Malala and Mandela are over. Tiger is your man for motivational assemblies

Exam season triggers thousands of motivational assemblies. Despite his less than perfect past, this year, it's Tiger Woods' turn

Stephen Petty

Tiger Woods, PGA tour, golf, Woods

With Sats and GCSEs starting early next term, many school leaders will have been scratching around this holiday for some inspirational story to use in the big motivational assembly in the first week back.  

“Get in, you beauty!” must have been the relieved shriek of many of those assembly givers when Tiger Woods dutifully came back from injury and infamy last weekend to sink his final putt and reclaim a major golfing title. After over 10 years of being out in the wilderness, Tiger was back. So was the long-lost Tiger Woods-themed assembly – give or take a few updates and modifications. 

The temptation to offer Woods as a role model in that first assembly may prove irresistible. The fact that Tiger is now aged 43 only makes the story more appealing to headteachers, most of whom are similarly middle-aged and some of whom may also quietly harbour hopes that equivalent sporting glory will revisit them one day. 

And let’s be honest, assemblies were overdue a break like this. Even by Sats age, children have probably had their fill of quotes from Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzai. Besides, the former two – rather inconveniently – tended to utter things that don’t allude to the world of exams at all. It is almost as if they felt that there were more important issues to address than exams, league tables and Progress 8. And while Malala is utterly admirable and highly quotable, she doesn’t always do it for those all-important GCSE “borderline boys”. She needs to work on that side of her game, for the sake of league tables. It's about priorities and she's not quite there yet.

Tiger, on the other hand, offers the assembly planner a whole catalogue of pertinent quotes that are easily manipulated by the presenter to sound as if they are all about revising for exams. He is growth mindset personified. What more apposite quote to flash up on the hall screen than this: “I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest. I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that’s been what has gotten me this far.” 

In fact, the entire assembly could simply consist of a sequence of Tiger quotes running on PowerPoint, with the head just reading them out. Here are a few of the best, to save any interested parties the bother:

“The only thing you can do is take a learning experience from it, positives and negatives, and apply them to the future. What did you do right, what did you do wrong.”

“I smile at obstacles.”

“[On] days when you just don’t have it, you don’t pack it in – you give it everything you’ve got. You grind it out.”

However, anyone venturing down this seemingly idyllic fairway should be wary of the bunkers and waters that lie ahead. To present Tiger Woods as any kind of role model will seem way out of bounds to many, including to the many young people assembled there – some of whom may even be listening. I spoke to a couple of teenagers at the weekend who consider him to be an “appalling man”. They feel that his infidelity and other indiscretions have been too much and that learning to hit a golf ball accurately may not fully compensate for all of that.

Those of us who are too focused on sport – and maybe a little too male with it – probably overestimate its capacity to offer general atonement.  

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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