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Dealing with set backs in education - learning from sports!

One of my kids got a slight injury in their sport. The response of the coach was clear: don't stress, take some time off, come back slowly, we will spend time in healing. The most important goal here is to make sure your body is healthy for the long run.

This made me think about what schools could learn from sports. What happens when our kids struggle with an academic subject, fail an exam, or are emotionally injured? There are often no accommodations. They are told to keep going. The stress of meeting deadlines, the importance of exams, trumps their wellbeing. Their mental health is not taken as seriously, understood as deeply, as their physical health.

In sports time is spent understanding what different athletes are best at and supporting that. You will not train a sprinter for a marathon and vice versa. Why is there nothing similar in academics? Some of us are broad learners. We want a little bit of everything and want the ability to explore. A few of us are deep divers and want to study just a few subjects in great depth. But the system gives only one option. The same for all.

Good sport coaching focuses on the long-term wellbeing of the athlete. You would never ask an athlete to run on a fractured leg. Missing an Olympic Game is better than losing your leg. Yet, we don't seem to have the same long-term vision in education. It is better to show up to an exam even if you are emotionally traumatised for it. It is better to be dragged to school to help the school reach 100% attendance than to take a day, a week, even a month or more to process and heal from an emotional injury.

This is not to paint a naive, idealistic picture, where everything is easy. Learning is challenging. Just like sports, it requires work, dedication, determination. But there are healthy ways to work hard, and there are unhealthy ways to work. We can be resilient, we can be determined, and we can still be kind and wise with ourselves and our children, taking the time needed to heal and reflect. In fact, without taking this time, in terms of learning, we will not develop the deeper analysis and reflection that wisdom grows from.

We need to re-think what our goal is in education. I strongly believe education is a long-term game. It is not about this exam, or that admission, it is about the healthy, happy, creative individuals our society, our world needs. It is about helping our children thrive in their lives.

What if we step away from the system. What if we do something different? What if we don't shape adults who are hurt and who prioritise conforming over health? They might have the strength and creativity to come up with new ways of living, healthier ways of existing, new jobs, new goals. A long-term plan of kindness and creativity, thinking and joy.


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