It’s Like Riding a Bike

(Each day we’re taking past newsletters and adding them to the 2-4-1 Blog Enjoy today’s piece from this time two years ago where we took a deeper dive into the concept of physical literacy development – in action.)

“It’s like riding a bike.”
We’ve all heard that phrase hundreds of times and of course refers to the fact that once we learn something – we can forever do it. Many of you reading this in fact, may have not been on a bike in the past 5 years (or more?) – but you undoubtedly have no fear that if the opportunity were presented to you, it would be easy to regain mastery. In fact, many use the phrase “it’s as easy as riding a bike”… but, it’s only “easy” once you’ve learned how.
But try telling a desperately struggling 6 year old who seemingly can’t get past training wheels that “it’s as easy as riding a bike”. How will that 6 year old join the “I too can ride a bike” club? They will continue to try…and fail…and try… and fail…and try…and then suddenly…they’’ll be circling the block on their own. It’s a perfect example of the fact that most things worth doing in life require a certain amount of discomfort – and a series of failures and setbacks before success. It’s an early life lesson in perseverance! 
But – the other thing that “ learning to ride a bike” teaches us is that we learn best in game situations. I have a Spin bike in my home office. Imagine the false confidence I would develop if my only experience in cycling for my entire life was on the Spinner and I then was invited for a weekend ride with a group of friends. I would embarrassingly realize, and learn the hard way, that riding a bike is much more than simply sitting down and pedaling.
Learning to ride a bike in many ways is like learning to compete in a sport. I heard my friend John Kessel from U.S.A Volleyball say it best (paraphrased) – “we never tell a kid to go outside and ‘work on their bicycling drills’ – they just go outside and figure it out”.
I share this because I think it’s analogous to the false sense we give young athletes when we only teach skills, but don’t provide opportunities to apply them regularly in game situations.  I’ve seen a lot of kids over the years who can shoot a basketball incredibly well in warm ups, but then in a game situation can’t even get their shot off. Or – we all know that kid whose “personal record” in juggling the soccer ball is 114 times without letting it hit the ground, but then they get in the game and lacks the aggression it takes to beat their defender to the ball so they can use that juggling skill when it matters. Or that tennis player who has perfect serving form and rarely falters in practice, but during competition double faults more than they get their first serve in.

The definition I use for Physical Literacy (an adaptation of the U.S. definition) is the Ability, Balance, Confidence, Desire and Explorative Nature to be active for life. More simply put, my colleague Glenn Young refers to Physical Literacy as a “disposition to be active for life”. As coaches (and parents) – we are too often preparing young athletes on “spinners” and we’re not authentically allowing for that disposition to develop innately. I personally think it’s just fine that learning to ride a bike keeps the band-aid business in business. Like a young person learning to walk, learning to ride a bike is fun BECAUSE it’s challenging.  According to kids, apparently scraping your knee or bloodying your palms is worth it because time and time again, generation after generation – kids keep doing it.
When applying this to physical literacy think of it this way.  – When the skill is mastered you have the ability to ride a bike. You have balance – quite literally in this case and you have a new tool/skill that hopefully balances off a whole series of tools/skills. You have the confidence to join your friends on a neighborhood jaunt. You have the desire to challenge yourself and perhaps race or go on really long rides. Lastly, you have the explorative nature to take that bike to the local park and maybe try some tricks (go ahead – try no hands or pop a wheelie!) In short – you are developing a disposition to be active for life. This is not to say that skill development is not important. In fact, acquiring fundamental movement skills is a core building block of physical literacy. But to really “own” those skills, kids – and adults- need to apply them and put them to the test. In short, don’t be afraid of scraped knees and roughed up palms. There is joy inherent in challenge. 

With the spring sports season upon us and summer looming, let’s give every kid who wants to the opportunity to fail…and try…and fail…and try…in whatever activity they choose. If we hang in there with them and keep encouraging them – even when it looks like they’ll never get it – they will develop a disposition that they will carry with them for life. Their desire to play will be, well – like riding a bike!