Learning Life & Leadership from Skateboarders

Bret Nicholson   -  

You can learn from everyone. Here’s a great example. My son is now into skateboarding; I’m not.  But I am into seeing new places, learning new things and doing life with him, so I drive to skate parks.  He skates; I watch and learn.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1)  Life is all about practice. . . And practice is all about trying, failing, improving.
Every skill has its stand out achievers. From what I’ve observed, all achievers seem to have a few things in common. Watching skateboarders, especially the best ones, there is no question: mistakes are part of the achieving.  They get in their mind something new they want to try.  They don’t try, then walk away when they mess up.  They expect to mess up and keep trying when they fail.
I heard Tony Hawk say he worked every day for two months on a single trick – failing over and over and over.  Now doing that trick is like breathing.  Learning and perfecting a skill is a process that necessarily includes messing up and trying again.  It’s like we know that in things like skating – but why not in the rest of life and work?  Think about how freeing that would be. Giving yourself permission to go into new territory expecting that mess ups are a part of the journey.
2)  Achieving is all about committing.
There’s risk involved.  Skating happens on concrete.  You can get hurt.  Each new trick involves the possibility of not only messing up but being hurt when you do it.  Getting over the fear is part of the process.  One skater was trying to land a new trick.   I heard another skater say, “he’s got it.  He just needs to commit.”  The point of commitment is the true point of success.
3)  Give ownership to the real experts.
A One Life goal is to help “build a great city”.  The skate park we come to most often, because it’s supposedly the best in the area, is Owensboro’s.  I learned that skaters were the drivers of the effort and the city listened to them.  They set up a program online where skaters could vote on designs and make suggestions for what a park ought to look like.  All of the skaters I have heard from comment on how “perfect” it is.  One commented: “It’s the first skate park I’ve seen where there are people actually doing the sport instead of doing drug deals”.  This happened because city leaders listened to the people closest to the action.  Skaters know. . . skating. So, now that it’s built, they own it, are proud of it and show up to actually enjoy skating.  And word gets out.
4)  Being with the right people is everything.
As my son is trying to learn skating I have noticed a great trend:  the really good skaters gather around, try new things together, raise each other’s game and, most of all, cheer one another on — for the tries, fails and successes. That’s a pretty accurate picture of what a good team culture looks like.    
5)  See limits as opportunities.
OK, I will admit,  my version of getting into something is to learn the history of it.  I’ve poked around into the history of skateboarding and one thing I’ve learned: whole movements were started from limits.  Ground-breaking skaters who changed the sport came from places where they used what they had access to, instead of wishing for what they didn’t have access to.
One skater known for his off the charts innovation invented his style because he grew up on a farm and had a very small patch of concrete to work with, no ramps, no park, nothing.  He became known as one of the great skaters because he ended up being able to do things with a skateboard no one else had even thought of.
I think of Craig Groeshel’s statement:  “Sometime God guides by what he does NOT provide.”  Our job is to take what we have and use limits as innovation.
The skate world is a new one for me.  What about those of you who know it better: anything you’ve learned about life and leadership from skating?