The ‘I can’t do it’ Generation

Now then. I know I’m not really old enough to start moaning about today’s generation of young people, but an argument and culture shift needs to happen before society grinds to a halt because one too many youngsters cry “I can’t do it!”.

Everyone has an element in life where they groan/shout/cry this phrase; for me it’s maths – scraped a C at GCSE level and swiftly dropped it quicker than I could shout “I don’t give a s*** about finding x!”. I know I’m not alone in my dislike for the mathematical arts.

Working as a Climbing Instructor I am confronted daily with this particular whine and it genuinely irritates me. A young person of any age may start climbing the easiest of routes in the centre, get a meter off the floor, look at me and proclaim that they simply cannot do it, and they now want to come down.
The first thing I respond with is “Nope”, followed by “Keep going”.
The look on the majority of young people’s faces are priceless; it’s the “What do you mean no?!” look, we all know that look.

I say no every single time a young person, or adult, tells me that they want to come down the first time not because I’m a mean instructor, but because I genuinely know that they can keep going. I will talk to them, demonstrate the exact climbing technique whilst on the floor that the climber needs to utilise in order to reach that next hold and just generally encourage them to get on with it. It’s always a source of entertainment when I, or a colleague is demonstrating techniques on the floor to a climber, better dance moves have yet to be seen in the likes of Popworld!

The holding power of a young person is incredible: Again, all this demonstrating and encouraging and they will hold the same static position for upwards of 10 minutes. I keep saying that they can better use all that energy they’re wasting by just getting on with it, and still they remain glued to the wall. A few moves are made with zero progress: a hand is moved up, a foot is moved down, a hold is tickled but not held, legs are straightened, legs are bent, they move left or right and back again.

Most climbers will at least try what I have asked of them, and most of those who do indeed get further even if it is just by a single hold, once they have done this single move some continue up the wall, others come down with a little smile of achievement. But others simply will not try and here is where my gripe lies.

I can demo, discuss, demand and encourage until I’m blue in the face but that small, but growing, percentage of climbers will not even try to venture higher. The never ending argument is “But how do you know you can’t do it if you haven’t tried?”, “I just can’t, let me down!”. What causes it? Fear? Laziness? A sense of entitlement? How they’re raised?

I know they’re easy targets but I think a combination of parenting style and the education system have the most to do with it. It could just be a Surrey thing. A young person can’t do something, the parent comforts them, or the teacher hasn’t the power or patience to challenge them and that’s that. When they’re suddenly confronted with an adult that says “No” it doesn’t quite compute and the concept of genuinely trying is rather foreign.

The best motivator is pitting the young person against a friend, or better yet themselves. Saying “You got further last time, go on!” is more powerful than comparing them to their friends, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. If they ignite the desire to one-up themselves then it results in a strong sense of achievement and they receive greater kudos when back on the ground “That was fantastic, look how high you got. You reached clip 6 this time, your last go you got to clip 3!”
The smile they beam is signal enough that they’re happy with their achievement, they tried. That’s all I needed them to do.

Getting a stubborn young person to try is a difficult, often tedious and repetitive task. Once they actually understand that I won’t crumble to their demands some excellent progress can be made. But until then it’s an uphill slog of dancing around on the floor, encouraging and saying “No”.

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