Caution & Confidence: The Balance


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Risk, when it comes to mountain boarding, is a very intricate thing. There are two ways to approach risky situations: confidence and caution. I find myself teaching kids how to combine the two, rather than using one or the other. Generally, confidence needs to be built, however I find myself occasionally having to help kids tone down their confidence, and add a little more caution into their riding.

At mountain boarding, I celebrate caution as much as (if not more than) confidence. Some kids come to the mountain boarding course for the first time, or the fifteenth time, and just stand on a board without moving. And every time they do that, we celebrate. They get a high five, they are praised for their bravery, and they have the option to try moving or not. Sometimes, kids don’t even try standing on a mountain board until their fifteenth time coming to the course. Caution has the ability to build confidence if we celebrate it.

If a kid doesn’t want to ride, I absolutely talk to them about it. And then I offer the option of just trying all the protective gear on, just to see how it feels. If I get them that far, there is a much higher chance that they will get on a board. As we’re padding up I’ll check all of their gear, knocking on their knee pads, making sure they have the “best ones,” and allowing them to feel comfortable and protected. Once they’ve got all the gear on, they are allowed to stand on a board if they want. I’ll bring a board out onto the course, sometimes it takes them a little while to even step onto the board. I reassure them that the board won’t move unless they want it to. And sometimes they decide they want to stand on the board, and then they get out there and they decide not to. And they still get a high five. They’re analyzing something that feels risky to them, and making decisions about their safety. This caution deserves praise.

Over­confident kids will fall over and over and over again because they believe that they should be able to land a jump. Instead of thinking about their stance and their approach, they begin to think about the fact that they can’t land their trick. They quickly go from having too much confidence to having none at all. They’ll keep hitting the jump, and keep leaning back too far, and keep landing off balance, and keep falling down. So in these moments of frustration, when their confidence is suddenly at a low, I have them go back to the basics. Do a run or a trick that they’ve done a million times. Do something they’ve already perfected. Get their calm back. Regain their confidence. Once they have their confidence back­­when they go back to try that trick that they struggled with over and over again­­most kids perfect it right away.

I actually find confidence more challenging to manage than caution. Some kids will come up to the course and say that they snowboard or skateboard all the time, so they know exactly what to do. Or they have been coming to camp for years and years and want to start off their first run of the summer hitting the Kicker, which is one of our biggest jumps. In these moments, I have to teach them caution. We talk about warming up, taking it slowly, and thinking through their runs. We talk about their stance, their plan, and their confidence. When they ask me if they can advance, once I am confident that they are ready, my response is, “Do you think you can do it?” I leave it up to them to decide. I allow them to analyze the risk, and their confidence.

Through this process, I have seen incredible growth and success. I have asked kids if they feel ready, and had them respond with, “Maybe I will practice one more time.” They’ve found the confidence to take their time, rather than rushing to things before they’re ready. I have heard kids giving advice to each other, saying, “Yeah dude, just go back to the basics, do something you already know. It helps, I swear.” I have seen kids go from overconfident and frustrated to cautiously­ confident, level headed decision­ makers. I have watched kids go from refusing to even put pads on to hitting the Kicker. Sometimes there are years between these progressions and sometimes only days. Whether they progress to trying on pads , or to hitting the Kicker, being witness to the internal process is incredibly rewarding, and over the years, it has become my favorite part of the job.