From an early age children learn by copying. They emulate the conduct of adults and older children such that positive and negative role models can have a marked effect on behaviour. Younger brothers and sisters will often look up to an elder sibling (particularly if the age difference is such that they are not in direct competition) and big brother or sister can set the behavioural tone.
It is the same in schools, where sixth formers who exemplify high standards in academic study, sporting endeavour, or personal conduct can have very positive effects on those in younger year groups. Good schools recognise the importance of such vertical integration and create opportunities for older students to showcase positive behaviour to younger pupils through prefect and mentoring schemes, sports coaching and study buddy systems.
It is no different in the real world, where impressionable youngsters will copy the behaviour of those they look up to. This is where the real legacy of the London Olympics lies. In Olympic fortnight British youngsters were exposed to a marvellous array of wonderful sporting role models from Tom Daley to Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis to Charlotte Dujardin. All seemingly ordinary people, who have worked hard to perfect their natural talent, often against considerable odds, and who multiply ability by application to achieve at the highest level.
In their interviews with the media, Team GB medallists mixed pride with modesty, politeness with determination, dedication with humour. Those who succeeded remembered to thank their coaches and supporters; those who failed were quietly philosophical and aimed to learn from their disappointment rather than rail against it.
The Olympic spirit of good sportsmanship burnt brightly and has become a beacon for the next generation. It is a welcome antidote to a youth culture so often shaped by cheap ‘reality’ TV, shallow celebrities and inane gossip.
The other great role models in London 2012 were the volunteers. Those who gave their time freely to help others and in doing so missed out on some of the sporting action as they dealt with lost property and lost people. The courtesy, kindness and consideration of the volunteers touched the hearts of many. It stands in stark contrast to the riots, thuggery and anti-social behaviour of a year ago.
Copycat is often a term associated with negative actions. Let us hope that today’s children will copy the tremendous exploits of the competitors and volunteers at London 2012 and in so doing turn a two week wonder into something more permanent. If the next generation learns to value the importance of hard work, dedication, team work, resilience, drive, humour, modesty, politeness, and consideration then the billions invested in London 2012 will be money well spent.