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Pause for Thought: Donít Panic!

The Winter Olympics run from 4 to 20 February 2022

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore how we can avoid panicky reactions when we are pressed for time.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need to decide how to organize the quiz in the ‘Assembly’, Step 1.
  • You may wish to prearrange a reader for the Bible passage, Psalm 46.10, in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly.
  • Have available the song ‘Hold back the river’ by James Bay and the means to play it during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. It is 4.06 minutes long and is available at:
  • A list of 100 facts about the Winter Olympics is available at:


  1. The 2022 Winter Olympics are upon us. In case you missed the announcement, the competition begins in Beijing, China, on 4 February and lasts until 20 February. Here’s a short quiz to get us into an Olympics mood.

    - Have the Winter Olympics ever been held in the southern hemisphere? (Answer: No.)
    - Name four countries that have participated in every Winter Olympics. (Answer: any of Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.)
    - What did Finnish cross-country skier Kalle Jalkanen drop and need to pick up on the way to his relay gold medal in 1936? (Answer: his false teeth.)

  2. Cross-country skiing is one of the most punishing sports that exists. Downhill skiing is far less strenuous by comparison. In downhill skiing, all of the skier’s momentum comes from going down the slope: it requires great balance and strong arms and ankles. Cross-country skiing, however, is about skiing uphill as much as skiing on the level and downhill.

    It’s hard enough to run uphill normally, but to do so with a pair of narrow skis on your feet is doubly difficult. The skier must handle the downhill sections too, without the solid anchor of sturdy ski boots. Instead, the skier wears lightweight ski boots that are more like trainers, which are attached to the skis only at the toes. It’s a workout for the whole body, so Kalle Jalkanen was probably puffing and panting so hard that he accidentally spat out his false teeth!

  3. When skiers get started on a cross-country ski run, the last thing that they should do is stop. If they do, they lose all of their momentum, whether they’re travelling downhill or uphill. Restarting requires a lot more effort.

    So, why were Kalle Jalkanen’s false teeth so important to him that he simply had to stop? Maybe they were his only set. Maybe they were a very expensive set. Maybe he feared that he’d never find them again in the churned-up snow after the race had finished. Maybe he regarded them as a lucky set. Maybe he simply wouldn’t feel comfortable without them. Any of those reasons could be why he stopped. The racers ahead would draw further away and those behind would be gaining ground. However, Jalkanen stopped, to set things right.

Time for reflection

Do we ever find ourselves in a rush, desperate to get to an appointment, to finish a task, to reach the end? We might experience it first thing in the morning if we get up late, rush about packing our bag and have to run for the bus. Maybe we’re late for a lesson with that teacher who’s so strict about everyone being there on time! Maybe it’s the last five minutes of an exam and we’ve still got lots of questions to answer. It’s tempting to keep going, madly rushing, grabbing anything that comes to hand or scribbling down whatever comes into our minds.

I wonder what flashed through Kalle Jalkanen’s mind, especially because he was in a relay and didn’t want to let his team mates down. Yet he stopped, found his false teeth and put them in, only continuing after doing so, comfortable in his body and his mind until the gold medal was won.

It takes a measure of courage to stop when time is running out. Our instincts scream at us to carry on. We don’t want to waste a moment.

Invite a student to read the Bible passage, Psalm 46.10.

These words invite us to ‘Be still [in other words, stop], and know that I am God.’ It may not be God that we’re searching for first thing in the morning, and God may not be the answer to that exam question we’re struggling with, but the instruction is still valid.

We can pause for a moment, calm down, stop flapping and let our minds clear. Some people find that the simple act of counting to ten is enough. It’s surprising how important ideas flash into your mind after you take the pressure off - lunch packed (check), homework packed (check), PE shorts (not checked. Quick, grab them!). Stopping really can work when panic might be setting in.

Ask the students how they are feeling right now. Are they relaxed and ready for the day ahead, or are their minds racing?

Tell the students that you are going to play a song that uses the image of a rushing river to represent time pressure. The singer encourages us to ‘stop for a minute’: let’s do so now as we listen to the music.

Play the song ‘Hold back the river’ by James Bay (4.06 minutes long).

Play at least the first half of the song while the students pause and stop. Then, dismiss them while the music continues to play.


‘Hold back the river’ by James Bay, available at: (4.06 minutes long)

Extension activities

Why not encourage the students to take a ten-second pause at the beginning and end of each lesson? Later, ask for feedback on how useful this has been.

Publication date: February 2022   (Vol.24 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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