Learning to ride a bike: Lessons on practice and perseverance

My 8-year-old daughter learned to ride a bike this weekend. We took her with her bike to the field next to her school and found a slight incline where she could practice balancing before she tried pedaling. She struggled the first few times. But she kept going back and starting over, taking fewer steps on each subsequent attempt to master balancing on the bike.

We moved to the school driveway for more balancing work, and it just seemed to click for her then. Finally, she was ready to give it a go. She was successful as soon as she began pedaling. Her mom and I were as giddy and proud as she was.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mastery and practice and doing hard things. My daughter just gave me a great demonstration. She was motivated and eager to learn. She was a little embarrassed that she didn’t already know how to ride a bike. She took instruction well. As she began learning, she encountered struggle. It wasn’t easy. There were a couple of moments early on where I could see the frustration mounting. (And I’m worrying I’m going to scar her for life somehow and fail completely in my parental responsibilities.) I just kept telling her that she is great at sticking with something, even when it gets hard. (I wanted her to think that, at least.) I reminded her of an award she got for “perseverance” when she was a first-grader, trying to embed that thought in her more deeply. I said, “What was that award you got? What was it for… persistence?” “Perseverance,” she corrected me. And she did stick with it until she got it.

The next day she had her first wipe out and scraped her knee and shed some tears. I was ready to put the bike up for the night, but, an hour later, she asked if she could go back out and ride some more. Success.

I’ve seen her learn to swim and roller skate and now ride a bike. These skills don’t come naturally, but once you’ve got them, they stay with you forever. As we become adults, there seem to be fewer obvious opportunities to learn hard things and master new skills. We usually can get by with what we already know.

I want to find some new skills to learn, something that will be hard enough that I will want to quit but rewarding enough that I will have an incentive to stay with it.

If we can keep attacking life the way a kid on a mission goes after skills we take for granted, we can’t help but keep getting better and enjoying the journey along the way.

Ella after conquering the bike
Ella after conquering the bike