Rio 2016 Olympics

The Olympics are winding down and school is starting up. Time to get the gears turning in young minds.

The Olympics are thrilling. We’ve seen Michael Phelps continue to rack up gold metals and Kayla Harrison snatch two gold in judo. What we haven’t seen is the hard work and dedication that goes into getting the gold or even making it to the Olympic village!Men's and Women's Olympic Swimming. National Aquatics Center

The Olympics are a good reminder that it takes hard work and dedication to reach your goals. For teachers, this is a great opportunity to remind students that in order to succeed, it’s critical to put in the time and effort. Whether you are an athlete or student, the road to success is a process.

While athletes train their bodies, students train their minds. There are many parallels between athletes preparing their bodies for the competition and students preparing their brains for the exam. Additionally, if you’re comparing education to the Olympics, you can add that as a teacher, you’re like their coach!


Takeaway 1:
Build up from ground up.

Katie Ledecky’s ability to dominate the women’s freestyle races didn’t happen overnight. Simone Biles didn’t just start doing flips and sticking her complex routines last month. Like other Olympic athletes, Ledecky and Biles started training when they were young. Each of them worked hard to arrive at where they are today.


Simone Biles took home the gold and has been called the best gymnast in the world..

Similarly, with education, students start from ground zero and build up their knowledge. They must invest time and attention absorb learning concepts and grasp new ideas.

This is where homework, weekly quizzes, and other small assignments play a critical part. These little opportunities for practice or self-assessment helps students work towards the larger goal. They lay the brick for the baby steps needed to achieve a larger understanding. Also, by breaking town larger objectives to smaller “bite sized” objectives, the process of achieving large goals becomes manageable and more encouraging.


“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
– Mia Hamm, Olympic Soccer Athlete

Takeaway 2:
Play to your strengths.

At age 6, Simone Biles visited the gym for a day care field trip. While she was there gymnastics clicked for her so she stuck with it. Now she is the best gymnast in the world.

The point here is that each person has their own natural strengths and interests for learning. Some students might be better visual learners while others are more hands on. It’s good to tune into those strengths and move forward from there!


“As simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of the talents we’ve been given.”
Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gymnast


Takeaway 3:
Don’t listen to the nay sayers

Two girls study in the library.

Two girls study in the library. Photo by MC Quinn

As a sophomore in High School, Michael Jordan was cut from the varsity team. He was dissapointed but didn’t wallow in the sore news. Instead, he played a strong season on JV. He used the painful memory as a reminder to work hard to ensure his place on varsity for the following year. Now he’s a legendary basketball player.

Just this past July 2016 Kendra Harrison was cut from the US Olympic track and field team. Weeks later in an alternate competition she broke the 28-year-old world record for 100m hurdles.

Success often requires hard work. We all have bad days. It’s just a matter of how you step away from misfortune. When a bad grade, poor grade, or other people bring you down, use the experience to fuel the fire. Move in a positive direction.

On a related note, it might be important to remind students that when someone says, “nah I barely studied,” that is hardly the case. They just say that to watch their back in case they flunk or don’t do as well as they wanted.

Oftentimes students don’t see the hard work that other students put into their studies. Similarly, when the world spotlight turns to the Olympics, we are looking at the tip of the iceberg, the peak of their career.


“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it take an awful lot of determination, dedication, self discipline, and effort.”
Jesse Owens, Olympic Track Athlete

Takeaway 4:
Practice, try, and make mistakes.

TrackAndField_StartNo one ever succeeded the first time and part of the fun is the challenging journey. At the Olympics, each participant started from square one and clocked in both incredible times and, no doubt, miserable times.

Through practice and making mistakes, students learn by experience. Teachers can encourage students to experiment with different study tactics. Teachers can also provide different assignments and information delivery methods and gradually hone in on what works best for the class. A tried and tested way to boost student information retention is through pretesting.

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career… I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan, Olympic Basketball Athlete

Takeaway 5:

As we celebrate our incredible athletes, it’s also important to remember the hard work that got them there! Let’s, too, celebrate the accomplishments of students. Positive enforcement (for achievements both large and small) works wonders and only helps encourage students to work harder and go for the goal.

USWNT 2012 celebration

US women’s soccer team celebrates their victory in the 2012 World Cup Final.