To Train or Not to Train...

...That is the question... whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes and yeah you see what we're getting at here. Not going to go all Bill Shakespeare on you. Forgive me for trying to offer you a bit of culture...

I remember when I first learned to skate. I learned in the way many kids did; I Showed up at the skate park, board in hand, I got bullied into trying stuff and mercilessly browbeaten for being far from rad on a board.

 my Local, in it's current form. I dread to think how many hours I've spent here.

my Local, in it's current form. I dread to think how many hours I've spent here.

This didn't discourage me though. I persevered, grew a massive chip on my shoulder and went on a mission to prove myself to the naysayers. Ultimately, I earned the respect of my peers, and became a better skater.

 I skated because I loved it and constantly wanted to progress. Little has changed now but I can say, for me at least, that initial baptism of fire worked. As time goes by, the once legendary park veterans become friends, and ultimately more human. Only then may you crack on and get a skate in.

 But remember where you came from and that they developed you. Seriously remember it, because if you don’t they’ll constantly remind you of it, which has been my life for the last 10 years.

Anyways, to quote another famous wordsmith; "times, they are a-changing". Kids are brought up differently now, even if you just go back 5 years or to the few years below you at school. There's a bit more padding to the outside world now than in previous years.

Young people perhaps don't learn the same way as I, or generations of skaters before me, did. The world is now focused on social media, which, despite its many merits, can hinder a young person's confidence and inter-personal skills, as relationships are formed with virtual entities with no huge need for face to face interaction. The art of conversation is partly lost or at least takes a much different format. Marching up to and meeting another young person could be rather daunting - as with any new endeavor. 

The skateboarding world too, in so many aspects, has gone through seismic changes. From styles to tricks to developments in the materials used in skateboarding we now take entirely for granted. Gone are the days of exploding clay wheels and obscenely bad Day-Glo headbands and other poor fashion choices a little later on. Although some habits die hard...... spending years of crying and sweating in to my tube socks has them walking out of the draw on their own.

 Strange and confusing times.

Strange and confusing times.

Skateboarding now has infrastructure. The national governing body, Skateboard England, are working developing the future of skateboarding, keeping it in the hands of skaters. People like you and me.

Skateboard England have a fundamental requirement to create a coaching pathway that offers a credible, structured evaluation of coaches to ensure the highest standards in the UK. That's where Sk8 Safe come in. We partnered with Skateboard England to create the first accredited qualification of its kind in the world, the Level 1 Award in Coaching Skateboard Sessions Qualification. 

However, this has created a bone of contention among many skateboarders in the UK - Not all, many are in favour and many of those with initial anxieties about the course have now come on board once they understood the bigger picture. Yet, there’s still a great deal of scepticism around this new concept. Why is that? Let’s explore.

Skateboarders are very protective of skateboarding. I know this well, because I am a skateboarder.  There’s a fear that somehow this will institutionalise skateboarding, take it out of skateboarder’s hands and turn skateboarding into another one of those dreaded school activities which drove us over to skateboarding in the first place.

 Ace campaign from Burlington, NJ. I'm sure we're all acutely aware of the life we could have ended up living without skateboarding...

Ace campaign from Burlington, NJ. I'm sure we're all acutely aware of the life we could have ended up living without skateboarding...

There’s the fear that bigger companies will take hold of skateboarding, turn it into a cash cow and ruin its integrity.

 There’s the concern that skateboarding will become too “mainstream” or too professional. As a skater, I understand these concerns. The key aim of this course is to get more young people skateboarding. Nothing else. It’s not about money, it’s not about turning skateboarding into a “soccer mom” sport. It’s about getting more kids on Skateboards and introducing them to a pastime that has brought us all so much joy and such a sense of community.

I deliver the courses across the country. Why? Because I’m a skater and that’s how it should be. I wouldn’t want to listen to a generic sports coach tell me about My lifestyle and My pastime. I’d want to be taught by someone current and relatable, someone who gets skateboarding. The key throughout the course is to offer kids the opportunity to skate. In particular, those who may not get the opportunity otherwise.

The course doesn’t aim to make skateboarding mainstream and, as long as it stays in the hands of skaters, it never will be mainstream.

