In my new role, I’ll be doing a lot of assemblies in a range of different settings.  The first one, was today, in a Junior school with a diverse group of pupils.  We were asked to do a theme on success without too much of the God stuff – here’s the result using various stories from the Olympics:

I’ve loved this summer, Euro 2012, Wimbledon, the Olympics, then the Paralympics and yesterday Andy Murray wining the US Open.

As you get to know me you’ll discover I love sport, I cycle most places, I enjoy playing football, basketball and tennis, so this summer has been fantastic.

How many of you watched the Olympics this summer?

I thought we could do a quick quiz?

  • How many countries will compete at the Olympics? 204 & 160
  • How many athletes will be taking part? 10,500 & 4,200
  • How many people can fit into the Olympic Stadium? 80,000
  • How many sports are part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games?  26 sports and 23 sports
  • How many Olympic gold medals will be awarded at the Games?  302 & 503
  • Which sport would you most like to see at the Olympics?

Thousands of athletes of all colours and creeds met in London to compete and perform in an attempt to reach their personal goals and personal bests.  At the core of the Olympic and Paralympic Games there are seven universal principles or values.  These values underpin the games and bind the athletes.  They sum up the Olympic creed.  There are three Olympic values along with four Paralympic values. These are

Olympic values

  • respect: fair play; knowing one’s own limits; taking care of one’s health and the environment
  • excellence: how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part and progressing according to one’s own objectives
  • friendship: how through sport to understand each other despite any differences.

Paralympic values

  • courage
  • determination
  • inspiration
  • equality

All the major world faiths also teach us to live life to help others and to be the best we can be.

Success is perfection

A huge amount of technical equipment is required if an international sporting event is to be successful. Sound, lighting, measuring and recording facilities must be available for the benefit of the competitors, the officials and the spectators. Each piece of equipment must be fit for its purpose. Wrong decisions can have embarrassing consequences, as was seen at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Normally in gymnastics the scores were up to 9.9 something, so the Swiss manufacturers for the scoreboards just allowed three digits and a decimal point.  But the planners had failed to take account of a 14-year-old gymnast named Nadia Comaneci.  During the team part of the competition, when performing a routine on the uneven bars, she achieved perfection.  The judges awarded her a mark of 10.00 and the scorers went into a panic.  How could they show this score on the display board?  They had no space for an additional digit.  In the end, the score was displayed as 1.00.

The crowd erupted and the planners hid their faces in embarrassment.  They were to go through that embarrassment six further times during that competition as Comaneci proved that perfection was possible.  The problem arose from the fact that officials had placed a limit on what the competitors could achieve.  A perfect 10 had never been scored so they assumed it never would be scored.

Success is sacrifice

A person who gave up something amazing to help others was a sailor called Lawrence Lemieux from Canada.  In 1988 he was sailing on his own in a sailing race in the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.  There were many boats competing.  Halfway through the race Lawrence was in second place – with a chance of winning a medal!

But then a very strong wind blew up, tearing at the sailing boats and causing high waves. Looking behind him, Lawrence saw a boat with two sailors – except that one had fallen into the sea, and the other was leaning out of the boat. Their boat then turned over in the water. Lawrence shouted out to them, but nothing could be heard above the noise of the wind and waves.

Without a second thought, Lawrence turned his boat around and went back to rescue the two sailors, immediately losing his second place. He managed to rescue the sailors, who were injured. Then he waited for an official patrol boat, helped to move the sailors on to this boat, and at last returned to the race.

As a result of this delay, Lawrence passed the finishing point in twenty-second place. However, when it came to the time for the judges to award medals, they still decided to give Lawrence second place – they realized he was a true Olympic winner. ‘By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal,’ said the Olympic president.

Lawrence was willing to give up something precious, and risk losing things himself, to help others. Christians believe that is what Jesus did.  The Bible says that he gave up everything he had for us.

Success is persistence

Billy Mills was a runner who competed in the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.  Both Billy’s parents died when he was 12 years old.  When Billy first tried to get in the school running team, he wasn’t picked.  Most people would have given up at that point.  But he kept going until he was picked for his school team.

He kept on running and competing and eventually got selected for the Olympic team to run in the 10,000 metres race.  However, the team coach thought he had no chance on the track, so didn’t bother to give Billy a pair of running shoes.  Billy had to borrow some!

In the race, Billy was an unknown.  He was knocked into third place in the last lap.  But in the closing seconds of the race he suddenly ran ahead with incredible speed and beat all the other runners, even beating his own fastest speed by 46 seconds!

Billy could easily have given up. But he didn’t. We won’t all win medals but, like Billy, but we can all make choices not to give up.

Success is sharing

There is a beautiful story of two Olympic athletes from Japan who knew exactly how to share with each other.

At the 1936 Berlin Games, Japanese pole vaulters Shuhei Nishida and Sueo Oe tied for second place.  They were offered the opportunity to compete against each other for the silver medal, but because they were friends and respected each other so much they said they didn’t want to.  In order to keep the Olympic rules, Oe agreed to take the bronze medal while Nishida took the silver.

When they returned to Japan, the other people in their team decided to do something different.  A jeweller cut their two medals in half and put them back together, making two half-silver, half-bronze medals called ‘Medals of Friendship’.

Achievements are important. Your time in school is measured in terms of what you achieve, largely in exam results, but we do have other measures, too.

Each of you is encouraged to set yourself a target, and staff also have to make predictions about what they think you will score.

There are two ways to look at a target.  One is to see it as the furthest we might be able to go.  If we reach the target, we stop there and celebrate our success.  If we fall short, then we can at least say we got near to the target.

However, a second way to look at a target is as a destination on a longer journey.  We hit the target and go through it with the momentum we’ve gained.  That’s what happened with Nadia Comaneci.  She performed to her previous potential and just kept on going until she reached her perfect 10.  She reckoned she could have been even better, if that’s possible!

Jesus was never one for placing limits on what might be achievable.  He talked about living life in its most fulfilling sense.  He said his followers would achieve even more than he was ever able to do, which was a huge statement given he was followed by thousands of people, was seen to be a great speaker and performed loads of miracles.  In their relationships and help for one another, he encouraged them to aim for the perfect 10, and beyond, and because of them over 2 billion people in the world belong to the Christian faith.

To me that suggests that the opportunities for us are limitless.  The only limits are those that we place on ourselves or that others place on us.  What will you achieve this year?

I’m a little rusty on doing assemblies, but feel free to take any of the ideas if they are of any use to you.

Married to the amazing Sarah and raising Jakey, Daniel, Amelia, Josh & Jonah in our blended family. Passionate for Jesus, social work & sport.

2 thoughts on “The future impact of American culture on missional youth work context in the UK”

  1. Thanks Chris, Sally mentioned it may be worth writing up more academically for IASYM or similar but would welcome any feedback before I think about dedicating the time.

    1. Thanks Richard for the comment, I definitely think it would be worth doing, the research has the potential to have a big impact in the UK youth work sector.

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