When I was about fourteen years old I wanted to go on a skiing trip to Austria with my school, my parents said they would pay for the for the spending money I was saving my wages from my part time job helping the milkman. I had one major problem, I couldn’t ski!!!
I didn’t want to travel all the way to Austria and then learn to ski, my train of thought was that if I was going to Austria , I wanted to be able to go up to the top of the mountains and see all the wonderful views. I also wanted to able to ski freely all week without being watched over by the teachers or skiing instructors and I knew this would not be a possibility if I was unable to ski.
So I had to find somewhere where I could learn to ski before we left and the place would have to be near to Coventry because I would be depending on public transport to get there. I enquired at my school about any provisions that they were taking to teach the pupils how to ski, from this I learnt that the school was going to run a course of skiing lessons at a dry ski slope in Birmingham, at the Ackers Leisure Centre.
I attended the classes with the school and quickly realised that because of the size of the classes and the mental attitude of the pupils around me that I was never going to learn enough before I went on the trip, so when I went home that night I spoke to my parents and we decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands. So I telephoned Ackers and asked about receiving personal, one to one tuition. I explained the situation to the instructor over the telephone and the time limit I had to work within. The instructor was very helpful, and then arranged to meet for my first lesson. This was expensive but I knew it had to be done if I was going to have the skiing holiday I wanted. This went great and the one to one lessons worked excellently, being able to work closely with one other person in comparison to the big crowd was such a difference.
I took to the skiing lessons like a duck to water; my father, who had previously tried these lessons and he just couldn’t get the whole balancing on two skies thing at all, so when I came home and told my parents how it went my dad was amazed. I suppose skiing is the same as any other activity or sport, you either can do it or you can’t. In these lessons the instructor would ski down the slope in front of me backwards, guiding me all the way down the slope. Thinking about it now, this was probably to stop you falling over. This is the biggest fear for people learning to ski, this was not the case with me, I didn’t care if I fell over or not I was so determined to ski that I felt nothing was going to stop me.
I advanced so much from the first lesson; I was skiing down from the top of the slope at the end. When I stepped out onto the slope an hour previously I couldn’t even work out how to stand up in the boots! After my first lesson the instructor and I had a chat about what I really wanted to be able to do by the time I went to Austria, I told him about wanting to ski freely without being watched over and being a skier he just seemed to understand immediately. He suggested that I had another lesson with him the following week, which I was more than happy to pay for; after all I could now see my goal insight.
The next lesson I was taught various turns and even the instructor said that he hadn’t ever seen anybody get the hang of it as quick as me, looking back I suppose this encouragement and positive attitude of the instructor helped me more than I every even knew. Some how I felt like I had known this man I’d just met forever, we gelled really well, which helped me learn much quicker, over the next few years are friendship would grow and grow but I didn’t know this then.
After the second lesson the instructor was convinced that I was more than ready for Austria and advised me not to spend anymore of my hard earned money on one to one lessons. Instead just to come on my own or with a friend at the weekends and keep practicing. At the time my best friend was David Young and I’d been telling him all about this new found exciting sport that I was doing, David used to go swimming most weekend which was a sport I could never participate in, but I will talk about that later.
I talked David into coming to Birmingham with me and giving it a go, now we had another problem, David couldn’t ski, so when we got there and you hire out the equipment for the hour or two, they ask you can you ski, well I just got David to say yes so we could get out on the slopes. Then I mirrored with David what the instructor shown with me, I held his skis and told him to stand like the instructor had showed me and we were away. After a couple of falls, I had David going off the top of the slope with me. This was a bit risky but it was great at the time. That was it then, David and I would go to work and then at the weekend we would be over Birmingham all day skiing, it was great.
