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If at first you don’t succeed…

The last eighteen months has seen new meaning given to ordinary words all around the world. In our house, that is more to do with a certain skateboarding nine-year-old than any global pandemic. Regular no longer has anything to do using a structured, methodical pattern, but is instead riding a skateboard with your left foot at the front. The opposite of regular isn’t unstructured or disorganised but goofy, who incidentally is no longer Mickey Mouse’s friend. Riding fakie isn’t a snide comment about someone who pretends to skate, but rather, riding backwards. five-forty has nothing to do with it being almost dinner time and is instead doing one and a half rotations on the skateboard.

Seemingly unrelated to skating, resilience seems to have taken on a slightly different meaning of recent times as well. My high school science teacher told us that ‘resilience’ referred to the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. These days every politician, business analyst, wellness guru and football coach has settled on the definition of resilience as being the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

But there is a link between skating and resilience. If you ever want to see an object spring back into shape or recover quickly from difficulties, buy your kids a skateboard and take them to a skatepark. To the parents who read that sentence, spat their coffee out and thought ‘here’s your man trying to injure our kids and get some business’: please, clean up the mess, then hear me out.

Learning new skills is challenging, but often-times society aims to overcome these challenges by learning with a recipe and making the achievement the end goal. When skating, there is no simple path and no real end point. It is impossible to say how long it will take anyone to learn anything in skateboarding, and when they do, there’s always a harder trick to try.

Yes, there are risks in skateboarding - as legendary freestyle skater Rodney Mullen says, ‘all we do is fall’. And so, the risk of injury is real. Many people would be aware of Sky Brown, the 13 year-old who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Brown had a serious fall and fractured her skull in 2020, a thought that might put some folks off. But the context must be considered; this was one of the top skaters in the world riding a ramp of a size most Irish skaters will never see, much less get the chance to skate. Skaters fall, and while there are some bad ones, with a good helmet and pads, you’re most likely to suffer a few scrapes and bruises. In fact, according to American emergency department statistics, kids there are more likely to present with injuries linked to cycling, soccer and swimming than skateboards. That’s probably because skaters fall so often, they learn to fall safely.

The key element of building resilience when skating is failing and trying again. Doing ‘an ollie’ - where you literally make the board jump in the air - is hard but that is only the starting point for most skateboarding tricks. Our son took a good six months of practice to manage a proper ollie, and another several months to get to the point where he could ollie onto or over obstacles. For almost a year, he failed to achieve something, but skaters don’t see things that way. Instead, for almost a year he saw himself getting closer to his goal. And having a ball with his mates while doing so.

Because there’s another thing. Skating is often seen as being a bit anti-social. I can tell you now, that it is anything but. I’ve seen teenage skaters giving nine year-olds tips, and nine year-olds passing those same tips to smaller kids. Similarly, I’ve had a nine year-old try to teach his dad how to do certain tricks. I never thought how fun it would be to have my own child teach me a new skill.

In Jordan Peterson’s '12 Rules for Life’, rule number eleven states: don’t bother children when they are skateboarding’. Maybe we should tweak that to ‘let’s get our kids skateboarding’.

This post first appeared in The Mayo News

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