by Karen Rennie
I have been asked many times why I let my young son skateboard. People suggest he might pick up bad habits or foul language from the older kids who skate. My response is always that hanging out with skaters has made my son Chris a better person.
“Isn’t he missing a lot by not playing TEAM sports?”
I hear that question all the time. We have done the soccer and baseball thing. We paid the money to join leagues that other parents didn’t want to volunteer for. We learned that the soccer commissioner was hiding money, the baseball commissioner was stacking his team with the leagues best players only to be certain that that the opposing team cheated when his “superteam” lost. When adults started expecting their kids to “toughen up” (There’s no crying in baseball) while they coached them with loud voices and pointed fingers in faces, we decided that this team sport thing was really cutting into our family time and values.
Watching Chris’ continued attempts to use a pitching machine long after her son gave up, a playmates mom asked me how I taught Chris to persevere. I am certain that he learned perseverance at the skatepark. He learned at a very early age that the key to success is practice. At age 4 my son would try all day to land the same trick. If he didn’t succeed, he would return the next day to try again. You don’t walk into a skatepark and drop into a ramp the very first time. You have to fall. You have to pick yourself up. You have to figure out what you did wrong and correct the problem.
When Chris did finally land a trick he had attempted for days, the other skaters would cheer- not because he was doing something no one else could do- but because he achieved a personal best. Skateboarding teaches you to set personal goals and to cheer on those who achieve them. It doesn’t matter if you are landing a 720 over a 20-foot gap, or you are landing your very first kickflip. If you have tried to achieve something you set your mind to and practiced again and again- the skate community is there to cheer for you and congratulate you. People that skate together often are a team; they are a team of people working to achieve their personal best.
“How did he learn to skate like that?”
Skaters share secrets. Skaters teach each other. Skaters seem to only complete seriously with each other for money, and usually in a friendly manner. Ever watch a televised skating event? Notice how the people competing seem to know each other and cheer each other on? That’s because when big business isn’t involved in offering tons of money to these skaters to skate against each other, they are usually skating with each other. They were probably together at a backyard ramp or pool the week before the competition skating together.
In backyards across the neighborhood my son has developed an understanding of protocol, hierarchy. He shows respect for elders- and just people in general. You can’t just walk into someone’s backyard and drop into his or her pool or ramp. You have to be invited. You have to show respect. You don’t just assume you have a right to skate there. No one owes you anything. You have to earn the privilege to skate there by showing respect and waiting your turn. You have to be a good enough person for someone to invite you along in the first place.
In skateparks it’s a little more difficult- but the end result is usually the same. There are those parents who use the skateparks as “concrete babysitters”. Parents who drop their kids off at the park on their way to the manicurist or to go have a beer at the sports bar. These are the same parents who don’t want to do their volunteer work for the soccer league. The difference is that eventually the skate community will teach these kids how to behave. Even if the parents don’t want to watch their kids to cheer them on, the other skaters will, and eventually the kids will want to be accepted in the skating community. If they continue to have a bad attitude, they won’t have anyone to skate with. They won’t be invited to the backyard ramp, or they will be vibed out of the park.
I’ve been asked so often if I am afraid of him getting hurt. Of course I am. As a mother I am afraid every day for his safety. But I have to say; he has gotten hurt much more severely just walking off the back porch and not paying attention. When he’s skating he wears pads and a helmet and he has a deep mental focus on what he is doing. I believe it is safer than chasing a ball at high speed during an intense competition with no pads.
“What about the older kids he is exposed to?”
In team sports the kids are grouped together by similar age. I have to say that I’m not sure if competition among similarly aged kids is a good thing. When each kid is expected to conform to a group and vying for the coaches or parents attention, there can be a lot of bullying. In skating- the older kids are just happy to see a young kid getting excited about skating. I have been told more than once by these older kids that they wished they had a mom that supported their skating.
I tell them someday they will be better parents through skateboarding.
At schools where they are trying to find a way to have “sports” without competition- skateboarding is the answer. If we want to build confidence in our kids, and get them involved in a physical activity, we should have skating as an after school activity in our elementary schools. The best thing we can do for our community is build more skateparks.
Karen, her husband, and her son Chris in the Ridiculous Pool!