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Connecting Sports to Children’s Education: An Olympian’s Golden Journey

Connecting Sports to Children’s Education: An Olympian’s Golden Journey

Spiffy's Blog: Steve Mesler Ladderworks Interview

Hi everyone, hope you and your family are holding up OK. Last week, I caught up with Olympic gold-medalist and Co-Founder of Classroom Champions Steve Mesler. We spoke on a number of topics close to his heart ranging from the Olympics to children’s education. Here’s the interview!

Spiffy: Hi Steve, it’s so good to see you. I heard the news about the Olympics being postponed and immediately thought of chatting with you about it!

Steve: Great seeing you too, Spiffy! Always happy to chat with you!

Spiffy: Thanks Steve! So, as an Olympic champion, what’s your advice to all the participating sports-persons?

Steve: My advice for the athletes who have had their dreams postponed and for some of those for whom their dreams have altogether ended, is to mourn it. Be sad about it and let it sink in so that you don’t push it away. You know, Spiffy, we athletes have this really good quality that is also sometimes not a great quality, which is that we compartmentalize very well. So we tend to keep our feelings separate because we know we have to go and compete and we can’t bring in these feelings into the competition. So, for those athletes who are experiencing this right now, just mourn it and be sad for a little while so that you are then ready to be able to think about what’s next, whether you are going on to Tokyo 2021 or onto something else.

Spiffy: That’s a really fab piece of advice for the athletes, Steve. How can WE support our athletes during this time though?

Steve: I would say the same way that we would support anybody else who has gone through a loss. I think that’s the best way to put it. This is a loss for many of them even if it’s a delay, it’s still something that they were expecting, they were anticipating, they were waiting for it, they were training for it for their entire lives. So, support them as you would have empathy for someone who has experienced a loss and treat it in that way. Also, in my opinion, the best way we can support the athletes is online! We can thank them for being inspiring and working so hard and we can wish them luck in the next round and say you are sorry that they had to experience this. I think that will go a long way for a lot of them.

Spiffy: It sure would! BTW, you didn’t stop after your glory at the Olympics and went on to create a very successful initiative in the field of children’s education. What was your motivation to start Classroom Champions?

Steve: We started Classroom Champions when I was still competing. It started because my sister and I were talking about how we were living the life that the ten year old kid in us would have just dreamt of. All of my friends were Olympians and were competing at the Olympics. That was the life I had. And we could remember being kids ourselves and running around the Atlanta Olympics stadium in 1996 and running after and getting pictures taken with Olympians and that was who I was as a kid. So, we just wanted to share that experience with kids and wanted to tell kids that it was not just two and a half weeks of glory on television during the Olympics, but that there is a process. We wanted to create relationships between athletes and kids beyond the one-off school visits that I used to do. That’s why Classroom Champions was born.

Steve Mesler winning the Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

(Photo Courtesy: Steve Mesler) 

Spiffy: Awesome! So, essentially under the Classroom Champions model, you get various athletes to connect with kids over a prolonged period of time?

Steve: Yes, that’s correct, Spiffy. We have had over 200 Olympians, Paralympians, NFL players, college student athletes, NCAA student athletes as volunteers under Classroom Champions. We have created a few different programs for school kids and families. For example, we offer what we call our “Scaled Mentorship Plus Program” under which your school gets assigned an athlete that’s currently competing for the rest of the entire school year. The athletes send video lessons on a monthly basis and use social media to cheer students on and also do a couple of live video chats with them a couple of times a year. We have an internal private community that they exchange messages with the teachers on. We also have a full blown curriculum that we just made available for free as parents need this kind of stuff during the present times of COVID-19. This curriculum deep dives into weekly lesson plans for schools and includes important topics like emotions, goal setting, leadership and community. We also have video content around mindful minutes of athletes talking about how to deal with stress and anxiety and words for celebrations and focus. So, it's been amazing! These are all athletes who are currently active: whether the Buffalo Bills players in the middle of their season or whether they're Olympians or Paralympians who have overcome all these odds and are on the way to the next games. Through Classroom Champions, we've found a way to give athletes this really rich way to give back to society in a way that's easy for them and that's engaging for kids because they get to interact with somebody who's doing these big things. 

Spiffy: That’s really impressive! So given that your model is primarily digital, did you have to pivot at all because of the new reality of social distancing? 

Steve: You said it, Spiffy! Over the last decade, we've reached millions of kids virtually. So for us, the biggest changes that we're making now is we're trying to just make our curriculum broadly available right now. We're trying to help parents a little bit more at a time like this. We're also creating more kids-facing content as well - that isn't just something that a teacher, a parent needs to help facilitate, but something that actually kids can get into themselves. But overall, no, we haven't had to really change too much. It's what we do. I'm really proud that we built this thing that actually happens to work really well especially during social isolation. And I'm really worried about kids not having access to it or not being able to meet with their teachers, not being able to meet with just other people that are good influences in their lives. So, you know, I'm happy about being able to fill that void a bit. 

Spiffy: And I'm sure the kids and their parents are happy too with all those unique experiences that you bring to them! After all, sports has so much to teach all of us! 

Before we part, could you share some tips from your experiences as an Olympic champion, that can help our readers not only survive but thrive during these times? 

Steve: It's a great question, Spiffy! I think at the end of the day, it comes down to understanding perseverance and resilience. For the Olympics, we train really, really hard today for a competition that's four years away. Let’s put this thought in our minds and think about our current situation with that kind of an Olympian mindset. Probably an even better analogy would be where a NFL player is training today for a season that doesn't start until September. So if we're going to be put in a place where we're going to have to have a different lifestyle for a few months. You know, think about this as a time to get better. Think about this as the time to work on things that maybe you couldn't because you were doing other things, just like an athlete is working and getting stronger and faster and more resilient during the off-season. Let's just look at this as a bit of an off-season as we prepare for the future! 

Spiffy: Well said, Steve! It was such a pleasure talking to you!

Steve: Likewise, Spiffy! Good luck over there. Be safe, OK? Bye! 

Spiffy: You too, Steve! Bye!

Steve Mesler is the Co-Founder and CEO of Classroom Champions, a non-profit that brings together children and the world’s best to mentor and teach kids the skills they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. After winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the 4-man bobsled at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, Steve was inspired to bring the values, lessons, and experiences he and his fellow Olympic and Paralympic athletes had gained through sport into classrooms. Since creating Classroom Champions, over 180 athletes have taught more than 1 million students about goal setting, perseverance, and teamwork to support their mental health, wellness, and academic achievement.
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