One of the great pleasures of parenting and coaching is teaching a young child how to ski for the first time. Many of us relive our first skiing adventure when we see a child's face light up as he pops out of the water and cruises across the lake for the first time. For some children, the desire and attitude needed to take to the wakes is natural. For others,it may take some time and parental nurturing.
To help you get your kids up on the water this summer, here are four ideas sure to make your children's transition to skimming across the lake an easy one, and a day they'll remember for the rest of their lives.
On-Land Dreaming. One of the most frustrating parts of learning (and teaching) is bridging the language barrier. We're not talking international speech here, but water-ski jargon. This is especially true when working with kids. You can prevent this potential nightmare before you ever leave the house. If done correctly, you'll have your child dreaming about skiing for the first time.
First, head for the back yard and teach your child to put on a pair of trainer skis. Next, ease the child into the proper body position: arms straight, chest out, shoulders back, hips up. Then give the kid a handle to take a ski ride - on land. Begin with the child in a squatting position; pull nice and slow, just as you will in the boat. This will help your young skier to learn which muscles to use to ski and feel the balance, and will give you a chance to make any adjustments to body position - explaining it all in words a kid can understand.
At Bennett's Ski School, where I teach, the instructors sometimes take it a step further and pull kids with the lawn tractor. This is a great way to get kids comfortable with not only the consistent pull, but the sound of being behind a boat. One thing to remember: Never tie your child's rope to the tractor itself, especially if he or she is using trainer skis. You should always hold the end of the rope and release it if the skier falls.
Fun With Skis and Water Toys. This is something you should do well before you ever get your child behind the boat. Go over to a local swimming pool or out to the lake with your child's skis, a tube and a kneeboard and teach the child how to put the trainers on, climb on the tube and balance on the kneeboard. You may even want to bring a handle with you and slowly pull the child along the side of the pool or dock. The idea here is to have your child comfortable with the equipment and associate fun with using it. To make things easier on you, let your child choose which ski or toy he or she wants to learn to ride first behind the boat.
Having Fun on the Water. If your child isn't a swimmer, I strongly recommend you teach him or her before he or she attempts to ski. The "fear" of skiing is probably associated with uneasiness in the water. You can tell a kid that water is fun until you are blue in the face, but rather than trying to reason with a 4-year-old, I suggest you hop in and start playing around yourself. It doesn't take a child long to want to join in the fun - an easy obstacle to overcome.
If your child is still resistant to the idea, ask what part of the lake he or she would like to get in. Oftentimes it is just a certain area a kid doesn't like, or the child doesn't want to be seen by others while learning.
Stay Close. One of the greatest fears children have is separation from their mothers or fathers. There are two ways to address this situation if it arises. The method that's the most fun (in my opinion) is having your child ski on your skis with you, riding on your back or shoulders. This method is sometimes used when kids are very small (less than 3 years old) to get them used to being behind the boat. Kids love this introduction to skiing because they get the sensation of skiing and don't have to worry about anything happening to them. You can also hold the child between your legs as you both rise out of the water to help the little one get up for the first time. Or you can assist by holding the young skier by the life jacket as you both rise out of the water and plane off.
A second method that is a great teaching aid for many skills, but best for beginners, is the boom. The stability and added control of a boom makes learning to ski a breeze, and the skier being so close to the boat makes it great for the coach and student because adjustments in body position and technique are easily done.
Remember, stay positive when you are instructing your child. Kids want to please their parents, so be careful not to push too hard. Sons and daughters take what you say very personally, so listen to them and keep your answers simple. Speak in a "you can do it" tone. Make skiing an activity your children look forward to doing because of the fun they have and their desire to learn new things. You'll soon be on your way to making water skiing a true family sport.
Ben Favret is a veteran kids' coach, having spent summers coaching young skiers at Bennett's Ski School in Zachary, Louisiana.