In this issue Dr Mike Posthumus answers a reader’s training related question regarding professional cycling coaching for your children.
“Dear Dr Mike,
My son is 14 years old and absolutely besotted with cycling. He loves mountain biking and has done a few cross country races for his school in the Spur Mountain Bike league. I would like to ask your opinion on coaching for boys of his age, and when do you recommend he gets a coach?
Long-term athlete development (LTAD) is a strongly debated topic across all the major sporting federations. Firstly, LTAD, refers to a pathway based approach which divides athletes into chronological categories based on their age. The objectives of each phase progresses from learning to ride (ages 0 – 6), loving to ride around (ages 6 to 9), learn to train (ages 9 to 13), train to train (ages 13 to 16), train to compete (16 to 18 years), learn to win (ages 19 to 23), train to win (23 and up). Without getting side-tracked, there is not physiological evidence for the underlying scientific reasoning for these divisions, but from a physiological perspective, as well as ensuring that we turn our bike-loving children into world champions, following such a structure is highly recommended.
Your son is currently in the age group where he should either be learning to train, or training to train, depending on how long and active he has been in the sport. If he has been cycling consistently for three years he can consider training to train.
Although someone may interpret this differently, that does not mean you should be looking for a coach. In my opinion, finding a coach to structure a training program is something that should only be considered toward the 2nd half of the train to compete phase. In a South African context this may be during your son’s matric year if he has been competing throughout high school and has shown the maturity to take his sport to the next level. At your son’s age he should be riding his bike and having fun. It is alright to ride his bike with the objective to train, but too much emphasis should not be placed on the weekly structure of training. During this phase training sessions may consist of various training activities to start building his engine and to get fit. These training sessions should remain fun and ideally performed with their friends. Ideal activities include short track (MTB) or criterium (road) race events, which will be both physically taxing, but also develop specific skills required. Specific training may consist of fun intervals; such as a race to the top of the singletrack and down, or a sprint against a friend to the next street lamp and options to include as part of training. What sets this phase apart from the next phase is that your son should not be training to compete. Therefore the emphasis should not be placed on the competitions or races he is competing in. These races should form part of the training and learning process. And emphasis should not be placed on race results.
Further, from a young age boys and girls should be encouraged to participate in various disciplines. If your son is passionate about cycling, he should not only be racing cross-country, he should also try and participate in some other disciplines to further develop his skillset. For example, including some Enduro racing and controlled criterium racing (such as Killarney in Cape Town) are both excellent inclusions as part of his training to further develop his XCO skills.