I recently decided to try skiing for the first time but at the age of 50 I wasn’t expecting things to be easy. It is harder to learn new skills when you get older and sadly I am not as fit as I used to be. To makes matters worse for myself I embarked on the project with two friends who are much younger and so I feared that I would struggle to keep up. Before setting off for my first expedition to the slopes I arranged a skiing lesson and hoped that my chosen instructor would be a good one. In the event he was fabulous but I have discovered since that not all instructors are equally skilled.
It is quite intimidating to arrive at the slopes on the first day having never so much as put your skis on before. My friends and I met our instructor at the foot of the nursery slope and he taught us new skills progressively, giving clear instructions and paying attention to the issues each of us had. He was insightful at getting to the route of each problem and was strict in imposing his will on us whilst being friendly and offering plenty of encouragement. By dealing with each stage of the learning process in turn and correcting our errors immediately, he managed to get us all traversing the slope comfortably and eager to progress to bigger things. At the end of the day I liked the guy and despite the fact that he was quite strict he seemed genuinely keen to help.
We all returned from our trip determined to continue our alpine adventure. After a few weeks we booked a lesson at an indoor slope with a view to taking regular practice at the facility once we had got our skiing legs back. I was looking forward to the lesson but sadly it did not go well. Clearly we were not expert skiers otherwise we would not have required the lesson and so I expected a little understanding. In the event, the instructor had no patience and just barked at us all the time. He was shouting at us for getting things wrong but not really offering any suggestions to help us. In my experience if you are teaching someone and they are struggling you need to get to the bottom of why before you can move forward but he didn’t seem interested in trying. I am sure he was a very good skier, but being good at something yourself does not make you a great teacher.
Teaching is a special skill which our second instructor clearly lacked. It is about the willingness and ability to see what people need to do and finding a way to communicate the instructions that will strike a chord with your pupil. It is also crucial that instructors in physical activities take account of the age, fitness and general health of their clients. Some may need more time than others to adjust to a new activity.
Above all teaching is about encouragement. All my second instructor succeeded in doing was knocking our confidence. What a contrast! I had left the slopes on my holiday sorry to be packing up my skis and snow boots and keen to learn more. By the time the time this guy had finished with me I was beginning to think that I would not even be able to negotiate the main slope at the centre and found myself standing at the top peering down and wondering what I was doing there. Then another lady of about the same age as myself came over and joked about how hard it was for us to ski. She commented that we must be crazy but said she was sure I would do just fine. I followed her down the slope, skied well and felt much better. She wasn’t a great skier but she would have been a much better instructor than the one I was landed with!
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