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Learning from Losing

It's important to keep on going

by Laurence Chilcott (revised, originally published in 2011)

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To encourage us to stick at difficult tasks, even if we appear to fail.

Preparation and materials


  1. Most sporting stars are remembered for their successes: runners for the fastest times and gold medals; footballers for goals scored and trophies awarded; rugby players for points scored and caps for their countries; tennis players for tournaments won.

    Show the images of famous sportspeople.

  2. Explain that in today’s assembly, we are going to think about two sportsmen who are remembered for their failures.

    Jim Peters was a marathon runner and a very good one, too. He was the first person to run a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes and he held four consecutive marathon world records. However, he is best remembered for the race he lost. It was the marathon at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.

    Show the images of Jim Peters.

    The marathon in Vancouver took place on a warm, humid day and many runners had given up through exhaustion. Jim, however, was running well and was some three miles ahead of his nearest rival as he approached the stadium. In those days, there were no water stations along the route and he, along with other runners, had become dehydrated. Running through the shade of the tunnel leading to the stadium and then coming out into the heat and sunlight caused him to become disorientated and he collapsed just inside the stadium.

    Jim struggled to his feet and staggered on towards the finishing line. He fell several more times and it took him 11 minutes to cover just 200 metres. Finally, he crossed the line, but unfortunately, it was the finishing line for a different race. He fell again and was caught by the team masseur, who led him off the track. He was disqualified for not crossing the correct finishing line and never ran another marathon.

    Jim Peters might not have won, but his courage and determination were an inspiration to others and he will always be remembered for that final race.

  3. Show the image of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards.

    Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards came to fame in the 1988 Winter Olympics, which were held in Calgary, Canada. He was the first competitor to represent Great Britain at ski jumping in the Olympic Games since 1928. Eddie was the British national ski jumping record holder, so he was no novice. He was the only ski jumper to apply to represent Great Britain in the 1988 Winter Olympics. He qualified for the 70-metre and 90-metre ski jumping competitions.

    Few people thought Eddie had any chance of a medal and they were right – he came last in both events. Despite everything, he became one of the favourite personalities of the Games and was even mentioned in the closing speech, where it is unheard of to mention individuals.

    His determination and his sense of humour were what made Eddie famous. The worse his performance, the more popular he became. He was interviewed by radio and television stations all over the world and went from being a plasterer earning £5,000 a year to a celebrity earning around £10,000 an hour.

    A popular film of his life was released in 2016.

  4. Sometimes, we think that winning is all that matters and of course, that is what we strive for in any race. But how we take part is important, too.

    – We can be proud when we have done the best we can.
    – Losing can spur us on to greater efforts.
    – To have taken part is in itself success.

    As Eddie once said, ‘Getting to those Games was my gold medal. Even though I came 58th, that didn’t really matter.’

Time for reflection

Pierre de Coubertin, who is regarded as the father of the modern Olympic Games, said, ‘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.’

Pause to allow time for thought.

Reread the quotation.

You may wish to continue the assembly by celebrating the achievements of students who have overcome difficulties to gain success, and those whose efforts are ongoing and worthy of praise.

Point out that in anything we do, it is important to remember that how we do it is more important than how successful we are.

Ask the students to think about the areas of their lives that they find most challenging. Perhaps it’s academic work. Maybe they struggle with sports. Perhaps theyre finding some of their relationships hard at the moment.

Ask the students to consider how they might work to overcome these difficulties.

Ask the students to think about the areas of their lives in which they are successful. What helps them to be successful in those areas? Are there lessons that they can learn from this that apply to other areas of their lives?

Dear God,
Please give us the energy and the tenacity to stick at the task in hand,
And the wisdom to ask for help when we need it.


As the students enter, play the theme music from the film Chariots of Fire. It is 3.34 minutes long and is available at:

Publication date: May 2019   (Vol.21 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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