Large companies already have a hold of skateboarding in a pretty big way but you can’t blame the course for that. In fact, without the influence of larger skate brands such as Santa Cruz, Vans, Plan B and a myriad of others too numerous to mention, it’s without doubt that skateboarding worldwide would not be in the position it is in today. However, it’s understandable that many skaters turned their back on those companies that just became too big, and there’s the resurgence of small independent skate companies aiming to take skateboarding back to its roots. This aspect will never die.

You can’t blame a national governing body or coaching course for institutionalising or monopolising skateboarding. But perhaps some of this blame could lie with the brand of shoes you’re wearing at the moment…

Why do we even need it, what’s the point? That’s a question I get fairly often. Almost as often as “why is your board so small?” Well, the answer here isn’t particularly black and white. Of course, there have been skaters up and down the country working as Skate Coaches for many years, with no problems whatsoever.

 It's never going to be another traditional school activity. But this series was pretty funny. 

It's never going to be another traditional school activity. But this series was pretty funny. 

The whole point of the Level 1 Award is it provides vital credibility and professionalism to old and new coaches. We’re not talking about t-shirt-tucked-in-to-gym-shorts-and-a-whistle-round-your-neck professionalism, we’re talking about consistency, safe practice, and ensuring that all young people in a session are catered for. Whatever their needs.

 The course focuses on how to reach young people and involve everyone, giving everybody the opportunity to skate. It’s important to have those things in place when coaching anyone. This isn’t us telling you how to do your job. In fact, we hope we can all pick up new techniques from each other. Let’s go with a quick hypothetical:

Coach: “Hi there, I’d like to teach your year 5s how to play hockey”

Headteacher: “Ahh fantastic! Do you have any relevant qualifications?”

Coach: “Naaah, don’t need any of that. But I’m really good at it”

Headteacher: “…Okay. Well, do you have a Safeguarding Certificate?

Coach: “Nah don’t need that.”

Headteacher: “Right. Are you first aid trained?”

Coach: “Nah”

Headteacher: “DBS Checked?”

Coach: “Yeah I go to my dentists once a month”

You see, the course ensures professionalism. Most importantly, to you the coach it will break down resistance to non-mainstream activities in schools and communities, while also keeping the young people you are coaching safe. The word “Headteacher” in the previous example could eaily be replaced with “Community Liaison Officer” or “Youth Worker”. Answer “yes” to the above questions and you’re in.  Surely, that’s not a bad thing.

Can’t they just go and learn at a skate park? Skateboarding’s about discovery, let them crack on! Yeah, skateboarding is completely about discovery. Couldn’t agree more. So let’s just take a minute to think about the kinds of young people who gravitate towards skateboarding. Many may not engage with the traditional sports offered in schools. Some may be lacking confidence or social skills and have previously negative classroom experiences.

Young people from this background might really struggle to get out on to a skate park, by themselves, and start skating, even if every fibre in their body tells them this is what they want to do. It can be hard getting out there and facing adversity and, unfortunately, many young people accept defeat very quickly and give up.

Then why not offer a safe and positive entry point for those who would struggle otherwise? If it gets more young people into skateboarding, and reaches out to those who may not skate due to issues with their confidence and self-esteem, what’s the problem? On the subject of skateboarding being all about the DIY spirit, individual progression and creativity, of course it is and the course doesn’t aim to change that. What it does aim to do is build a young person’s confidence and provide them with a solid foundation. The rest is up to them…

 Hull's newest accredited coaches. Always great to get such a good turn out. 

Hull's newest accredited coaches. Always great to get such a good turn out. 

Overall, the feedback from the course has been overwhelmingly positive, with experienced skaters and coaches alike all taking something valuable away to use in their own practices. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to bring more professionalism to skateboarding in a way which benefits existing coaches and increases participation in skateboarding.

Getting more kids on boards and involved in a community which has given us so much surely can’t be a bad thing. If we can reach out to some of those kids who otherwise might have neither the confidence nor the means to step on a skateboard, mission accomplished.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Book onto a course and see for yourself. Future generations of skaters will thank you for it.

Denham Hill