Life Lessons Learned from My Daughter's Skateboard Coach
I love Lola's skateboard instructor. For a kid in his mid-twenties, he is surprisingly intuitive about the psyche of a nine year old girl.
Lola is a kamikaze. Sort of. She is very enthusiastic and not fearful of physical challenges. What she is afraid of is looking stupid and there are a lot of opportunities to do that on a skateboard. The first few lessons she took were at a local skate park crawling with boys of all ages skating without pads or helmets (I make her wear both) with wild abandon. They fall, skid, trip, run right off the end of their skateboards and have some of the foulest mouths I've heard in a long time. Most of them are consumed with perfecting their tricks and are constantly showing off for each other.
One of the first things her teacher (I'll call him Sam) did was to change Lola's lesson time to morning when the teenage boys are still in bed and she can have the venue to herself. But even before that, he amazed me. One of his first goals was to get her to go down the biggest hill in the park. They worked for a bit on stance and balance (she's "goofy-footed" like me which means that her opposite foot goes in the front -- unusual) and then he walked her to the top of the hill. On my beach towel in the grass, I was too far away to hear what they said, but they talked for a minute, he steadied her on the board and then let her take her time deciding when to go. After about 60 seconds of hesitation, he called to her and waved his hand so she would join him in a different area of the park. Without going down the hill. They worked on some smaller hills for a bit, practiced turning, and then went back to the big hill. Another hesitation of about 45 seconds and he waved her off again.
During each of these mini-sessions, Sam challenged her and high-fived her when she conquered a task. I could see her proud grin from across the park. After four or five attempts at doing the hill, I figured out what Sam was doing. He had somehow concluded that Lola was psyching herself out by thinking too much about skating down the hill and he knew that the longer she stood there, the more fearful she would be. By waving her off, he was letting her know that it was no great disappointment that she hadn't gone down the hill and he was redirecting her attention to something she could do. He was letting her be successful and building her confidence. Gradually, throughout the lesson, Lola came to trust Sam. She grew to believe that he wasn't going to ask her to do anything she was not comfortable doing and she trusted that he wanted her to be successful as much as she wanted to succeed. She built a bond with him and ultimately she decided she wanted to go down that hill for herself and for him.
Before we left that first day, Lola flew down that hill twice on her board. Twice. She did it on her own terms without feeling as though she had to in order to prove herself, but the beautiful thing is that she did prove something to herself and to Sam. She showed that when you are given space and time to believe in your own abilities without judging yourself, you can soar. And Sam reminded me that over-thinking things leads to fear. Often the best thing we can do for ourselves when we're intimidated by something is to go bolster our own self-confidence by excelling at something smaller or less frightening. And then when we are ready, it is easy to tackle the bigger task without too much angst.
I love Lola's skateboard instructor.