How skateboarding helps kids develop a growth mindset

by ParentCo. May 22, 2015

legs on a skateboard with red shoes

I introduced my kid to skateboarding when she was five. At first, I just pushed her around as she sat on my board. Then I let her sit at the end of my board, wearing a bike helmet while I kicked around the driveway. She loved it. By the time she was six, she wanted to skate on her own. Her mother and I bought her some entry-level gear and spent a few afternoons kicking around empty parking lots as a family.  It wasn't long until she wanted to learn how to really shred, so we enrolled her in skate camp at Talent, our local indoor skatepark. (BTW, if your kid wants to skate, I strongly recommend enrolling them at a skate camp. They'll learn much faster, internalize safety, and have a ton of fun.)

Skateboarding for a Growth Mindset

At Talent, our kid learned two critical life lessons (not including how to tic-tac): with practice, she could get better at anything, and falling down is an unavoidable part of the process. These "get better" lessons are cornerstones of a "growth mindset;" that is, a mindset that leads one to persist despite lack of obvious talent and despite inevitable setbacks.
In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it. —Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, Stanford University
People have talents and strengths, but that's not the end of the story. In a fixed mindset, “your qualities are carved in stone.” You will never have capabilities beyond the ones you have today. In a growth mindset, “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
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I believe that skateboarding is uniquely capable of helping kids develop a growth mindset. Here's why.

1. Skateboarding accepts that everyone has their own learning pace

“Your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” - HBR, Do You Have a Growth Mindset?
While our kid mastered riding ramps faster than some of the other kids in her class, those kids were faster to master moves like ollying and jumping. Seeing other kids slowly master tricks that had previously been impossible for them had a powerful positive influence on my kid. She still can't ollie, but she can ride the bowl. 

2. Good effort deserves praise as much or more than outcome

In a Stanford newsletter, Dweck writes:
"One very common thing is that often very brilliant children stop working because they're praised so often that it's what they want to live as—brilliant—not as someone who ever makes mistakes. It really stunts their motivation."
That completely describes my kid. She often masters new tasks faster than her peers, for which she gets ample praise. But when the task gets harder and she starts to make mistakes, her motivation flags. Skate culture is super positive and focused on the process of learning. Skaters instinctively encourage each other every step of the way. Landing tricks gains praise, but so does crashing. The only thing that doesn't gain praise is hanging back. (Though kids that hang back are also encouraged to join in.) Don't get me wrong - friendly competition and one-upmanship is part of skate culture. But in my experience - and from what I've observed at dozens of skateparks - even the competition maintains a friendly, positive element. In the New York Times, Dweck says:
“Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability. People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”
To me, that perfectly describes skate culture.

3. You actually do get better with practice - and failing is part of it

"With a growth mindset, you focus on learning and development rather than failure and actively pursue the types of challenges that will likely lead to both learning and failure."
Learning to notice one's progress is an important element of a growth mindset. Skating is one of the first activities where our kid was aware of her progress. Her coaches also noticed, and gave her positive feedback for getting better and better. Now when we talk about moving forward through setbacks at school, or in other pursuits like baseball and skiing, we still refer to how she learned to skateboard despite wiping out many times. 

Two other non-growth mindset values from skating...

Skate like a Girl

Skating reassured my kid that girls are as cool and capable as boys.

Before she started to skate, she was very bothered that men and women play in different professional sports leagues. To her, this could only mean that men were better than women at sports. While her mother and I tried to explain that men and women have different bodies and, therefore, play in different ways, she wasn't convinced. Skating, however, showed her that not only could girls keep up with boys, they could also completely match them. It helped that one of her favorite coaches was a woman. 

A sense of shared culture

Skating wasn't cool when I was a kid. In fact, being seen with a skateboard could get you beat up by townies, rednecks and even some of the jocks (always a bunch of beefy kids in a pickup truck).

Back then, low-grade persecution led to a sense of community among us skaters. Today, skateboarding is considered cool, and it's fully part of American culture. But that earlier sense of community lives on in skater culture.

Skating provides an increasingly rare sense of belonging for kids.

Here's my kid, showing us how to drop in:



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