Mrs Harrington's Assembly – Trailblazers

Monday 7th September 2015

On Monday 7 September, Mrs Harrington spoke about trailblazers during morning assembly. Please find below for the assembly in full:

“Today, I want us to think about trailblazers: people who break a path through difficult or new territory, requiring vision, courage and persistence.  Trailblazers may not be the victors and win the prize or reach the goal themselves, but they make it possible for others coming behind them to do so.  They light up the path and draw attention to it, and inspire others to have a go and follow in their footsteps.

And I want us to think about some trailblazers who were blazing a trail in female soccer earlier this year.

Laura BassettBefore the end of last term, we saw some drama on the sports field that was hard to watch.  The England Women’s football team have qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup four times (1995, 2007, 2011, 2015).   The England team reached the quarter final stage on three occasions, losing out to Germany in 1995, the United States in 2007 and France on penalties in 2011. In June 2015, however, England earned the bronze medal for the first time, under Mark Sampson, by beating Germany in the third place play off.  Now while this sounds like a triumph, which it was, it masks a heartbreaking situation that left one young sportswoman, in particular, traumatised.  The Lionesses, as they are known, lost a semi-final match against Japan after scoring a gut-wrenching goal in their own net, finishing in third place with a bronze medal.

What struck me about this was that these young sportswomen, and particularly Laura Bassett, who was trying so courageously to keep the ball away from two Japanese players who were bearing down on it when she accidentally put the ball into her own goal, faced an almost unbearable situation:  to get that far by your persistence, training, courage etc. and then lose because you basically scored an own goal, and for Laura, who had the courage to go for it, to find that her action so publicly ruined the dream for the team, the country and of course for herself.

Yet what did they do? They  cried, they wept, they shouted, but they got up again, they put on a brave face, they didn’t blame each other, they, as their manager says, hugged each other and got on with it.

Their manager, Mark Sampson, is a young manager, known to the team as the Tinkerman: someone –  a manager or coach who continually experiments by changing the personnel or formation of a team from game to game.

The players’ have also praised his liberal approach to spare time in between matches; there have been no strict enforcements, with players allowed to take time off to see family and Mark Sampsonfriends or simply sightsee in the Canadian cities where they’ve been based.

Relaxed he may be but he’s not afraid to run a tight ship, employing performance analysts and using corporate-style bonding techniques to eke out the best from his team.

His long-term girlfriend is apparently the only person to have beaten him at Connect 4, his favourite game – he clearly hasn’t been here, as we’re pretty good at Connect 4.

Now the next challenge for the Lionesses and their manager is to get to play at next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.  And yet, it now seems that political squabbling among the four nations that make up the United Kingdom — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — will probably snuff the women’s hopes.

At the heart of the debate over whether Britain will field any soccer teams at the Olympics are questions about British identity, and which of Britons’ multiple identities gets priority.

The four constituent nations of the United Kingdom compete as individual teams in soccer tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championship. But in the Olympics, the athletes must compete under the single banner of “Team GB.”

FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, said that Britain would need to submit a bid for the Olympics with the support of all four of the national soccer associations, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are against the idea. They think it would damage their prospects of retaining national status within FIFA and their ability to compete as individual nations in other international tournaments.

England Women's Football TeamSo we will have to see whether the Lionesses get an opportunity to play at the Olympics in Rio and continue their trailblazing journey.

But their legacy, whatever happens, is that they have raised the profile of women’s football and all of the issues around why it is not valued as highly as it could be; they have shown us what can be done if you train and work together and believe in yourselves; and they have also shown us what to do when you get it horribly wrong and in a few short seconds you see the dream come crashing down.  How to recognise and value in the face of disaster the achievements that they had made, how to support each other and particularly Laura Bassett as they work through the disappointment, and how to get up to fight another day, secure in the knowledge that they are trailblazers, even if on this occasion they were not gold medal winners.

So this year, set your goals:  where am I now, where do I want to be, how am I going to get there.  But remember that it’s not just your goals that you’re going to be affecting in all you do – you could be the one who sets an example for someone else in the school that will help them in the future, you could be the one who challenges the way things are done because you can see a better way, you could be a trailblazer too.  As the England manager said:

“We said before the game, life’s horrible, it’s really tough sometimes; you get a kick in the teeth just when you think you’ve made it and, wow, did we get a kick in the teeth in our semi-final. But we wanted to show the world today that everyone has tough times but you dust yourselves down, pick yourselves back up and go again.”