CURTIS FINCH: Lessons from the Olympians

Educators, students can learn from the dedication, drive of world-class athletes

If you were like me growing up, you often wondered what were the differences between a high school, college, professional and Olympic athlete; what made them unique? Every time the Olympics came around, I would be running around trying to jump higher, run faster and throw further, just like the rest of the American children. I’m sure most of the kids around the world were doing the same. In high school, I had a career-ending injury in my best sport, wrestling, and my pursuit of college athletics ended. As I grew into young adulthood, I went to college in a major city (Seattle), and I began to come into contact with athletes from my university and the University of Washington – they were always bigger, faster and stronger than I. Many of the athletes were from around the world. That hasn’t changed with today’s Olympic athletes either; many come from around the globe but go to American universities. Athletics often is their ticket out of the situation in their war-torn or impoverished country somewhere on the other side of the earth.

Along the same lines, I had the opportunity to watch the best professional golfers in the world a couple of years ago at the Buick Open in southern Michigan. Rather than sit at one hole and watch everyone come through the course, I picked one golfer and walked with him all the way through most of the holes. Professional golf is just like the Olympics; the best 100 plus golfers shoot each tournament to “make the cut” and proceed on. Every week you play against the best in the world at what they do. After watching almost four hours of one great shot after another, I shook my head and went home amazed at his skills.

As an adult, I’ve been next to the court, rink surface or diamond and seen how large the modern athletes are. They are the giants of our societies (or the smallest, depending on the sport). Olympian and professional athletes are the best in the world at their discipline. With the advent of TV, we can now watch their every move in slow motion and from different angles, making their feats even greater. Most of them have been pursuing their dreams since they could start to walk, run, jump, throw, swim or ride. One of my current friends was a former Olympic-caliber competitor and he still is “driven” today. Everything always seems to get turned into a competition, even mowing his lawn!

Despite all of our dreams to compete at the Olympic level, the probability of participation is very small. Even when races are determined by thousandths of a second, the distance between the “common man” and an Olympic-level athlete couldn’t be farther apart. Once I realized this truth, I’ve learned to watch the Olympics with a new level of interest and respect. Watching the best in the world every four years sure is fun, and humbling at the same time. Hearing their stories of sacrifice and commitment are inspiring!

The job of educators is to encourage each student to reach his or her potential, while training all to an Olympic-level education. The teacher’s and parents’ job is to lead; the student’s job is to be ready to learn. Mia Hamm, American soccer medalist in 2004, was once quoted, “I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”

Time to light the educational fire – school’s about to start!

Dr. Finch can be reached at and on Twitter at CFinchMOISD