Every four years the world narrows its focus for a few weeks to take part, however possible, in the Summer Olympic Games. The original Olympics began in Greece sometime around 776 BC. These games consisted mostly of running events, but after a while grew to include throwing events, wrestling, boxing, horse riding, chariot racing, and the pinnacle of the Olympics: the Pentathlon. The Ancient Pentathlon consisted of 5 different events completed in a single day. It included long jump, javelin, discus, a short running race, and wrestling. Pentathletes, the athletes who participated in this event, were considered the ultimate athletes.
These original Olympic Games reached their peak during the 5th and 6th Centuries BC, but then fizzled out when the Romans became more influential. But, in 1896, thanks to Pierre de Coubertin, a French baron, the games were reinvented for modern times in Athens, Greece. De Coubertin stated, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” This has become the Olympic Creed.
This creed has major implications for modern day physical education and physical activity programs. Teaching children the importance of participation and working hard, no matter how they compare to others, should be of highest priority. We often talk of “disguising the fitness” in physical education to involve more students and get them to enjoy physical activity. By making fitness fun for children, we hope they will participate more and become more fit. However, there is also great merit in “celebrating the struggle,” in which children are given the knowledge and power of fitness, along with the many paths they can take toward the goal of achieving it. The benefits of struggling and working through tough circumstances can be seen not just in sport, but in all aspects of life. This is what de Coubertin intended. Athletes are successful both on and off the playing field because they understand and live by the Olympic Creed.
As a Physical Education or Classroom Teacher, there are so many opportunities to celebrate the Olympics with your students! Here are just a few ideas…
1. Expose students to some of the more obscure sports in the Olympics. Aside from those needing special venues or equipment, or not appropriate for PE (i.e. Equestrian, Sailing, Shooting, Boxing etc.), find a few obscure ones and teach a modified version.
- Want to teach kayaking but don’t have a body of water? Try sitting kids on scooters with modified paddles “paddling” around the gym!
- Introduce students to Track and Field (aka “Athletics”) by teaching Javelin Throw using pool noodles, Discus using flying discs, Shot Put with softballs, Hurdles using cones with a rope stretched between, etc.
- Introduce students to individual sports like Archery, Badminton, Fencing, Golf, Table Tennis, and Taekwondo.
- Have a team sport unit focusing on modified versions of Handball, Rugby, Field Hockey, and Volleyball.
2. Create your own Pentathlon consisting of 5 events of your choice. Have students practice for, and then compete in, the one-of-a-kind Pentathlon as a culminating event.
3. Run a Mini-Olympic Games involving the whole school! This can be a fabulous, multi-disciplinary event that involves students, faculty, staff, families, and the community.
- Watch a game, match, race, etc. and report on the event in sport-writer style.
- Choose a sport you know little about. Create a history, rules, etiquette, etc. for the sport and write a report. Do not do any research, as this should be a creative writing assignment.
- Choose an Olympic event and research how that sport or event has changed through history.
- Choose an Olympic athlete and read a book about that athlete.
- Calculate the number of possible gold medals awarded in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
- Calculate which sports have the most athletes. Why? Which have the least? Why?
- How many strokes does it take for an athlete (of choice) to go 50 meters in each of the strokes: butterfly, back, breast, and free? Which takes the least? Why? Which takes the most? Why?
- What are the effects on the body of endurance sports like the Marathon versus strength and power sports like Weightlifting?
- Research the Ancient Olympics and compare them to Modern Olympics.
- Allow students to choose a country and make their flag using any materials available.
- Make Olympic torches from paper and crepe paper.
- Make an Olympic mascot out of available materials.
In my next blog I’ll post details on how to run a mini-Olympic Games at your school.