When I was in university, taught skating lessons at our local rink. Every Saturday afternoon I would prepare for my students. Each group of kids and adults exhibited levels of fear, desire to please, bravery, and joy. After eight groups and four hours, I would be chilled to the bone and mentally exhausted. But I loved it. And I learned that the most important thing I ever taught anyone in the arena, was not how to skate, but falling down.
The littles kids learn best
The first lesson I taught was to a group of 4 and 5-year-olds. I spent the entire 30 minutes helping them get back up when they slipped. It was hard work. So the next week, I taught them how to get up. Over and over we practiced falling down and getting up. They happily went along with it.
When I watched the 6 & 7-year-olds, I noticed that they rarely fell. And yet when they did, they too struggled to get up. I started teaching them how to get up, which meant also teaching them how to fall down. These kids were the easiest to teach the art of falling down. It was an adventure. They slipped and slid and giggled their way across the ice. Each time seemingly a little less shaky on their way down.
I took this experience with me to the next classes. I decided every kid should learn to fall and get up. The older kids (8 to 15-year-olds) took a bit more convincing. I had to appeal to their logic. “It is important to learn the ‘right’ way to fall so that you protect your head.” They were not totally convinced. But my enthusiastic demonstrations broke down the stigma, and they slowly complied.
I thought the adults didn’t need to these getting up lessons. That is until one big man fell down and needed help getting up. I was afraid he would knock me over as I helped him up. And so I decided to teach the adults to fall down as well. And if the older kids were a tough crowd, the adults were nearly impossible to convince. They were independent enough to argue back, “Yeah kids can do it, but they are closer to the ground!” or “They don’t weigh as much as us, so it doesn’t hurt them.” Eventually, even the adults complied, realizing I would not give up.
And what I saw over and over was the same. When the students learned to fall, their confidence grew and their skills improved dramatically. Rather than being afraid of falling, they focused on what they were learning. When they did fall, it meant that they were brave. They had challenged themselves. They were enthusiastically trying to improve their skills. Teaching them to fall gave them the courage to take risks. It taught them that falling was not embarrassing but a normal part of learning.
I didn’t mean to teach them a life lesson. I was just trying to protect my back and not get hurt. But I did teach them not to be afraid of falling. And they taught me how quickly people learn when they are comfortable making mistakes. I’ve tried to take that lesson with me into other parts of my life.
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