What Can The Olympics Teach Us About Writing

Have you been watching the 2016 Olympic Games? So far, the United States is leading in total medal count, with 32, and gold medal count, with 11. Go team USA!

But there's more to the Olympics than medal count. There are many lessons to be learned from watching the world's top athletes compete (and dominate) in their sport. Even more specifically, we can take some of these lessons and apply them to writing.

Like what? you may ask.

Writing is both a team and an individual sport.

Much like gymnastics, with its team and individual all-around competitions, the writing process is as much about the team surrounding an individual writer as it is him. Usually the completion of a graphic organizer or the compilation of a rough draft is a solo venture. However, other individuals - fellow students providing peer review or a teacher who has feedback on content - often come together to provide insight, suggestions for improvement, and different points of view. We saw this happen in one of our other posts, Writing Lessons. In this case, our writer, Rahul, scrapped his first draft completely when his peer reviewer gave him some harsh (but helpful) criticism. Although he had to start over, Rahul felt he ended up with a final version of his essay that better represented his interest in the topic and his writing skill level.

The final result can change in the blink of an eye.

Have you ever watched one of the Olympic swim meets? Some of those are nail-biting, on your knees in front of the TV, willing your swimmer to win.  The writing process can be like this at times, as well. When the topic isn't something you're excited about, or if you're working with a reluctant writer who is so worried about making a mistake that she can't focus, it can be difficult to pull together a focused, polished essay. Transitions may be awkward, ideas underdeveloped. These are the instances that can lead to writer's block. But sometimes, looking at a topic in a different light or thinking outside of the box can inspire a student and create that a-ha! moment. It may be right at the last minute, the night before the assignment is due, but it happens, and when it does, transitions can be rearranged, the ideas expanded upon. On the other hand, this epiphany may not happen. If it doesn't, and you can tell that a student is less than thrilled with the result of their work, find the positive. Evaluate and provide constructive feedback so that the student can apply it to future assignments. After all, even the swimmers who came in 2nd or 3rd (or 9th!) worked hard and represented their country well.

Practice, practice, and more practice.

That's the phrase we use in our PEG Writing introduction video, and that's what writers and Olympians alike must do. In order to gain the level of skill of Olympic athletes, you have to practice for hours a day, multiple days a week, for years. Athletes have strict diets and limit themselves from other activities that may cause them injury. While writing practice doesn't require a Michael Phelps diet, practice is still key. It can come in a variety of different forms - free writing, journal writing, tutorial practice, group exercises - all of these will help students become stronger writers.

And finally!

Writing takes endurance.

And determination. Continuing to practice, learn, and improve in writing is important, but can sometimes feel like an Olympic feat itself! Being struck with writer's block can be intimidating, but overcoming that will help student writers push on and finish an essay. Sometimes it requires a writer to save their work in progress, walk away, and come back after a time. This time away offers a new perspective, fresh eyes, and a lessened sense of frustration. All of this is part of the endurance of writing. 

Sometimes writing seems like an Olympic feat. By reminding students that they have a supportive team behind them - fellow students, parents, teachers - the writing process will become much less intimidating and overwhelming. They'll be sticking their landings in no time!