An Olympic Lesson

I have a confession to make…I am an Olympic junkie.  I have spent the past couple weeks, staying up way too late, watching sports that I have not watched for four years and probably will not watch again for another four years. But, I love it! I love the feel of the Olympics and the stories of the athletes dedication and resiliency as they prepare for a competition that only happens every four years. One of these stories was an interesting article I came across from Indianapolis sports writer Bob Kravitz.  Although, I am not always a fan of Kravitz’s writings, I appreciate the ideas behind the short article linked in the tweet below.

The reactions of these two athletes could not be more different and more important for us to understand.  Missy Franklin, the high school phenom at the London Olympics, failed to even make a final in any of her events in Rio.  Four years of demanding training and then ending in a level of disappointment most of us would struggle to understand is viewed from the following perspective.

Kravitz quoted Missy Franklin in his article with the following: “I wish I had an excuse, but I don’t,’’ she told reporters Thursday. “And I’m not going to make up one. The truth is, I worked as hard as I possibly could. I did everything I could think of doing and for some reason I felt more short than I ever have before, and I wish so much that there was an explanation for that.”

Franklin goes on to say, “But I’m just trusting that God has a plan and a purpose and He’s going to make something beautiful out of this – even though I really wish I could ask Him what that’s going to be right now.’’

On the other hand, Hope Solo’s reaction was very different.  Her reaction was one of blame rather than responsibility.  She is quoted as saying: “I thought we played a courageous game. I thought we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I am very proud of this team. But, I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today.”

After reading this article, I saw the picture below of Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos.


Although not spoken in words, I see the same ideas in this image as I read in the comments of Missy Franklin and Hope Solo.  Phelps and Franklin are clearly focused on themselves, while Le Clos and Solo are focused on others.

I believe that this is an interesting glimpse into our culture.  Are we competing or are we comparing?  Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert bring up the concept of competing versus comparing in their book Burn Your Goals.  They tell us that competing is a focus on us and a “getting better” mentality, where comparing is a focus on others and a “better than” mentality.

Sometimes, sports can provide great analogies for education. Winning and success are difficult to define in education.  I wonder sometimes if we are creating a culture of competing or a culture of comparing.

  • Are classroom grades a motivator to be better than yourself each day or are they used to create a better than culture in our classrooms?
  • Does class rank help kids compete or compare?
  • Does standardized testing and school grades help us compete or compare?

I fear that at times, we use grades, ranks, and other traditional educational practices to create a culture of comparing rather than competing in our schools.  We must teach our students that being better than they were yesterday is always the goal, and it’s the only goal.  We must find ways to create a culture of growth and learning rather than a culture measuring up.  One culture creates a sense ownership, while the other creates a culture of blame.  If you win it is because of you, if you lose, well let’s blame others.

So how do we create cultures of competing?  Let’s find ways to make learning more important than grading.  Let’s find ways to recognize students for hard work, dedication, and effort rather than just class rank.  Let’s find ways to measure our success as a school in other ways than standardized tests and school grades.  We need to shift our thinking and priorities to competing rather than comparing!

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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