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Choose your hard - GCSE, A level and Mo Farah

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

I’m not a massive fan of ‘I’m a celebrity’ but I do have a lot of respect for Mo Farah. From arriving in England from war torn Somalia aged 8 and without a word of English, he has won 4 Olympic gold medals, been knighted and is a national treasure. What’s more, he seems a genuinely nice guy. I remember using Mo as an example during one of my life coaching induction sessions with my A level groups circa 2016. If you’ll indulge me, there are 3 lessons that are useful for GCSE and A level students.

Long Distance

First, Mo Farah is a long distance runner. He is not Usain Bolt. In a race over a short distance Usain Bolt wins easily. Yet once we measure the distance in miles Usain Bolt fades and Mo Farah wins. Studying GCSEs and A-levels is a long-distance race. It is tempting to get frustrated when fellow students overtake us or do better on one piece of work. Equally we have to make sure that we are not people of short bursts of enthusiasm and energy punctuated by long periods of inactivity. This is a long distance race and we have to keep going at a decent pace.

The Unseen Training

Secondly, although everyone sees the successes in terms of gold medals won at the Olympics, what is unseen are the miles and miles of training that take place every day. The gold medals come out of the training. Where corners are cut with training and preparation, the chance of the highest medals is diminished. Studying GCSE and A-level means that a lot of the preparation work that is put in is unseen. You are no longer doing this to keep your teacher happy or to stop them nagging, you are doing this with a view to preparing yourself for final exams. Each day and each week is like a training run. Each lesson missed or each piece of work avoided is like a training session missed. You will never know how crucial that is until it is too late.


Finally one of the most impressive things about Mo Farah is his response to difficulties. There have been many things that he has overcome in his life. Obstacles both on the track and off the track. Perhaps most famously when he fell during the heat of one of his races in the Rio Olympics, he didn’t panic but got up and gradually worked his way back to the rest of the group. There are almost certainly going to be times during your studies when things will go wrong, when you will feel like you have fallen or messed up. How we respond to setbacks is really important. Whilst it is tempting to feel sorry for ourselves or to blame ourselves or others, the important thing (but the hardest thing) is that we take a deep breath and try to get up as soon as possible. Because sadly the race goes on whether we are a part of it or not.

All of this may seem hard and tough. Studying GCSEs and A-levels over two years is hard. It is tempting to look for easy alternatives but ironically the things that may seem easy now may end up being hard later.

The above image taken from an American motivational speaker is challenging. Perhaps it is over simplistic but most of time we do get to choose our hard. Just as I either choose the hard of disciplining myself in terms of my eating and exercise or the hard of being unhealthy later, so too as students we may face the hard now of putting in the hours of study and getting up each day to attend lessons, or we have the hard later of discovering that we haven’t achieved all that we hoped for.

Mo Farah’s success and gold medals were not easy. Each day he had to choose the hard things when I am sure there were various easier options. He did so to pursue long term goals. There is a lesson in this for all of us I think.

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