Eventually the time came to go to Austria, I didn’t really mention to anyone about my extra lessons and just went along with the crowd, when we arrived at the place in which we were going to stay for the next ten days, a place in the mountains near Salzburg called Mantendorf. I was put in the beginner’s class with all the other people that had attended the little training course the school had run. This was not going to be the place I intended to spend my holiday. I was not impressed at all with this little hill they had taken us to and was straight over to the instructor for a word in his ear. I said to him “I shouldn’t be in this class; I could ski down that hill backwards.” To this the instructor gave me the answer I was waiting for, his reply was “okay, if you can ski down that backwards I’ll put you in the top group.” Thank you I thought and off up the hill I went, needless to say ten minutes later I was heading up the mountain to the top to meet up with the top group much to the amazement of my friends who still couldn’t grasp how managed it.
My holiday in Austria was all and more than I could of ever dreamed of, this was probably the best holiday I have every been on, and if that wasn’t good enough for me, on the last day we were invited to a giant downhill slalom race that was being held by the locals. We all jumped at the chance to compete with Austrians at their own sport. I was picked second last to go and my biggest rival in our group was last. He was one of the teacher’s sons, his father was French and his mother Swiss, they had a holiday home in Switzerland and he had been skiing since he could walk. It was very nerve racking and our group had already decided that none of us were going to beat the Austrians at their own game and that we should just go for the best time out of the group. When my time came to go I could barely stand, I had worked myself up into such a frenzy I couldn’t even think, I stood at the top of the ‘run’ and looked down at everybody watching me, judges with stopwatches the proper timer gate that started the clock, everything was there it was like watching the Olympics on television, but I was there and I was next. I shut my eyes and I could see my instructors face, he said to me “you know you can do it kid”, and I went!
After I had taken my go on the slope, I watched the teacher’s son do his. There was lots of whispering and checking of times and that was it, the Austrians thanked us for being good sports and the instructor took us off back up the mountain that was it finished and we carried on skiing for the rest of the day. I didn’t really give it another thought when we started skiing again. That night was our last night in Austria and we where all called into the dinning room for a little group talk. I knew something wasn’t right, just then the Austrian judge walked in. It was only then we all thought about the race, the times and what was he doing here?
The teachers announced that three of our skiers had actually beaten all the Austrians times, we couldn’t believe it. Then we were informed that the Austrian judge had come to give the winner and the runners up a certificate, and a medal for their efforts. Panic and excitement filled the room and just to keep up the pressure he then said that he was going to read out the winners in reverse order. In third place had came one of my school friends Matthew Lee, he was shocked but we all knew that if anybody had won it would have been Simon, the teachers son. I knew I’d had a good clean ‘run’ but a couldn’t of possibly beaten Simon. Second place was Simon! I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t won, and started getting very excited. Then it dawned on me what if someone else was faster than Simon that wasn’t me. What if I hadn’t even came third. The judge quickly put me out of my misery by
announcing that the winner has beaten Simon by seven seconds, which in skiing is a very long gap and that the winner was in fact me! I couldn’t believe it, I could hardly stand up to go to the front to receive my medal, but I did. And those days to me were the best days of my life, and by far the best successful learning experience I could ever think of. I went from a child who was unable to stand up on skies to winning a gold medal in Austria at giant downhill slalom in about three months. I still have my medal and certificate and it the most proudest achievement in my life, other than having two wonderful children, I just hope I’ll be able to watch my two sliding down them slopes one day.
Well, what can I say about swimming, hopefully not as much as I said about skiing! But as learning experiences go you can always say more about a good or successful learning experience rather then a bad or unsuccessful one.
When I was a young boy we lived near a river, being kids we used to go down to the river a lot. One day, that I’ll never forget, I fell into the river and was quickly washed downstream. My older brother couldn’t swim at the time and felt completely helpless as he watched me fighting to keep my head above water. He ran along side the river bank, and when he saw his chance jumped into the water and dragged me out, I have no doubt in my mind if I’d of been on my own on that day I would not be here writing this essay. Obviously this experience frightened the life out of me and from that day forth I was determined to be able to swim. When we got home and the story came out to my parents, my mother had a completely different outlook on the situation. She vowed that I was never to go near water again, I was sure in my head I was never going anywhere near the river again but I knew this was something I had to overcome.
