From first-time riders to MTB virtuosos – all of your athletes will benefit from great skills coaching
Photo by Deborah Hage – North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League
Many of our fall coaches are starting practices, and many of our spring coaches are already busy planning next year’s season. The beginning of the season is an exciting time! You get to meet and welcome new student-athletes, reconnect with your riders from previous seasons, build and establish a great team culture, and set the stage for a fantastic year of riding bikes together on dirt.
Creating engaging, thoughtful, and FUN practices that include fundamental skill development is part of the art of coaching. It is also a pillar of how we create great experiences for athletes in NICA. A good coach knows that riders at different levels need different approaches. A GREAT coach knows that skills are free speed, and that a solid foundation of skills are also the pathway to a lifetime love of riding bikes.
At the beginning of the season, your returning riders will benefit from skills review and games (it's also a great way to see what progressions they've made since last season). Your new athletes will reap the fast rewards of fundamental skills learning. Bringing new athletes to ride trails before they are ready presents a range of challenges from anxiety (at best) to injury or quitting the sport entirely (at worst). As we think of how we define success for our teams, we encourage you to frame that success with a holistic view of your riders' skills: are you developing athletes with a solid foundation, so they are set up for growth in the future? Success is not defined by how quickly you take your teams to ride dirt.
One of the biggest obstacles faced by coaches at the beginning of the season is the challenge of presenting skills to athletes who are at different levels of experience. We’ve all fielded the question, “Coach, when are we going to ride trails!?!” We’re navigating two extremes: bringing new athletes into the sport, while also fully engaging our experienced riders. It may seem impossible to do both things, but with proper planning and strategy, it can be done, and it can be done well.
As you plan practices for the season, consider the following:
Remember: skills are free speed!
These are great tips, and there are so many creative ways you can plan your first few weeks of fundamental skills practices to meet the needs of all your riders – all without riding a single section of trail. We encourage you to take advantage of the resources provided by NICA to make this easier for your planning purposes. Here are a few we recommend:
Do you think there’s a resource we’re missing? Do you have a great tip for how to create fun and engaging early-season fundamental skills practices? Share them with us! We want to hear from you and amplify your great coaching for the rest of our community.
Thanks for all you do as NICA coaches – planning practices like these require a bit more time to plan than just riding trails, but the rewards and benefits for ALL of your student-athletes (regardless of their skill and experience level) are immeasurable. It may feel exciting to get on trail as early as possible, but remember that all good things come with time: our goal is to build riders who will love cycling for the rest of their lives.
NOTE: You can find all of these resources (and more) in the NICA Coach Education Center: log into Pit Zone and click the “Courses, Resources, & Benefits” button. Navigate to the right side of your dashboard for resource links/search features.
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.
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!