Recently, Ian has showed increased interest in tagging along to Elliott's football practices. Not because he suddenly likes sitting around watching his brother block and tackle for two hours, but because he likes taking advantage of the skateboard park at Pole Green Park. For the most part, Katie has been Ian's unofficial coach. In many ways that's like the New England Patriot's coach, Bill Belichick, coaching the USA Olympic Swim Team. Not exactly her skill set. The good news for Ian is his mom brings more to the table in this role than his dad would. The bad news for Ian is one night last week I was the only coach available to come to the table.
We dropped Elliott off at practice and Ian and I walked over to the skateboard park. On the walk over Ian let me carry his skateboard, helmet, and water bottle. I'm sure this was his way of making me look like I belonged. When we got inside, Ian grabbed his board and climbed to the top of one of the ramps. He let me know he'd never slid down any of the ramps while standing up. (For the first time I became aware that a skateboard can be ridden much like a roller coaster).
He looked determined that this would be the night he conquered that ramp. At least that's how he looked at first. The longer he stood there staring down at his board, the more he started looking like someone was asking him to slide down the outside of a downtown Richmond skyscraper. His legs trembled; his eyes filled with nervous tears. As his dad, those are usually signs that it's time for me to jump in and show the boy how it's done. I'm 52 years old now, though, and I'm sure I exceed the suggested weight capacity of any reputable skateboard. Additionally, I've discovered my safety and lack of enthusiasm for insurance deductibles are best addressed by letting nothing come between my feet and the ground. Especially wheels.
So I offered Ian the only thing I had. An idea.
"How about you start halfway down the hill," I suggested. "I'll stick my foot in front of the board to steady it until you're ready, then I'll pull I'll pull my foot out and you can go down a shorter distance to get used to it."
Ian thought this was brilliant.
To be honest, we started much further than halfway down. Yet, even with cutting the mountain down to a small hill, disaster loomed. Ian got the board in place, eventually gathered enough nerve to say "ready", then immediately crashed to the ground when I removed my foot and the board launched forward and the not quite prepared Ian went in the exact opposite direction.
But this is where Ian is always great. He got up, stormed after his board, and said "let's do it again."
We did. This time he anticipated the initial jerk when I pulled my foot away from the front wheels and down the hill he went. Standing up. We systematically inched our way up the hill with this method until he found himself back at the top of that ramp. The nerves were gone. Nothing but confidence on the boy's face now. Belichick would have goosebumps.
And this is what happened next:
Ian's determination was inspiring. In one five minute skateboarding lesson I got to see how fear can paralyze us, and then that the human soul celebrates little more than overcoming fear. There was another very important message that came out of this:
Dads, our kids depend on our encouragement far more than they do our talents. And we can all encourage. (Tweet this message)
For the next hour I watched Ian attack that park with his newfound confidence. I watched what happens when we not only let our kids take risks, but cheer them on as they do. I love this final video below. Ian tackles a new hill. Down one hill, up the other, then back down. But watch him at the end as he tries to incorporate a little jump move into the routine. Clearly something he'd picked up watching older, more experienced kids skate. Clearly a product of his growing belief in himself. And absolutely a sign that as a child conquers one hill, their imaginations begin to run wild with thoughts of that next one.
Keep on imagining pal.
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