Skip to content

Prep your riders for racing

Use our tried-and-true practice activities to help your athletes get stoked to line up on race day. Not only will these activities calm some pre-race nerves, they'll help riders stay safe and confident between the tape.

Photo by Aaron Puttcamp, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling Association

Mountain bike racing is awesome! And there are a lot of elements that may feel complicated if athletes don't get your help navigating them in a manageable way. To help athletes feel ready (mentally, emotionally and physically) coaches need to help them prepare by including practice activities that mimic what they will experience on race day.

We’ve created a list of activities that you can incorporate into practice as your first race of the season approaches. Even if you have student-athletes who don’t plan to race, these activities will prepare them should they decide to give it a shot! Many athletes attend races for the camaraderie, GRiT activities, and adventure. Good preparation will make the idea of racing less intimidating to many of your riders, and help get them stoked. You never know who might want to jump between the tape and give it a shot! 

The coach education team has created a suite of scaffolded pre-race practice activities that coaches can use for their teams. These are outlined in detail in a brand-new “Pre-Race Practice Activities” document in NICA’s Coach Resources, and we’ve provided a sample activity below. 

PRACTICE PLANNING: Pre-Race Activities 

Three weeks before Race #1

  • Passing 
  • Starts

Two weeks before Race #1

  • Feed Zone / Hand Ups
  • Nutrition Talk

One Week before Race #1

  • Staging
  • Race Weekend Equipement Checklist and Schedule 

You can access the full Pre-race activity document with detailed outlines by logging into the Coach Education Center from your dashboard in Pit Zone by the Courses, Resources, & Benefits button. 


Here’s what to expect in the pre-race activity resource:

Getting passed and passing someone else in a race is intimidating and brings up a lot of feelings. Nearly everyone that has raced a mountain bike has been passed by another rider and passed another rider. It is part of racing. Help your athletes understand that there will be people in front of them and behind them while they are racing. Explain the principles of good sportsmanship and communication around passing and explain the rules of passing. 


  • Athletes will demonstrate effective communication while passing and being passed
  • Athletes will demonstrate safe and efficient passing
  • Athletes will will list effective communication strategies for passing


Open area, wide double track, or a short wide green loop that easily allows rides to pass one another

Group Size

8 or less athletes per group


Ask your group: 

  • What does it feel like to be passed by someone in a race?
  • Has anyone had a good experience being passed in a race?
  • What made it a good experience?
  • Has anyone had a negative experience being passed in a race? If so, what made it a negative experience?
  • How can we make sure that our passing experiences are positive on race day?

As you discuss, guide your athletes toward the subjects of communication, passing in a safe location, and executing a pass quickly

Communicating passing and being passed

Communication is the key to a good passing experience

  • On singletrack the rider that wants to pass needs to ask “Can I pass?”
    • They need to wait for a response from the rider in front of them
    • The rider in front needs to respond to the question with a 
      • “yes, you can pass on the left/right” OR
      • “Not yet, it’s not safe”
  • On double track the rider that wants to pass can state “Passing on your left/right,” and should also offer words of encouragement to the rider they are passing “Thanks” and “Have a great race”, “Nice work”, “Keep it up” 

Passing drill

Have athletes ride a section of double track, open field, or single track that allows for passing. (No matter what the location, let the athlete know if they are practicing for singletrack or doubletrack passing.)

  • A coach should lead the ride
  • Keep a very relaxed pace that allows for easy passing
  • The first rider behind the coach(es) will be the first one to be passed
  • The next rider will ask the rider in front of them “Can I get a pass?” They will wait for a response from the rider in front of them, “You can pass on the left/fight?”
    • If it is not a safe place to pass, the rider in front should say “Not yet, but you can when it’s safe.” When it is safe the rider should say “You can pass on the left/right”
  • Once all athletes have had the chance to pass someone and to be passed stop to regroup


  • What did it feel like to ask to pass and wait for a response?
  • How can you make sure everyone has a great race when passing?

Let us know if you use these activities, or if you have other engaging games and practice plans for race-day prep!

About the author

NICA's Coach Education team exists to support a network of thousands of volunteer coaches across the country in their work to develop youth through the sport of mountain biking. NICA's coach education provides coaches with the skills, knowledge, and abilities to be confident and effective leaders and role models who build strong minds, bodies, character, and communities through cycling



Special thanks to SPECIALIZED, a NICA platinum level partner.

NICA Partners are enabling NICA to reinvent youth sports and engage families in a thriving cycling community, for life.

Our partners’ commitment to NICA’s mission has a huge impact on our student-athletes, their families and communities across the nation. NICA partners are changing the world by getting #MoreKidsOnBikes!