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Outdoor sports develop the grit and determination kids need for success

March 7, 2016 | Emily Moeschler

Take it outdoors!

According to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed, Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” the qualities kids will need for success won’t be taught in a classroom because these skills aren’t related to grades or IQ.  Instead, Tough identified a very different set of skills that he believes are crucial to success, including perseverance, curiosity, resilience, optimism and self-control.  Skills that you and I might call “character skills.”

Top photo

Alex was 7 years old when he signed up for most of the summer at one of Avid4 Adventure’s day camp.  On the first day of camp, Alex spent the day 10 feet away from his group because he was having trouble engaging with others.  Throughout the week, Alex’s instructor gave him choices about joining the group or choosing something else that was appropriate, and, by day 3, Alex felt empowered enough to join the group.

Why outdoor activities are crucial to success

Avid4 Adventure’s mission is to provide kids with the skills and confidence to choose active outdoor lifestyles.  Through authentic outdoor experiences, campers learn not only technical skills for kayaking, rock climbing, canoeing, hiking, and biking, but they also learn the types of skills Tough talks about.  How you wonder?  “Challenge by choice,” we say.  Challenge by choice follows the concept that everyone has their own comfort zone, and stepping out of our comfort zones looks different for each person.  Using challenge by choice principles, kids are empowered to decide if and when they’re ready for a challenge.  Instructors give kids the skills they need to face a challenge and encourage them to push out of their boundaries, but the child decides how far to stretch, which is incredibly empowering.

3rd photo

For week 2, Alex was signed up for mountain biking intensive, but he actually couldn’t ride a bike.  His one-day biking at multi-sport didn’t quite get him there, and he was comfortable walking the bike instead of riding it.  Alex moved back to multi-sport to get more practice.

So, how do kids learn character skills through outdoor adventures?  At Avid4 Adventure, campers:

  • Become resilient.  Successful people don’t let challenges stop them. They approach challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them.  Whether kids succeed or fail, they learn something from each experience because they have the skills to manage the experience.  Kids find out there’s not just one way to solve a problem or tackle a challenge, and they try again.
  • Learn about risk.  Risks have real consequences and make us aware of ourselves, others and even nature.  Risk taking isn’t inherently bad, and kids grow by learning how to assess situations, use sound judgment, and make smart decisions as they take appropriate risks.
  • Develop and strengthen critical thinking skills.  Think about the value of a skinned knee. If a consequence isn’t life threatening, kids should experience it.  When a kiddo skins their knee, they learn to create judgments and circle back to the decisions that led to the skinned knee.  That type of critical thinking can only be done through experiences.

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Avid4 Adventure paves the way, but it’s up to families to continue these character-building skills throughout the year, and we have some suggestions to help.

  • Encourage your child to have unstructured outdoor play.  Unstructured outdoor play teaches responsible decision-making, helps brain development, fosters creativity, boosts confidence, and encourages self-discovery.  Read more about unstructured outdoor play on our blog.
  • Empower your kids.  When you go for a hike or bike ride, let your child be the leader.  Kid’s confidence grows when they take healthy risks and become responsible for their actions.  Watching your child make the right choices also increases your confidence in them.  Read more to learn how Avid4 Adventure helps you raise enthusiastic and empowered kids.
  • Support positive risk taking.  There’s risk in embracing even the smallest risk, but kids must explore new things, discover passions, and go beyond expectations so they can thrive.  Kids need to learn how to make responsible decisions, and there’s only one way for that to happen . . . you let them.  We’ve got suggestions for supporting positive risk taking.

4th Photo

The first half of the summer had Alex failing in most of the activities, but he continued to come.  He showed up every day with a positive attitude but was hesitant to try anything new or anything he thought was dangerous.  At about week 6, Alex opened up more, and Week 10, after weeks of walking his bike or not leaving the paved lot, he pedaled his way on a single track trail riding for about 100 yards at a time!

Do you want your kiddo to have that, “I’m in charge here” attitude – well, maybe not in every situation, but you know what we mean – then have them turn off the TV, put down the electronic device, and send them outside to learn real skills.  The character traits that kids learn when they push themselves in adventure sports will benefit them in the real world for a lifetime.


“That summer, Alex developed so much confidence and toughness that even when he fell and got injured, he would pop right back up and keep going – no tears or issues.  I honestly have never seen a kid fail so many times and keep trying.  His instructors always gave him the ability to choose how much of a challenge he wanted, and they supported him through failure,” said Camp Director, Ryne Willis.  “The beauty of the environment that Avid4 Adventure sets up is that we use challenge by choice. Kids will fail but they will almost always experience success because they have great support from their instructors.”


Want your child to develop grit and confidence in the outdoors? There are still spots available – sign up for empowering outdoor adventure camps today:

About the Author: Lynne Marsala Basche spent most of her career on the island of Manhattan at two New York publishing companies.  A multi-year Avid4 Adventure mom and a contributor to the Avid4 Adventure website, Lynne’s writing adventures also take her to championing volunteerism and regional recreation stories as a staff writer for the Castle Pines Connection newspaper, as well as supporting separate large corporate communications programs.  By trying to keep pace with her mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding, lacrosse playing, unicycling, tae kwon do-loving son, she, like most Avid4 parents, loves sharing the value of outdoor recreation and its positive influence on children’s health and confidence development.  Lynne lives in Castle Pines, Colorado and regularly immerses herself in outdoor activities with her family where she also runs her freelance writing company, Blue Spruce Creative


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