6 Olympics stories to inspire students across school

The Olympics were full of amazing stories, achievements and individuals overcoming the odds - all offering great lessons for students too, as this PE teacher outlines

Hannah Underhill

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The Tokyo Olympics set our TVs alight this summer and I cannot wait for the Paralympics to do the same.

Not just for the drama, the golds and the glory, but for the countless examples of stories of redemption, hard work finally paying off, teamwork, camaraderie, overcoming the odds and much more that all underline why so often it’s the taking part that counts, not the winning.

Indeed, as a PE teacher, these are just some of the stories that came from the games that I will be using in the term ahead to show how, through sport, we can learn some of life’s most important lessons.

Here are six I think are definitely worth talking about.

1. Age is not a barrier

What better example could there be for teaching students that age is no barrier to success than skateboarders Kokona Hiraki and Sky Browne, who at just 12 and 13 years old respectively won silver and bronze medals. 

2. Wins don’t come easy

As teachers we know every student’s path is different, and as such we try to teach them resilience, grit and the determination to succeed from an early age.

There are so many stories of resilience and grit that we can use to demonstrate this – but for me it was the iconic picture of Tom Daley being awarded his gold medal after 13 years of trying in his fourth Olympic Games that really underlined how hard work and persistence pays off.

3. Mental health matters  

Mental health and students’ overall wellbeing are key priorities for schools, and PE is one of the key subjects that we can use as a vehicle to teach students some of the tools that can help them deal with the pressures of day-to-day life.

However, the topic of mental health in sport has only started to be taken seriously, on a public level at least, over the past few years.

This is why Naomi Osaka's and Simone Biles' recent choices to prioritise their mental health over their sports performance show us that even GOATs have off days and that putting our mental wellbeing first is vital.

4. We can do more together

The motto of this year’s Tokyo Games was “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together”. There is no doubt that these games have achieved their vision, and like the motto implies, we always achieve more if we go there together.

If you listen to any of the athletes’ interviews from the games, the first thing they all talk about is the fact that they couldn’t have achieved anything without the team around them and the people that chose to go on the journey with them.

A great example of this is the New Zealand Women’s Sevens team, who show nothing but admiration for each other, and attribute all their success to their sisterhood on and off the field.

5. Never give up

One of the most valuable lessons learned from the Olympics is to never give up. Everyone faces setbacks, problems and challenges, but it is how we deal with them that determines the outcome and defines us.

For example, Sifan Hassan could have easily given up when she was tripped during the 1500m heat, which saw her at the back of the field and seemingly out of the running to qualify for the Olympic final.

However, with just 300 metres to go, she chose not to let it phase her and in 62 seconds she went from last to first place, qualifying for the finals, where she took the bronze medal, along with two golds in the 5000m and 1000m events.

6. It’s not all about winning

We teach kids to be the best at whatever they do, but it is vital that they understand that it is not all about winning, as the journey often matters more than the destination.

The winners’ stories are well documented, and rightly so, but there is just as much value in the stories of the athletes who didn’t pick up a medal as those who did.

For example, Yusra Mardini, a member of the Refugee Olympic Team who competed at this year’s Games, shows us that attitude is everything when achieving your goals and tackling setbacks.

As although she has swam at the past two Olympics, just six years ago she was forced to swim for her life when her family's home was destroyed and they had to flee their home country of Syria.

Her determination to come back and compete is a great example of how ensuring you are there taking part, against all the odds, can be just as important as winning gold or breaking records.

There were countless other great stories and life lessons to be told from the Olympics and the Paralympics to come. Perhaps the biggest question is which will you be sharing with your students?

Hannah Underhill is Director of Sport, Health & Fitness at GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai

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