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Falling is not Failing

by Cassidy Gillard

Believe it or not, in the six years that I’ve been teaching mountain boarding, there has never been a serious injury. I see kids fall every single day. Sometimes, kids fall down after rolling extremely slowly for one or two feet, or they just haven’t quite figured out their balance, and they fall over because they had one foot on the mountain board and one foot on the ground. I’ve also, however, seen kids summersault two or three times before they skid to a stop. Once, a kid landed a jump sideways, slid into a tree, shins first, and his whole body wrapped around the tree before he came to a stop. One time a girl crashed into a small dead tree so hard that the entire tree fell over. I’ve seen kids get two feet of air off of a jump and land straight on their rear ends, or land on their feet and then tumble to the ground at about ten miles per hour. Every time it is terrifying to watch, but every time they are okay.

I’m not saying I never see crying, or scrapes, or pain, but within five minutes, most kids are either right back at it, or smiling, or showing off their “gnar kisses.” [Gnar in reference to mountain boarding, is the dirt and the rocks.] When a kid gets a scrape, I tell them how special and cool it is that they’ve been kissed by the gnar.

At the mountain boarding course we have three very important rules among staff.

The first rule: When someone falls, the first thing you do is cheer. The effect is absolutely amazing. Some falls produce bruises, blood, or tears, and sometimes they just shake kids up a little bit. Regardless of how “gnarly” the falls are, almost without fail, the first thing they do is look at me or their counselor.

If their gnarly fall - where they skidded ten feet and scraped up their elbows and hips - is followed by a gasp and an adult running over to them to see if they’re okay, their adrenaline turns into fear. Even though they aren’t seriously injured, they get shaken up, the tears that fill their eyes come out, and it is a lot more difficult to complete rule number three, which I’ll get to in a moment. If that same kid has that same fall, and in place of gasping and running to them frantically, when they turn to look at me with their eyes wide and full of tears, on the brink of crying, and I am jumping up and down, smiling and shouting encouraging, “THAT WAS AWESOME” and “YOU’RE SO HARDCORE” types of things, their faces immediately soften and the fear turns into pride, and I’m not even kidding you, 75% of the time they actually throw a fist into the air in triumph.

Rule number two is to give them a minute.

When people start swarming around to check on them and help them up and brush them off, they get overwhelmed. If you give them a minute to get up, and then walk over to them calmly, making it very clear that there is nothing to be afraid of, and you give them a high five, and tell them they did an awesome job, and check in to make sure they’re okay, they receive this gentle, calm assistance much more openly.

Rule number three is to get the kid back on a mountain board.

There have been so many times where a kid has come to mountain boarding after a year away, and they refuse to get on the board. The first thing I ask them is what is making them afraid or uncomfortable, and 90% of the time they say something along the lines of, “I’ve tried it before, but I fell and it hurt and I know that I’m going to fall again.” These are usually the kids who fell and never got back on a board. Even if they just stand on the board, their last experience mountain boarding won’t be tainted by a fall. Because if they leave with that negative experience, they bring it back with them. If they leave with a positive experience, standing on a board, feeling their balance, and getting praised for their bravery, that is what they bring back.

So what in the world am I teaching these kids with rules one two and three?

Falling is a result of taking a risk. I am teaching kids to celebrate taking a risk. Falling is scary. A lot of the time, though, it looks a whole lot scarier than it actually is. I’ve seen enough falls to know that kids are extremely resilient. I’m teaching kids to take the time to figure out that they are okay before being overwhelmed by concerned adults. Falling is often confused with failing. I’m teaching kids that the only way to fail is to refuse to try again.

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