Listening to Olympic athletes describe their failures compels me to confront my goals and expectations for my students. Many of the athletes I have heard in post-game interviews are quite frank about their failures. However, it is not their frankness itself which impresses me. What impresses me is their ability to breakdown their process: to the steps they took or didn't take, the moves they made or didn't made, and how the combined effect of those steps and missteps, moves and mistakes resulted in their "failure." For these athletes, failure is not absence (or presence) of one thing or another, but is, more often than not, a failure to execute specific actions. Rarely have I heard "I don't have the talent." You hear, instead, "I didn't do what I needed to do."
As I have already opined, there are many aspects of athletics I would import to the classroom. However, in many regards I am talking about what the space of athletics affords that the classroom may not.
I think students often suffer under the assumption that intelligence is a possession rather than an activity (although we do suffer under the notion of talent in athletics as well). And while there are certain baseline cognitive requirements for intelligence, cognition is highly plastic and largely cultivated through practice (I here draw on the work of Andy Clark). As many educators would attest to (I hope), student failure is often not because they lack something. Failure results from not executing specific actions in time. A failure to study in advance of the exam. A failure to develop study habits to effectively utilize study time. A failure to prepare a proper area in which to study. These are all activities that "result" in what we objectify as "intelligence." And as much as teachers focus on activity and the steps students much take, our societal assumptions about "intelligence" often make this an uphill battle.