There is plenty of snow in the woods and on the hillsides but now that the road is starting to dry up my son and I have been getting our bikes out and going for little rides around our street. It is a blast to watch my 6 year old practice his manuals and find little potholes to jump. Watching him do these things now is effortless and fun. We are like a couple of buddy’s hanging out on our bikes. It is often hard to remember the work that we did to get to where we are now. All the games of tag, pretending to be lightning Mcqueen, just forgetting about our bikes to find a made up sword in the woods, or just climb a tree seem like forever ago when we ride now. All those activities we did on our rides, that didn’t involve riding, is what makes riding so fun now.
Teaching kids to do new things, especially things that make them a step ahead of other kids their age, and doing it in a way that is organic and won’t lead to burn out is an art form. I learned this art through 16 years of practicing on other peoples kids as a snowboard instructor and coach before applying it to my own kids. To my own son, I am still dad first, and dad is not always the best person to help teach every task. “Dad” is still so amazing to him. My son still thinks he has a long way to go before he can be like Dad (that will pass). It is important to get kids with other kids their age so they can learn through play. Here are a few simple concepts to help guide parents into having more fun on their bikes with their kids.
The first thing to know is that kids learn best through play. Play can look like many different things depending on their age. It is easy for parents to say, “today we are going to conquer that climb at the beginning of the trail.” This is a parent motivated goal and the child may not share that goal even if the child is ready to accomplish the task. Our goal is to get the kids to have these goals themselves. When the kids want to climb the hill at the beginning of the trail the goal is organic and the spark and passion for mountain biking is ignited. The bottom line is, if it is fun it is not wrong (of course it should probably be safe too, but sometimes I wonder if you can have fun and be safe). What does fun look like through out the child’s moral development.
Some philosopher, named Kohlberg, created Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. I have heard the theory expressed many different scientific ways. we are going to dumb it down a bit so it is easier to understand (totally stole this from PSIA-AASI but it is my interpretation of their content). The ages are a rough guess as to where a child may be in their developmental pathway, age ranges are a guess not a rule.
age 3-6 Good is Good bad is bad
The mindset is that rules are black and white and it is hard to have fun if rules have not been made. The rules might be; You ride your bike on the side walk and walk it across the street. For the child, anything outside of those rules is bad. When the rules and structure is put in place it is then off to the races with their imaginations. The game needs clear rules and then their minds are ready to explore once the boundaries have been set. Their bikes turn into race cars, ice cream trucks, motorcycles, the world around them turns into the set of Moana where the cars in the street are the evil god Taka, you name it. Let their brains go nuts and see where the adventure takes them (even if the adventure no longer requires riding bikes). If they associate the fun with bikes you are winning at parenting and the learning to ride or learning to ride better will follow.
age 7-12 Clever as a Fox
The world was previously black and white and now they have learned about the grey area in between. They have learned that there are different levels of good and bad and they want to explore that boundary between okay and not okay. Some fun things to do to channel these “foxes” in a positive direction are:
See how far they can jump. Place a stick behind the ramp or feature and keep moving the stick back as they clear it to see how far they can go. Once they are engaged in the activity it becomes easy to coach them into getting to the next level.
You can also practice breaking and skidding. See how far you can skid, how fast you can stop, how many times you can skid.
Make obstacle courses that could be tackled a number of different ways, so all solutions are correct.
These are good games to distract them from wanting to ride through peoples yards, or in the middle of the road, damaging trails or picking on other kids. These are activities that should focus on bringing all participants up.
Teenager The I’s have it
All kids will have to be teenagers sooner or later. “The I’s have it,” means that the kids only want to do what their friends are doing. How many times do teenagers say, “I’ll do whatever you want to do.” This is a critical age for all athletes. Many athletes wash out of sports at this age because their friends no longer do it, or their isn’t enough kids their age participating, or it’s just not cool anymore. Good coaching is one way to make a difference at this age. Some of these kids are going through puberty or have gone through puberty. They may be awkward in their coordination or starting to develop real muscle. A good coach can help them feel cool through the awkwardness, or really show them what they are capable of. Rewarding the work ethic to build new skills is key to encouraging active participation at this age. A good work ethic will help them power through the awkwardness, and encourage them to work for some of the harder skills. New skills are harder to aquire through the awkward growth spurt years. Some kids have been mountain biking for a long time, and will struggle through the awkward years if they have only been rewarded for their accomplishments and not their work ethic. Reward accomplishments by saying things like, “you worked so hard to get up that hill.” Instead of “you are a good climber.” rewarding the work ethic will encourage them to try new things as the tasks and skills get more challenging.
age ? Think for yourselfers
I often wonder if many people ever make it to the “think for yourselfer” stage of life, let alone in a sport like mountain biking. The “think for yourselfer” only needs the bike to keep going. They make their own decisions and are no longer influenced by the crowd, the rules, the contests, or the fame. They ride because they love it. We should all wish that our kids become “think for yourselfers” in some area of their life.
Use these stages of development to have more fun with your kids on bikes this summer. If it’s fun its not wrong, and praise the work ethic more than the result.