About a decade ago I learnt to sail and ski. Not at the same time, obviously.
Shortly after, I was able to teach my son to ride a bike from scratch in less than 8 minutes in the local park.
I had previously taught my daughter to ride a bike, but this had taken me several weeks. She is just as capable as my son. As her teacher, I was missing a vital piece of knowledge. I hadn’t worked out why riding a bike is hard at first, but then remains a skill for the rest of your life. Riding a bike is easy. It is the fear off falling off that makes it seem hard.
The day I taught my son, I wondered how to do this quickly. I thought we might play cricket as well while we were at the park.
I thought on what I’d been taught when learning to sail and ski. In both cases the answer was the same. I had been taught how to stop. How to take control, remove the fear and so then learn the rest and enjoy the undiluted exhilaration that accompanies both activities.
When teaching my son, we didn’t go for the, ride for longer and longer and eventually not notice when dad lets go, approach. We did a rapid sequence of 50-75cm roll, brake, feet down routines, over and over again for 7 minutes, during which I never once let go. Then I said, “See if you can ride your bike.”. Minute 8 involved my son riding right across the playing field and back again, braking, stopping and putting his feet down.
Minute 9 was mostly about agreeing who would bat first, an odd conversation conducted with a child riding round in circles on his bike.
The theory is simple. Skiing is terrifying, twisted knees, broken bones and expensive helicopter rides beckon. Sailing, likewise, invites lost fingers, unplanned swims and the humiliation of rescue, if you are lucky. After the naming of parts, before you are allowed out, the first thing you are taught on the piste and on the water is how to stop, and you are drilled on it over and over again.
Creating safe environments, knowing how to stop, wearing the right clothes on mountains and so on, helps me to be fearless but not reckless. I have so much more fun when I remember that.