By PCG Elite Coach Axel Santiago
A coach is a very important element in the development of a young cyclist. For parents, it is an important and sometimes difficult task to select the right coach for their child. The right coach must have sufficient knowledge of the sport and training, enough experience working with young athletes, proper teaching skills, a good philosophy and style, and the ability to relate well with others.
When working with youth cyclists, all of the work and effort should be directed to the following important aspects:
- building their character
- teaching them honest and fair competition
- developing teamwork skills
- teaching them self-respect and respect for others, and
- teaching them how to win and how to lose.
Youth training is not simply training an adult on a smaller scale.
I will not discuss structured physical training for youth cyclists because at this age the most important aspects are the ones listed above. Physical training will come naturally while learning and enjoying the sport of cycling. Riding their bike with coach guidance, they will spend time on pedaling skills, maneuverability, and learning the importance of keeping well hydrated, eating well, and getting enough sleep. A good example would be: A young mountain biker must devote much of their training to balance skills and the ability to bypass obstacles, while they enjoy biking up the mountain. In addition, at the ages of 14 or 15, one of our goals for these young cyclists should be to assure that their desire for training and competing stays at the same level over the years.
When it comes to their tools, such as the bicycle, shoes, helmet, etc., my recommendation is not to invest in very expensive items since children often grow very quickly, and within a year a cyclist may outgrow their tools and need a larger size. Cycling can be a very expensive sport so we must be reserved with these types of expenses. Where you should invest is in training measuring devices, such as cycle computers, heart rate monitors, power meters, etc. The young athlete should begin to relate to them, learn to manage them, and begin to understand the importance, and the immeasurable value, of the data that they can provide.
A journal is another tool which the coach should start teaching how to use and how important it will be to young cyclists. Weight, pulse, amount and color of urine, menstrual cycle, etc., are just a few of the metrics that they must learn to document. Currently, there are online diaries to document this type of data. One such program is included in TrainingPeaks. With this tool, the rider learns to know himself/herself better, which is the whole purpose of journaling these metrics. A cyclist who knows his/her body, even without the advantage of training, still has a great advantage over the competition.
We should not ignore those young cyclists who are not starting out as stars. Not all children develop at the same age, rate, or learn the same way. All young cyclists should feel welcomed and appreciated for their efforts. An athlete, who at fourteen years old may be a little behind or seems to be lazy, can become a surprisingly good athlete in a few short years. At this young age, because of their rapid growth, they often experience joint pains, mainly in their knees, ankles, and lower back. This limits them from exercising at full capacity. Therefore, if you do any work with strength training, my recommendation is to use only the weight of their own body. Have patience with them and listen to them.
Finally, it is of greatest importance that parents give their support and attention to these young cyclists at all times. Sports training includes discussions about their bodies and how they are changing as they progress. Tracking metrics as mentioned above, amount and color of urine, menstrual cycle, etc., can be embarrassing and can lead to misunderstandings. It is important that the athlete feel comfortable discussing these topics with their coach and their parents. The parents should monitor and ensure that their children are developing and training in a safe environment, where they are protected from negligence, and from any type of abuse whether it be of a sexual or emotional nature. Keep the lines of communication open with the child and the coach. Have the conversations necessary to keep everyone on the same page and working together.