For Christmas this year, we skipped gifts and gave ourselves the gift of skiing—yearly rentals, a locker to store the equipment, lessons, and annual passes.  My two oldest children had only skied twice while my youngest child and my lovely wife had never skied before.  The Great Divide Ski Area is only 35 minutes away and we picked a great year to ski—Helena is on pace for a record snowfall this winter.

As I’ve watched the family pick up skiing, it’s obvious how different each person learns.  I can’t help but think about my experience teaching and coaching when I would (mistakenly) expect everyone to be learning at the same pace.

  • My youngest son learns his own way. His “pizza” (the wedge) is essentially backwards when he places more weight on the uphill ski.  But he’s four and is fearless.  He rarely falls down, shoots right down the hill, but cannot even put on his own boots or get up when he falls down.  He cannot process feedback but has an absolute ball while skiing.
  • My oldest son is a bit reckless. He has actually gone off a couple of ski jumps.  He is overconfident.  But he rarely ventures onto more difficult runs which demand parallel (“French fry”) skiing.  He doesn’t pay attention to feedback and prefers to learn his own way.
  • My daughter is a careful and precise. She doesn’t take risks but processes everything.  She listens to feedback and gets frustrated when she can’t implement immediately.  She is getting incrementally better every time.
  • My wife is remarkable. It’s difficult to learn a new skill as an adult.  She is trying every day and getting better.  She also reads my blogs so I’ve spent more time on these two lines than the rest of the blog.

So what?  Well, I see the different learning styles and remind myself that I need to treat each person differently.  But I see similarities, too:

  • The easiest path isn’t the best way. If we all stayed on green runs where we would rarely fall, we’d never get better.
  • We get better by stepping outside of our comfort zone, by confronting the limits of our zone of proximal development. What makes us scared?  Uncomfortable? For me, it was a black diamond run after days of greens with the family.  For the kids, it’s a new lift, a more challenging run, etc.
  • To get better at skiing, you need deliberate practice.  You have to keep challenging yourself and consciously try new things.  If you put yourself on autopilot, you’ll plateau.  And that’s not natural.  Just like a piano player might be tempted to continue to play what he/she is good at, you’re always tempted to keep doing things you’re good at.  But to get better, you need to keep trying new turns, new routes, and new runs.
  • We all fall down. Knowing that helps us get up faster.
  • Doing it together is fun. It’s a little easier to get motivated to learn when you’re doing it with 4 other great people.