Lessons from the Olympics to thrive this new school year!

Author: Stephen Hurworth - Head of Student Wellbeing (Key Stage 4/5)

Whether you agree or not the Olympic Games should have taken place in Tokyo this summer, the lessons we can learn from the athletes who competed are unquestionable and quite simply, inspirational. Starting any new school year will be different for every student. Some students can’t wait to put on the new uniform, gel their hair and try out the new school shoes. Others will feel a sense of anxiety and anticipation about walking through the corridors or clicking the first Teams link. This article will explore what lessons our students at DCB can learn from elite athletes when tackling a new school year and all that comes with it.


Managing complex changes

This summer, the Olympians had to deal with enormous changes to how they usually perform during competition. For starters, there wasn’t a crowd to compete in front of. Some athletes thrive off the pressure and atmosphere of a packed-out arena, whereas some would have relished the quieter background noise

How does this relate to DCB students? DCB students in the main, relish coming to school to see their friends, teachers and engage in lessons and extracurricular activities. Most also enjoy the fast-paced nature and hustle and bustle of a thriving school like DCB. COVID-19 has brought online learning into the picture with its own set of complexities. Like the Olympic athletes who competed without their fans, those who put the most in will get the most out. Our mindset and mental approach need to be that of positivity, focus and goal-orientated processes. There is no room for a fixed mindset when starting a new school year online.

Uncertainty can be unsettling, so focus on what you can control.

For months, the Olympic athletes faced constant uncertainty about whether the games would be cancelled. Bearing in mind, most of the athletes had been training for five years to reach the pinnacle goal of the Olympic Games. This must have thrown some psychological obstacles in the way of preparation to say the very least.

Our students will be facing similar bouts of anxiety relating to an uncertain future. Focusing on the present and what is in their control is imperative for a stable mind, academic success, and overall wellbeing. Mindfulness is an exceptional way of improving your ability to stay in the present. I highly rate the app Headspace but there are a plethora of mindfulness and meditation apps at our disposal.

Failure is the magic potion for future success!

11, 656 athletes competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games with 339 medals being awarded. According to the calculator app on my mobile phone, this means that almost 97% of athletes didn’t receive a medal. In some of the athletes’ eyes and their countries, this could be perceived as ‘failure’. But is it though? Just reaching an Olympic Games and representing your country is surely a huge success

DCB students this academic year may experience numerous setbacks in a variety of different contexts whether it be academically, on the sports field or not obtaining the leadership position they had hoped for to name only a few. One of our Dulwich values is resilience. Displaying this strong sense of bouncebackability and learning from what doesn’t quite work out will be the making of our students. The strongest message of harnessing the setbacks and use them to propel us to higher heights. After all, we are a high performing academic institution and each of us should be striving to achieve our personal best. More on this later…

Process nips outcome at the finish line to success at DCB in 2021/22…’

As alluded to earlier in the article, the athletes in Tokyo have been training for years to reach the Olympic Games. Each athlete would have made huge sacrifices, trained for hours upon hours, abided by a strict diet and nutrition plan, and had a huge support team around each one of them. All of this to achieve a set of goals. Granted, some of these goals have included a colour of metal that would hopefully be worn around their necks on a podium, but it’s the journey they undertook which would have provided them with the greatest of lessons.

SMART goals

This couldn’t be more applicable to our students. When commencing a new school year, it’s imperative that our students engage in a goal-setting process. Creating, sharing and regularly evaluating their own set of personal-best goals is the journey that will help propel them to new heights this academic year. One great way to set goals is using the SMART acronym and ensuring there’s an actionable plan in place with each component, thus making it more than targeting an outcome goal.

There is no health without mental health.

Arguably one of the most talked-about incidents at the Olympic games was US Gymnastics most successful Olympian, Simone Biles, and her withdrawal from some of her events due to protecting her mental health. This decision came under intense scrutiny, both negatively but also and most importantly, in a positive light. Alongside intense pressure and protecting her own mental health, Biles indicated that she was suffering from what gymnasts call the ‘twisties’ or ‘fear in flight’. Explained in short, when a gymnast is in mid-air, they need to be in full control of their body and their psychological processes must be pinpoint to avoid any mistakes. If both are not in synch, this could spell serious danger to the athlete. Labelled as a ‘mental marvel’ by a fellow US Olympian, Biles’ decision to pull out should be looked upon as a sign of strength, power and the strongest of messages to everyone, that protecting your mental health should come first.

DCB students have a wealth of support at school with form tutors, subject teachers, Heads of Year, counsellors, and support staff all at their disposal to support the students. The strongest message we can take from Simone Biles is that ‘it is OK to not be OK’, and when we aren’t feeling at our best or need to take a step back, seeking support is the best thing to do. There simply is no health without mental health.

We wish all our DCB students the very best for the new academic year. Taking a leaf out of the Olympic athletes’ book and displaying a growth, resilient and goal-focused mindset will be the making of us all in our ever-changing and uncertain future.

8 things the Olympics taught us