Earlier this year I started a new hobby: ringing in a handbell choir. (See what is a bell choir.) It’s not a physical activity per se, but we see health holistically around here and I’ll bring it back to the fitness stuff.
My previous experience with playing music is next to nil. My only musical training was when I was nine: less than two years of organ lessons and I faked sick for the final recital. I even missed mandatory band class later in my youth because we moved school systems.
So, without the ability to read music it’s no exaggeration that I’m a weak ringer. My mistakes are also easy to notice when I play with folks who have been ringing in church choirs for years. I am also the youngest person with the exception of the conductor, who motivates to keep ringing.
How? She is encouraging, and when she is not actively encouraging she still withholds any negativity. She maintains a neutral positive face, the kind you’re supposed to have when you interview someone for a job. Sometimes she asks only some of us to replay certain sections, and she slows us down, but she never draws attention to me when I make mistakes and I never catch disappointed looks.
I know it’s not always easy for more seasoned folks—especially in groups—to exercise patience around novices. On Monday nights at my curling club I see Scott McDonald giving “Learn to Curl” lessons, and I think: how does this high-ranking curler train these totally new curlers and not get frustrated? Perhaps good trainers are experts, but not all experts are good trainers.
Also, perhaps in times of declining numbers in bell choirs and curling clubs, some folks know they must check their impatience because of what will happen if they don’t. When errors are frequent and progress is slow, novices like me can get discouraged and feel like quitting, even in a supportive learning environment.
So here’s my point: My bell choir experience has reminded me that encouragement and praise are important, even when (especially when?) novices make mistakes. If you are good at something, you may notice mistakes that others make, but it may not help to point them out, even in the spirit of helpfulness. Newbies are probably trying even harder than you are to be patient with themselves. Instead, kind words (even if they seem unearned) might help folks stay in activities that need numbers—so you can keep doing them too.