To be a better snowboard instructor, teach more than skills.

A lot of snowboard instructors claim to be student-centric, and then still blame the student when lessons don't go well. But they came to you for help, and it's your job to help them.
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To be a better snowboard instructor, teach more than skills.

The obvious path towards becoming a better snowboard instructor is to learn how to teach more skills. But continuing down this pathway has diminishing returns for the beginning snowboarder, or anyone who has plateaued in their riding. Being able to teach someone how to air out of a 22 foot superpipe doesn’t necessarily make you better at teaching someone to link turns. Coaching a 1440 doesn’t mean you know how to help someone through their mental block of a backside 360. Learning how to more effectively coach someone through these struggles requires letting go of your assumptions about people. It also requires letting go of your own ego. "Sometimes you just have to scare yourself" is not the best answer for most.

In 2021, there were 3.5 million skydiving jumps made at United States Parachute Association facilities. There were only ten fatalities, making the odds of death while skydiving 1 in 357,143 jumps. Mentally understanding this math may not necessarily make it comfortable for you to jump out of an airplane. Even knowing that none of the  the ten 2021 deaths resulted from equipment issues may not help you. The rule follows for skydiving that the more times you jump, the more comfortable you will become. You learn to trust the equipment and the process a little more each time. But that still requires multiple successful jumps that your risk tolerance might not allow you to achieve. Even if you feel perfectly okay with the idea when on the ground.

Many people experience a similar kind of fear when learning to snowboard. They want so badly to learn, yet sub-cognitive fear makes their body say “no”. It’s probably the same thing keeping some of you from boardsliding a handrail or airing out of a 22’ superpipe; always backing down at the last moment and frustrated that you did. But there are ways to manage that fear other than just scaring yourself until you become comfortable. Just throwing yourself at the problem hoping it will work isn't a path to success for most. Even worse, it can lead to injury and re-enforce that fear response.

A trainer once told me that his goal is to teach a no-fall lesson. Rather than working off of the assumption that everyone must take hard slams while learning to snowboard, he challenged himself to be more successful than that. And he was.

Since 90% of my lesson guests were first timers taking private lessons, no-fall lessons became my goal as well. If you build a good foundation, and pay attention to how people most commonly fall, you can be close enough to catch them. Less time spent getting back up means more time learning to snowboard. Not being slammed into the ground means less trauma. Not taking hard falls means less fear to hold them back from learning to snowboard. And with lessons that were only an hour long, making these changes was crucial to their success.

For low speed tasks and small groups, this works great. Creating that physical security net makes people feel comfortable enough to try new things since hard slams are no longer a threat. But beyond a certain size group, and more advanced tasks this becomes unrealistic. So what happens for someone trying to air out of the superpipe, drop off a cliff the first time, or olly onto a handrail? Since you can't be there to catch them, the training foundation has to be even better.

It seems imperative then, that along with learning how to teach more skills you have to study how people learn, how they emote, and even how humans process the world around them.

Everything that you know how to do, autonomic responses withstanding, you have had to learn. This includes interpreting the data coming in through your eyes, your sense of touch, even your sense of balance. There are subconscious processes going on in your body, interpreting signals that you don’t notice, that allow these things to happen successfully. And the moment your body doesn’t know how to interpret these data, frustration, anxiety, and fear can take root.

Physiologically, fear and excitement are almost the same thing and can be interchangeable. In both situations, heart rate increases, as well as rate of breathing, perspiration, and adrenaline. They are so close to each other that you can turn fear into excitement; a thing you have likely done yourself. But what if the gap between fear and excitement is so large that it cannot, or should not, be bridged mentally? This is where regressive teaching comes in. You have to take the time to sit down and figure out what is creating fear, what the student is experiencing subconsciously, that won’t let them try something. Then you go back and build skills around that fear that will make it more manageable. This is why some people have to learn how to ride their snowboard in the flats, and spend a long time doing it, before letting gravity pull them down the hill.

There are myriad systems in the human body that have to be satisfied for the self preservation mode to not kick in. Depending on your life experiences, they can either be easier or more difficult to satisfy. The experience of skaters and surfers means their bodies are familiar with the sensations they will feel. This often makes it easier for them to learn how to snowboard. For the beginning snowboarder without such a background, the experience needs to be curated to fill those gaps. This the body can learn how to interpret these new experiences. Especially for someone who has been injured, or has had traumatic experiences that makes it more difficult for them to learn.

Anyone can learn to snowboard if they are willing to try and the right person is able to work with them.

The fact that they showed up for lessons means they are willing. Experienced and plateaued riders can also move past their blocks with the right instructor. Professional snowboarders still have coaches, and those coaches work at resorts you've probably been to. You are allowed to ask for someone who is a specialist in the thing you want to learn in private lessons. Snowsports school will do the best they can to get you the right instructor for that request. While you might have to go somewhere that has career term instructors to get the person for you, that person does exist.

Yes, some people take longer to learn than others and some students might decide it isn’t worth the effort. But an instructor who is willing to problem solve with their students, and make them believe in themselves, means this is less likely to happen. Snowboarding doesn't have to be painful or cause anxiety, and you don't have to brute force your way through fear. Every sport has it's risk, but it's our job as instructors to manage the risk of our students with them, not for them. This sport is supposed to be fun, and the right instructor will make sure it is.

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