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Tips for Creating Ride Groups

With athletes of varied ability, age, and skill levels creating great ride groups can be a challenge…
Photo by Deborah Hage, North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League

Creating ride groups that match the ability, goals, and social needs of your student-athletes can be a daunting task as a coach.

If we get the mix correct, everyone is having a good time, feeling safe, and progressing their fitness and skills. If we get the mix wrong, some athletes are scared, or bored, or/and not getting what they need. That equals no fun for anyone including the coaches. The right mix also depends on the objective of the ride or activity. 

Here are some grouping options, along with some of the benefits and drawbacks of each method…

    Benefits: Promotes mentorship and team culture
    Drawbacks: Difficult to maintain on trail rides
    : Trail rides are at the pace of the athletes
    Drawbacks: Limits team interaction; can cause negative feelings for some athletes
    Benefits: Can prompt positive risk-taking and provide space to try new things
    Drawbacks: Limits exposure and team interaction
    : Promotes pro-social practices and a lot of fun
    Drawbacks: Can lead to frustrating group rides; can make some riders feel left out

When you weigh the pros and cons of each approach, you can be more intentional about groupings on your own team, based on team culture and social needs. 

Here are some additional strategies that you can consider as you create ride groups: 

  • Athlete Goals – Ask athletes what their goals are for the season. Use similar goals to group athletes.
  • Skills Assessment Days – Use a practice early in the season to set up multiple stations and games that test athletes’ skills. Record their proficiency on the OTB 101 and 201 skills.
  • Team Time Trials – Have an early season practice that includes a mini time trial. Use the times to help create ride groups. You can use this document to help you set up time trials at your practices. 
  • Coach Recommendation – Head coaches see a lot, but they cannot see everything. Use coach recommendations when creating ride groups.
  • Student-Athlete Choice – There is some room for student-athlete choice when creating ride groups. Athletes can be given the choice to join a spicier group or a milder group based on how they feel. It will be important to pre-load expectations with student-athletes that move to a spicier or mild group that you may need to ask them to move to another group in the future if the grouping doesn’t work out. 

It can be really beneficial to have consistent ride groups so coaches and athletes can create relationships. Prepare to be flexible as well. Life happens and you might have to combine, split, or create totally new groups depending on how many coaches are available and the objectives of the practice. 

Another important strategy to maintain high functioning ride groups is to debrief with lead coaches at the end of every practice to discuss ride groups. This will give you all an opportunity to make changes as needed and identify trends across ride groups.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the July 2022 NICA Coaches News

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.