year. According to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that rates family suitability of all types of media, it’s these discussions that will stay with your children, more than event itself.

3. Sporty snacks

Prepare some Olympics-worthy snacks to munch on while watching the events. Be sure to include proteins, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and other superfoods. You could take your country’s flag as your template, and invite the children to brainstorm how nutritious foods can be prepared in your country’s colours. Let them help prepare and cook the snacks, too. For example, the UAE flag is red, green, white and black. A fruit platter with raspberries, pomegranate, kiwi and green grapes could be arranged in stripes, with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt as a white dip. Sprinkle black chia seeds on the yogurt dip for a superfood boost, and tell your children that Olympians add chia seeds to their diets (the protein-rich super-seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids, fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants). For a savoury offering, dip blue-black corn tortilla chips along with green vegetables, such as celery and cucumber, in beetroot hummus or fresh tomato salsa, with a side of tzatziki for the white of the UAE flag. Serve bowls of edamame (green) and a platter of devilled eggs (more white) for an extra protein boost.

4. Memory lane

Share memories of past Olympics. The younger generation will enjoy learning what their parents and grandparents remember – these stories convey a sense of how physical and political boundaries have been pushed forward. The first ­Olympian I adored was Nadia Comaneci. When I was a little younger than my daughter is now, the 14-year-old Romanian gymnast was the first Olympics athlete ever to earn a perfect 10, for her routine on the parallel bars. That she was so young, female and emerged from a repressive regime only added to the spectacle.

In addition to our personal histories with the Olympics, children will be interested to hear about the original Olympics, which started in ancient Greece in 776BC, with a torch burning in the background throughout the event.

5. Tune in

Finally, and most crucially, set aside time to watch the main event with your family. Olympics-themed movies, such as Cool Runnings (even though it's set at the Winter ­Olympics, it's a great story of triumph over adversity) or The Gabby Douglas Story, will give your children a sense of the obstacles athletes face along the way, as well as the idea that every athlete overcame numerous obstacles to join in the Games. Highlights from past Olympics might also be of interest, such as ­Comaneci's famous parallel bar routine.