They say never work with children or animals, but coaching youth and junior riders is my greatest pleasure, seeing them grow and progress.
How do I believe children should be ‘coached’, and how does this sometimes conflict with eager parents who’s impatience can mean they are looking for performance outcomes rather than long term development?
Children progress at different rates, and their chronological age (by year of birth) can be a world away from their biological age and how they are physically maturing. Two children of the same age can actually differ biologically by up to four years in extreme cases and any coaching should reflect this.
In my view, children up to Youth A category (15/16 yrs) should spend the majority of their riding time learning skills, race craft and HAVING FUN. I have seen many a stronger boy/girl winning races by riding away from the field with no concentration on the above tools. As the others began to catch up, the rider does not have the ability to ride safely in a bunch, goes off the back and some are lost to the sport forever.
Winning races at under 8/10/12 means nothing long term, things change, so I use process goals rather than performance outcomes with my riders.
Giving a specific goal within an event that is achievable gives a child a greater satisfaction and allows them to see progress, learn from what they did and enhances enjoyment of the event. Not everyone can win.
This can be as simple as riding as hard as possible on lap 1 of a cyclocross event even if they blow up for the last 5. I have seen greater success when applying this through a season.
I also see bigger gains when children are involved in other sports up to Youth A. Having the ability to run, jump or swim means a more balanced individual and crucial elements such as a strong core function, healthy bone structure with enhanced support from ligament, muscle and tendons are more highly developed for life.
Getting a group of mates together for training means children are more likely to do the work required whilst having fun, so get to that local race cluster at your track and see your child grow.
More formal coaching can come at Youth A and Junior levels. This is where you need a cycling coach with the experience of working with children, who understands the individual, when to back off, but starting to give some progression to training and building the tools for youth racing.
Dependant on the riders aims, it’s also useful to find a coach who understands the pathways into British Cycling and coach led racing scenarios.
My work with youth riders is always inclusive of parents, who need to understand what the rider/coach relationship is trying to achieve in each period of the year. Parents can also assist with feedback ar
ound fatigue, important times such as exams, sleep and nutrition. Most importantly they can see when their child is not having fun.
Nurture and enjoy your child’s sporting life, they have lots of time to get serious.
Simon Beldon is a BC coach who works on a volunteer basis with children in the Leeds racing cluster at the Brownlee centre. The last 12 months he has coached individuals to regional and national championship success and is available via MBPC for one to one cycling coaching with Youth riders