Building Grit and Resistance in Kids, One Wave at a Time Why kids that learn to surf lead a more successful in life…
Written by Victoria Ross
As a parent you do everything in your power to ensure your child’s success and happiness in life. This can include selecting the perfect school, preparing healthy lunches and cheering for your child when playing their weekend sport. What exactly ensures a kid grows up into a fully functioning adult with an assured future?
Throughout history numerous studies have been conducted to try and answer this important question, with many of them by Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of Berkeley. According to Dr Baumrind in an article by the New York Times ‘the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects his or her child’s autonomy. These “authoritative parents” appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive and less involved, or controlling and more involved.’
Therefore the ideal parent essentially walks a strategic line between being lenient and controlling. So you’re probably wondering what kids learning to surf has to do with any of this? We want our kids to have grit and resilience, to be willing to take responsible risks, and to persist in the face of challenging situations. These are the qualities that predict success and happiness in life far more than GPA. Learning to surf requires kids to draw on all of these skills, and they are rewarded with the thrill of riding a wave. Essentially the environment, process and practice of learning to surf provides the perfect forum for autonomy for a child’s development cognitively and physically and in turn assists in developing skills essential to a successful and fulfilling life.
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, you are never too old to learn to surf. The practice and process of being surf coached provides an ideal balance of fun, personal challenge and independent learning. Working with a professional surf coach kids are provided specialized theory on pop up, wave selection and safety and are then suitably coached and supported in the water providing the perfect environment for autonomous learning.
According to research by Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, kids that are told they are ‘bright and capable’ are less motivated to succeed. As stated in a New York Times article, this theory was established in an experiment where ‘Dr Dweck takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. But then Dr. Dweck tells some, but not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.’
This study is quite enlightening as it reveals unnecessarily praising kids abilities and skills seems to unnerve their confidence. It is believed for the kids that have been praised, in trying more difficult puzzles brings the risk of losing the title of ‘very bright and capable’ and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes.
As an experienced surf coach this theory is true in the process of learning to surf for adult and kids alike. As a surf coach it is your goal to bring your student to their surfing potential in a safe, fun and supportive environment. You provide all the supporting feedback and encouragement required to bring the best out of your student, however when they are on the wave it is just the individual and the wave and you have to trust they will apply the methods, safety and technique described to successfully stand up and surf. The pride kids feel when they catch a great wave is intrinsic and does not require any validation from the outside.
As a surf coach you can’t hold your clients hand through the entire process, as once you push them onto that wave it is just the individual applying all the techniques you have shown them, for a beginner this solo time on a wave could be from 5 to 20 seconds. This is where the independent learning kicks in, and for kids they thrive and embrace this moment to shine and learn independently. This process of learning to stand up can also be very humbling, even for the most athletic kid and in turn assists in developing the child’s persistence, grit and character.
In the interest of safety for kids during this learning to surf process at Peaks and Swells we offer a 1:1 child/surf coach ratio. The primary surf coach assists the child into the wave and the secondary coach on the shoreline is ready to ‘catch’ and come to the child’s aid once finishing their wave and provide helpful feedback. This feedback the surf coach provides for the student is essential to their learning development and particularly with kids we make sure we are sensitive to their feelings in delivering this information. However from surf coaching with kids for years I assure you they respond very well to constructive criticism as long as it is delivered in a fun manor. For example if Noah (8 years) is riding the wave with his legs too straight which is causing him to wipe out due to instability, as an experienced surf coach you would say, ‘Noah on your next wave let’s try bending your knees, and tell me what it feels like.’ As for Noah, once he lowers his Centre of gravity he will find more stability and in turn get a longer ride and improve his surfing. By setting new challenges for Noah and asking for his feedback you’re including him in the learning process and fostering his independence.
This surf coaching technique is aligned with Dr. Dweck’s and that of Dr. Baumrind work, who also found that reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.
Therefore the process and practice of a child learning to surf provides them with character building experience and according to child psychologists provides an ideal foundation for living a happy and successful life.