Thoughts on the Olympic Games

olympicsWell, the opening ceremonies for the Olympics are set to begin tomorrow, and for most of us it is a challenge to keep our excitement and anxiety in check. As a country, we hold almost impossibly high expectations for our athletes; expectations to bring home even more gold medals than they did at the last winter games, when they broke the record for most gold medals one by one country at the Winter Olympics. One has to wonder how anyone could perform at the top of their game under such pressure.

But perform they will. Win or lose, the athletes will give their best. They have trained under the best coaches available. They will use the best equipment, crafted by the best technologies. They will ‘psyche’ themselves and stay focused. They will push their bodies beyond what most of us could possibly endure. And they will do all this under the banner of fair competition. The Olympic Oath, recited at the opening of the Olympic Games since 1920 in Antwerp, is all about playing fair. However, many athletes fall short of honouring this oath; giving in to the temptation to cheat or unfairly use medical technology in order to gain personal or national fame.

Rather than an oath, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) offers seven values to help guide Canadian athletes. These values are Excellence, Fun, Fairness, Human Development, Leadership and Peace. These values “have been established to remind athletes and their supporters that the life skills and experience obtained through athletic preparation, competition and teamwork are far more valuable than any medal ever awarded.” They are more fully described on the COC website and are worth reading (http://olympic.ca/canadian-olympic-committee/values/).

The Olympic oath is a promise. A promise too often broken. It is a pass/fail measure, with little room for redemption after a fail. The COC’s values, on the other hand, are a target we can all strive toward. Even if we falter, we and our athletes can get up, brush ourselves off, and try again. It is a recipe for continual improvement. Yesterday, for example, I heard about how one of our athletes tweeted a message about a competitor, claiming the competitor was afraid to lose. In a pass/fail situation, this tweet was clearly a fail – a put down, and definitely not what most of us would call “sportsmanship”. However, our athlete quickly saw the error of his ways and withdrew the comment, apologizing for his lack of judgment. Progress? Leadership? It was certainly a step in the right direction for that athlete and all his admirers. Leadership is not always about winning or strategizing, it is about seeing the bigger picture and refocusing on that vision, even in tough situations. It is about admitting our errors, learning from them, and moving on to make better choices.

I think the difference between the Olympic Oath and the Canadian Olympic Committee’s seven values mirrors the changes we have seen in education over the past several decades. We focus now less on those pass/fail evaluations (although they still have a place in our education system) and more on ensuring our students can evaluate their own choices and achievements and therefore make the necessary adjustments in effort and focus in order to meet their goals.

At CCCS we will hold our own Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday at 2:30pm. The students will recite a version of the Olympic Oath. We will cheer them on in their efforts to do their best. And we will continue to help them get up when they fall, to refocus and to start over again. May the games begin!

~ Stuart Hall