As time went by my brothers and sister learnt how to swim, my sister learnt when she went on a trip to America and she came back and taught my brothers. I was left out of these family swimming lessons on my mother’s orders. Again time went by and I was left behind in the swimming side of things, then the school started swimming lessons and against my mothers wishes I attended these. I went with all the other non swimmers and stood in the pool and got badly taught what we were supposed to be doing. I tried my upmost to get the hang of this thing. By this time I was about twelve and my friends would be going swimming after school and at the weekends, all I wanted to do was belong to that group of kids that had such fun diving off boards and splashing about. So the determination was there, I just couldn’t crack it. Thinking back now I couldn’t really put my finger on the reason that it was that stopped me learning, maybe embarrassment of not being able to do it, while my school friends were at the other end of the pool doing things that got them badges and certificates I was stood in water that only came up to my waist feeling stupid. So the embarrassment of the whole thing was probably the factor that stopped me learning as a teenager.
This went on for sometime and even when I realised that I would have to overcome this embarrassment if I wanted to learn. Looking back I suppose I should of sorted out one to one lessons for this, but even the thought of me being fourteen and being watched by kids trying to learn to swim was probably a big enough deterrent not to pursue this option. I did try several other options that all ended unsuccessfully, both my brothers tried to teach me to swim. This entailed finding out when the Coventry swimming baths were at their quietest and having my brothers hold me while I tried to get to grips with it. Strangely my will to learn to swim has always been there, but I think deep down I have convinced myself that I’m never going to be able swim unaided.
My brothers quickly would become impatient with me and this was never going to help me learn. I asked my sister to help me learn how to swim, this was difficult for my sister at this time because she was raising a family, but we arranged times and we gave it a go. I thought that I was going to be able to be taught by my sister, I knew she would have more patience than my brothers and I also knew that she had taught them how to swim. This made me confident that I would crack it this time. I feel I have any fear of the water, I have no problem of getting wet or putting my head under the water, but alas everything my sister tried with me I just seemed to sink.
I gave up trying for about eight years, working and raising my own family distracted my enough to put this to the back of my mind. I was working as a shop fitter with a friend’s husband, called Terry and I mentioned what I was doing at the weekend, then I asked him what he was doing. When he informed me that he helped out at the Kenilworth swimming baths at the weekend my non swimming problem came up. At this Terry said I’ll teach you how to swim, I’m a trained lifeguard. I agreed to meet him at the swimming baths after work and I tried again, I done everything Terry asked me to do to the best of my ability but to no avail.
I just seem to sink; even Terry couldn’t understand the reasons why I couldn’t swim. I can swim if I have my little finger on a float but if I let go of that float down I go, now I know that this could be a mental thing. Somewhere inside my head I have probably told myself that I was never meant to swim. I haven’t every tried since then, if a lifeguard can’t teach me to swim I can’t see anybody that can. In the end I just gave up, I believed through the lack of confidence that I was never going learn.
I think the reasons why the two learning experiences were so different were because of all sorts of factors, one was definitely the one to one tuition that I received for the skiing. Thinking about it now, I may have also had it in the back of my mind that the swimming was something I could live without whereas at the time of learning, the skiing wasn’t. I do regret not learning to swim and I haven’t ruled out giving it another go, but I would only try and learn with one to one teaching from a trained swimming instructor. I have tried many times to learn to swim and I think every time I tried was another time when I probably thought I am just unable to grasp this. This thought in mind, the chances of overcoming the lack of confidence to do it has just become harder.
I don’t feel that getting my brothers to teach me was ever going to work, unlike the skiing instructor’s teaching techniques they just seemed to try and teach me because I asked. The skiing instructor really made me feel like that he wanted to teach even me more than I wanted to learn. This positive approach to teaching really worked for me. Also the fact he didn’t know me seemed to help, whereas I found that people who do know you seem to lose their patience with you quicker. This experience also learnt me at an early age to have patience with others that may not be able to do something that you find easy. So I actually managed to learn something from failing to learn something.