INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Last weekend I took my intermediate self down a couple of black diamond runs at Diamond Peak. I spent an appropriate amount of time determining my readiness, including watching the level of other skiers making the same choices.
I've developed a reasonably accurate sense of my capabilities. When I see someone whose skills approximate my own making his or her way down with reasonable success, I push myself. My goal is to improve, not to kill myself trying to prove something. There are advantages to life experience (getting older).
Happily, my choices were appropriate. "Grace" would not be how I described my descents at all times, but I managed and was pleased with my progress. I recognized in advance what I would need to be able to do and figured I was ready.
I was horrified, therefore, to watch some well-meaning woman convince two very beginner skiers into attempting something for which they clearly were not ready. I wanted to say, "Why are you doing this?" but decided it was none of my business.
When I saw them, it was probably too late to turn back, anyway. In the first 20 yards or so, both had fallen, one perilously close to a tree. By the time I skied down and was taking the chair back up, one had "progressed" a hundred yards or so and was struggling to get out of the woods.
The second, covered with snow, had slid about 20 yards farther from where I first saw her. Their "friend," clearly a capable skier, was cheerfully shouting at both, "You can do it! Just turn! It's easy!" No, they couldn't do it, and they couldn't turn, and it clearly wasn't easy.
Teaching is an art and a science. The woman who convinced her friends they were ready to take on that for which they were not ready was not a teacher. Telling someone she "can do it" and "just turn" without providing careful instruction, reinforcement and feedback is not teaching.
I understood her enthusiasm and desire to introduce her friends to something she enjoys and at which she is good. Unfortunately, the experience she provided was as likely to make her friends hate skiing - or her - as anything else.
It's natural to want to share the things we love. There is nothing wrong with that. When we push too hard and too fast, however, we run the risk of undermining others' confidence and creating huge obstacles for the future.
Life takes readiness as well as certain predilections and talents. Because something is easy for an adult does not mean it is easy for others. I believe that is one of the hardest realities for parents to accept. It certainly was with our daughters.
The really good teachers in their lives recognized and respected each girl's talents and readiness. As parents, we say we don't want our kids to grow up "too fast," and yet, so often we try to push them ahead. Why?
- Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.