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Welcome to part two of our three-part Coaching with Games series! We'll highlight skills, methods, and best practices for using games with your teams.
As NICA coaches, we know that fun is an essential part of learning and whole-athlete development. Here's how you can become a pro at COACHING WITH GAMES!


Photo by Deborah Hage, North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League

PART 2: Scaffolding & sequencing your games

On and off the bikes games are great! Especially if you play the right game at the right time. Athletes will be engaged, they will have fun, and they will learn something. If we play a game before our athletes have the social and MTB skills necessary to play the game, the game can be frustrating, no fun, and potentially dangerous. Great coaches and teams understand when to play games and how to adapt them to the athletes in front of them.

Teams should progress the games they play at practice just like they progress to more difficult trails throughout the season. 

In this article, we'll cover the following ways you can scaffold and sequence games to choose the activity that's appropriate for your team:

  • Social scaffolding: Using games for groups that are acquainted, familiar, or comfortable
  • Non-elimnation vs. elimination
  • Cooperative vs. competitive


Acquainted games are simple and focus on low social-risk activities that help athletes get acquainted with their teammates and coaches.

Familiar games become more complex and there is increased social-risk. They require more self-control from the athletes and autonomy. These games are best played once athletes are acquainted with each other and are starting to feel like a team.

Comfortable games are the most complex and require the most social-risk.  They require trust between teammates and coaches and are best played once the team is becoming comfortable with each other.

Non-elimination games allow all of the players to continue being a part of the game for the whole duration of the game. These games can be played throughout the season but they are especially important early in the season. Playing non-elimination games early in the season ensures that all athletes feel included and get as much time as possible to practice the skills required to play the game. 

Elimination games have rules that eliminate players during play, such as foot down. Elimination games are great at creating friendly competition and allowing athletes to see progress in their skills. Elimination games should be avoided early in the season. They pair well with familiar and comfortable games. 

Teams should progress the games they play just like they progress to more difficult trails throughout the season. 

Cooperative games require all players to work together to solve a problem or complete an activity. They can be played at any time in the season but are really beneficial early in the season when teams are developing bonds. They help build trust before progressing to the next level.

Competitive games end with a winning team or individual. They support competitive drive and teamwork. Competitive games work best once teammates are familiar with each other and have started to build trust.

Example of games and categories

Acquainted games


  • Entire Group: Rock, Paper, Scissor Tournament – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Groups of 5-10: Something True/Something False – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Entire Group: Knee Tag – (non-elimination, cooperative)


  • Entire Group: Zombie Tag – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Groups of 5-10: Cardboard Slide – progressions – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Figure-8 / Dual Figure-8 (non-elimination, cooperative)

Familiar games


  • Entire Group: Face the Cookie – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Entire Group: Bear, Salmon, Mosquito – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Groups of 5-10: Bike Tube Pass – (non-elimination, competitive)


  • Groups of 5-10: Bike Limbo – progressions (elimination, competitive) 
  • Teams of 4: Dual Slalom Relay – (non-elimination, competitive) 

Comfortable games


  • Groups of 5-10: Human Knot – (non-elimination, cooperative)
  • Groups of 5-10: Levitating Bike Tube – (non-elimination, cooperative)


  • Teams of 4-5: Bike Soccer – (non-elimination, competitive team based)
  • Entire Group: Slow Race – (non-elimination, competitive)
  • Entire Group: Foot Down – progressions (elimination, competitive)

All of the NICA on and off the bike games are great! They may not all work all the time with your team from practice-to-practice and year-to-year. Your job is to determine where your team is on the continuum of acquainted, familiar, or comfortable and to provide the right level of challenge. If you do those things your athletes will learn, your team will build strong bonds, and trust will be built between athletes and coaches. 
Great teams play games. 

You can find instructions on how to play on and off the bike games in both the NICA coach education center and on The Trailhead.

Remember, to access NICA's coach resources, log into Pit Zone and click the Courses, Resources, & Benefits button. Use the resource links at the right side of your NICA Education Center dashboard to browse and search our extensive library. Remember that coach resources are intended for use in the NICA coaching context, and should not be copied/reproduced outside of your role as a licensed coach for a NICA team.

View PART 1 of the Coaching With Games series here.

This content was authored by NICA's coach education team. NICA’s comprehensive coach education program provides new and existing coaches with the high-quality training and resources they need to be confident, competent, and empowered leaders on their youth mountain bike teams. NICA coaches not only create amazing experiences for student-athletes, they create a foundation for building healthy mountain bike communities. NICA coaches change lives! 


Special thanks to TREK, a NICA lead partner.

NICA partners help kids gain access to a thriving and engaged cycling community.

Special thanks to TREK, a NICA lead partner.

NICA partners help kids gain access to a thriving and engaged cycling community.



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