So another four years have passed and the 2012 London Olympics are now upon us. The games provide a plethora of opportunities to learn about human nature, sportsmanship (and sports ladyship), tenacity, overcoming obstacles, competition, and ethics to name just a few. These are great opportunities for us to better understand ourselves and if you are a parent or teacher they provide ‘teachable moments’.
Here are some of the teachable moments I have seen in the last couple of days and my take on them.
1. The opening ceremonies provided a glimpse of the intense National pride the UK takes in its public health care system. Sure the program is not perfect and the taxes are high in the country to pay for it, but I found it inspiring to think that a country would celebrate their health care system in front of the rest of the world. In watching it I couldn’t help think that opening ceremony Director Danny Boyle was taking a dig at the USA and saying Nationalized health care is possible and it doesn’t mean you forgo Capitalism. If it did then why would Sir Paul McCartney and J.K. Rowling stay and pay millions per year? There is an Olympian size challenge for our children to find a system that works for more people in the USA.
2. The disqualification of Four badminton teams (8 individuals) for throwing matches to get better match-ups in the semi-finals has many interesting learning points. First, some such as Yahoo Sports author Martin Rogers believes it was the officials and organizers who allowed it to happen and states in his article that “What they [athletes] did was wrong. It was ugly. It was completely against the Olympic ideal. But it wasn’t cheating. The only cheating that took place was from the organizers, who shortchanged the public and did their sport a disservice.” He points out that Table Tennis had a similar problem in Sydney in 2000 and changed their format to avoid it. Still, I think what these players did is cheating when you purposefully underperform or throw matches to get an advantage in later competition. In a comment for the BBC former American track star Michael Johnson said “People will do whatever they can to get an advantage. The only way to stop it is to change the rules.” Tanking (purposefully throwing a match) may not be printed in every rulebook but it is certainly something I would not teach my child to do would you? I guess another perspective is that Tanking is not much different then sitting starters and star players in a meaningless game when your team is already in the playoffs…is it?
3. Contrasting success and failure. The success of the USA Women’s team to the failure of the Men’s team in gymnastics is a perfect example. How can one team get better while the other self-destructs? The answer to this is probably very complicated but from this amateur observers perspective I think they lost their team focus trying to do too much as individuals and letting the pressure of the Olympic get to them. After the competition one USA team member, Sam Mikulak, said in an interview “I felt very nervous on floor. It was definitely something I’ve never experienced before in my life. At the end of my (floor) routine, I got a little too amped up — I tried to go for that stick and just pulled it up a little short.” In contrast, you have the USA women who lived up to and perhaps exceeded the hype and expectations of them to win the competition. Instead of wilting under the same pressure the men experienced they thrived and worked as a team yelling and screaming support for their teammates during their event and always congratulating them when they came off. You could sense they were prepared for the pressure and knew they could depend on their team.
Perhaps a difference in the teams was also coaching. I had a recent student who has some learning disabilities that was taking the ASVAB and did poorly on his initial ASVAB exam. We worked together for four months and he tried again but did not see enough improvement in his score to get in. We worked together another seven months and in that time beside the academics I taught him many tools and techniques to overcome test anxiety, learn how to manage test time and breathing exercises to help him relax and regain focus. I guess much of what I did with him was like a coach. I prepared him for his ‘moment’ when it all came down to him doing the exam but knowing we were all rooting for him.
We had many hurdles to overcome including self-doubt and poor self-image that were instilled from his schooling. There were times he was ready to quit his quest but he kept trying with prodding from his parents and I. His Father called two days ago to say he achieved the score he needed and would be going into the Navy in March 2013! To me this success shows that Focus, Teamwork, Dedication and Preparation work in both academics and athletics…only we don’t get medals in academics!