I have been living in the Olympic Village for over two weeks now and it has definitely been one of the most unique experiences of my life.  If you are just beginning to read my posts let me catch you up.  My name is David Thompson and I played Team Handball for the United States National Team for over 11 years.  I have been able to travel all over the world and compete against some of the best athletes all while representing my country. Sport has always been a very important part of my life and sport has given me so much. I am also a youth pastor at a church in Birmingham, Alabama.  This summer I was selected by other US athletes to serve as a non-competing athlete for the Olympic games in Rio. My primary roles are to support, encourage and be an advocate for the US athletes as they prepare for their competition.  Since I was also an elite Team USA athlete, I know what the athletes are experiencing, needing and worried about.  My goal then is to help eliminate as many unneeded distractions as possible so that our Team USA athletes can just concentrate on doing their thing.  I have been given so much through sport and this role has given me a chance to give back.
For my 11 years as an athlete everything was just taken care of for me.  The flights were booked, the bus showed up to take us to practice and games, the food was prepared to our liking and our accommodations were made as comfortable as possible. I was set up for success by the “Team behind the Team”.  This “team” is a group of 20-30 USOC staff members who work for hours preparing for minutes.  They do their best to make the games what they believe it should be like.  But they also realize that they need my voice in the room.  Much like our churches, people in our congregations give their money, time and talents to God and the local church and many of our youth ministries benefit from those gifts.  They hire staff like you and me and we work for hours preparing for minutes in our lessons, retreats and Bible Studies.  So many of our churches really do want to provide a wonderful, healthy and strong youth ministry.  But we need their voice in the room.
You know what rooms I am talking about, right?  Not the church parlor.  I am talking about the room where decisions, big decisions are being made.  For months as the “Team behind the Team” prepared for the Olympic games, and now every evening during the games, I speak for the athletes in the important meetings.  The USOC believes (and I agree) that they need an athlete’s voice in the room to give perspective and even to push back against the system.  I think this same important point is vital in our churches and youth ministries.  Even if I think I know what is best for our students and assume I know what they want, it is so crucial to have their voice in the room.  So first have them in the room and second ask them what they think.  I think this principle holds true outside of our youth ministry meetings too. We have to fight to have our teens’ voices heard in the rooms where decisions are being made…big decisions. If they can’t be in a meeting then we need to be their voice in the room, doing our best to share a student’s perspective.
Tonight is Opening Ceremony! Things are getting real now and the feeling is electric in the village. I hope you are cheering on Team USA. Tomorrow I will post about the Opening Ceremony festivities.
FYI Ricky Fowler (golfer) was hanging out in the lounge as I was typing this. Pretty stinkin’ cool.  I love the Olympics!