Building confidence is the key to teaching anything and tangible success is a vital part of that. As with anything, skateboarding takes practice and commitment. When working with young children, especially in situations where language is a barrier, it can be difficult to motivate those you’re teaching to keep trying when they feel so far from landing their first trick. We’ve learnt a trick or two (pun intended) to keep kids motivated when learning to skateboard from scratch.
It’s common for children to want to just stand on a board and ride around before they push but this requires a lot of hand-holding and one-on-one tuition. With 25+ kids in the park and 4 volunteers, this just isn’t possible.
The great thing about teaching kids to push is that it gives them autonomy, which in turn allows them to skate around the park, becoming familiar with the obstacles and deciding for themselves what they’d like to conquer next, creating a perfect recipe for motivation.
Riding down a bank
This is a natural continuation of the point above. When kids start riding around the park, they realise they’re limited to the flat-ground and it isn’t long before they start wondering how it would feel to ride down that big incline they keep stopping at. It’s likely they’ll come to you for help riding down the banks, but if they’re nervous, it’s fairly easy to show them that they can’t fall with you holding their hands and from there it’s a simple case of “2 hands, one hand, no hands!”
The mechanics of steering a skateboard require shifting weight from the left of the deck to the right of the deck and weight is something that tiny children don’t have an abundance of. You can loosen the trucks, but when you have a loaner board system with different kids grabbing different boards each time they skate, this lends itself to constant tightening and loosening trucks, kids waiting around and not a lot of skating being done.
Tic-tac is great for small children because not only does it give them a way to steer, it’s also something you can communicate phonetically. Shouting steer doesn’t to work when there’s a language barrier but because of the noise the board makes hitting the ground, I find just running behind them making a “tak tak tak” sound works perfectly, even if it does make me look like a mad woman.
Even for bigger kids, who can steer without it, tic tac is great because it lays a strong foundation for learning kick-turns.
Flipping the board over and landing on it
This is great because it gets kids used to jumping on to the board and because of the flip, it really makes them feel like they’re doing a trick. I’ve noticed that this is the one that kids love to show their parents and any volunteer in the vicinity. At one session, in Ramallah, I had to line the girls up and get them to all do it at the same time to avoid 360 degrees of tiny voices screaming “Amber! Amber! Look!” This is also a good precursor to the next trick…
Once confident jumping onto the board, a good progression is to work on body varials. For these, I kneel in front of the skater and stretch my arms out either side of them so I’m not in their way but I’m able to catch them if they fall. This can be quite a scary one, especially for young kids, because they essentially have to go straight into “no hands”. I find that building their confidence and their trust in you is key to persuading them to attempt it.
After they’re nailing body varials stood still, they can progress to moving body varials. We get the kids running along and jumping on to a moving board first, to get them familiar with jumping onto the board. Nanja, gets the kids to ride along, jump off the board, turn and then jump back on. This gets them used to the sensation before jumping straight into body varials, which we’ve found works well. Then we progress to moving body varials. From there, they can have some real fun riding up the bank, body varial and then riding back down.
By now, they’re confident jumping on the skateboard and ready to conquer an obstacle. You can use a rail for this or build a DIY one. All that’s required is something that little legs can jump over while the skateboard rolls underneath. Hippy jumps aren’t physically challenging but can be tough mentally. The hippy jump will most likely be the trick that teaches kids just how mental Skateboarding is. They’ll know that they’re able to do it because they can do a body varial, but when faced with an obstacle, it’s common for panic to creep in. If that’s the case, I’ll get them riding along and jumping high enough to clear the obstacle first, before trying it. From there, it’s down to their bravery and your encouragement.
The kick-turn is the last step to being able to ride around using the park freely. Although tic-tac is a good introduction to this kind of motion, it can be quite daunting to attempt riding an incline and turning at the same time.
There are a couple of ways we approach this. Getting the skaters to turn 180 degrees while stationary is a good start. I’ll usually tic-tac first to remind them they’re using the same mechanics, then check their foot positions as they practice stood still. At this point, it’s great if there’s someone who understands (either English or skateboarding) enough to translate to the other kids but, if not, you can get by fine with repetition and patience.
Then, I’ll get them to watch me kick-turn a couple of times but encourage them to start off by getting the full 180 in two or three parts. You can hold their hands while they’re kick-turning in multiple parts and move to no hands when they’ve got that down.
Another thing to try is starting off from another bank as well as from the flat-ground. Although some skaters will find this a little scary, the speed can actually help them. I find that, as with a lot of skateboarding, there’s a eureka moment when it suddenly clicks with them how it should feel and how to achieve the 180 degrees rotation, until then it’s simply a matter of persistence.
It can be hard to know where to start when teaching skateboarding from scratch but hopefully this toolkit will get you confident teaching skateboarding, while your students get confident on the board. For Arabic phrases that can help you teach skateboarding, check out our blog Arabic Phrases to Help You Teach Skateboarding.