Becoming an athlete is no easy task. It takes commitment, dedication and a whole lot more. It takes a team, a coach, a parent, a school and good friends. It’s impossible to become an athlete on your own. There are so many factors at play.
It also takes time and the right environment to nurture and encourage an athlete. Ignoring these factors, will negatively impact the end result. According to some research it takes 8 – 12 years of training for a talented athlete to make elite levels.
Where does it all start?
It starts early on in the developmental stage of a young child, possibly as early as 6 years old. This doesn’t mean you can’t start later. Maybe the child isn’t actively engaged in a sports program at the early stage. Their environment, however, will contribute a lot to their development and attitudes. Their parents, peers and home life will shape their attitudes.
Perhaps they enrol in a sports program that understands the importance of all the factors, from psychological and emotional, to creating a positive environment though feedback and encouragement.
In my coaching and mountain bike instruction business Next Level Riding, I have chosen to work with 2 different stages of development. These stages are broken down by Cycling Canada and have morphed over time and I’m sure will continue to morph as research continues. Currently they carry the following ages and titles:
Learn to Train
This includes ages approximately 8 – 11 and is focused on the FUNdamentals of cycling literacy. The focus is on games and having fun with most physical development being incidental to the games played. Improving on balance, co-ordination and basic biking skills are given the most attention through games. But also we will start to look at improving joint strength and stability and the importance of warm up and cool down. Too much competition at this stage can be harmful to the long term goals of becoming an athlete.
Train to Train
Here we work with youth aged approximately between 12 – 16. This is where we focus on more advanced techniques and more attention given to the introduction of strength training and power; depending on the individuals physical maturity level. Nutrition, Hydration are introduced, along with sporting rules, ethics and racing tactics. This would include fitness training, strength training and tapering for races, along with keeping a training diary. Mental and emotional awareness is also brought in at this stage.
“Individuals coaching at these levels should also be well acquainted with the physiological, cognitive and emotional development patterns of children and adolescents. The damage done due to incompetent coaching during the FUNDamental and Training to Train stages can not be fully repaired during the [later] Train to Compete and Train to Win stages.”
With that said, as a coach training in these methods, I am fully aware of the important role we have at Next Level Riding. We are being entrusted with a small human being, your child, who can be greatly affected by our actions. We will always do our best to make sure all kids (and adults) that pass through our training programs have the very best experience that doesn’t negatively impact their experience in sport.
I’ve broken down some of the important areas we focus on during our programs into the chart below. A lot of these developmental areas overlap, but where they all intersect you find an athlete. The chart is not exhaustive and is just a snap shot of what goes into the making of an athlete.
Not everyone wants to become an athlete, and that’s great too. There is no pressure to race or to compete at anything. A friend of mine who is an amazing rider, when I asked him why he doesn’t race, said, “Why spoil a good ride!”
With that in mind, racing is for those that want to race. For those that don’t, we will continue to encourage students to simply do their best in all categories. We will encourage a participant-centred practice. Students are involved in the training and decision making process, empowering students in their own development.
Our intention is to create a rich experience for all students to grow whatever their goals.