Staying positive

Youth Cycling – How do I get better?

By – Mike Charlton

The world is not fair!

Nowhere is this more apparent than in youth cycling. Human beings follow a predictable pattern of physical growth but the rate at which children and youths go through this growth varies from individual to individual.

During the childhood phase of physical development, children grow on average 6.5 cms per year and gain approximately 2.5kgs per year. The fast growth spurts occur during puberty/adolescence. As a consequence cyclists of the same chronological age can vary by as much as 5 biological years, especially during adolescence. Therefore, with two 11 year old cyclists, one may be 10 and the other 15, biologically. The world is not fair!

 In age group rugby, this problem is overcome by youngsters playing against others of similar weight, not age.

With this biological difference in mind, it is obvious that performance will be influenced by maturity. This is completely out of the cyclist’s control.

Some young cyclists, therefore, have a distinct performance advantage over others!

Initially, early maturers have a physical size advantage and often appear to perform better than the late developer. These cyclists experience more early success because of this physical growth advantage and not necessarily through better skills or ability. On the other hand, late maturers often experience a certain failure and frustration because they are physically ‘behind’ (chronologically) their team mates. These cyclists should not despair.

Parents play a vital role in supporting their youngsters through these difficult times. Late developers often catch up or even exceed the performance of early maturers by the mid-teen years, but only if they have stayed in the sport.  – Unfortunately, some drop out because of a lack of early success.

An experiment undertaken in the USA tracked a number of swimmers over a long period of time and concluded that only 25% of those youngsters who achieved early success in the pool were still outstanding in later years. This suggests that early success in the water does not predict later success.

Is this the same in cycling?

It is up to parents to encourage and support their children if they fall into either of these two categories. Early maturers have to keep success in perspective as late maturers may well catch them up in terms of performance, and success will be harder to achieve. On the other hand, late maturers must be encouraged to stay involved in the sport and not become disillusioned because of low self confidence due to the lack of early success.

There are massive differences in the physical growth rates and body shapes of females and males. Girls reach ‘peak height velocity’ (growth spurt) between the ages of 11-13, with boys between the ages of 13-15. Hormonal differences in males and females cause body composition changes in adolescence. These changes are out of the cyclist’s control but will impact on performance.

With all this for a young cyclist to cope with how can they maximise their performance and get better?

Here are a few ideas that may well help.

  1. RIDE & HAVE FUN – Cycling is perhaps the most demanding sport that you could have chosen. There are a number of occasions that you feel tired due the sheer volume you are asked to cycle. Yet you still keep coming! Why? I think it is that shared desire in us all to ride fast and have fun. These two reasons are intertwined. You will not ride fast unless you enjoy the sport and the success you achieve will only add to that enjoyment.
    Remember, success can be measured in different ways. You will make friendships that will last forever and you will develop values that will stay with you long after you have ‘hung up your race numbers’ for the last time. You will learn to order your life as there isn’t much of the day left outside of studying, eating, cycling and sleeping. You will soon realise that you are different from your class mates. You will have more confidence in your own ability and believe it or not, you can still do well academically. You will become part of a very small group of British cyclists that can truly ride fast. This makes you special!
  2. KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. This is not always easy out on a cold, wet and dark training ride, but these are natural feelings that you have to accept and move on. Throughout the world there are thousands of cyclists doing just the same as you! They share the same ideals and goals as you. They too are waking at the crack of dawn to attend training sessions. A question that sums up the situation, ‘Is my greatest rival training this morning’? Of course they are! Are they training harder and smarter? If you don’t attend the session you are disadvantaged. Many cyclists never follow a structured plan. You will struggle to make an impact and almost certainly not fulfil your potential if you join them.
  3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE THINKERS! This is clearly connected to point 2. Never mix with cyclists who are always moaning. This will eventually rub off. Remember, if you mix with negative people, it is very difficult to break the mould and detach yourself. Befriend positive and like-minded cyclists that have the same drive and determination as you. Try picking a role model out that you would like to style yourself on.
  4. BE A LEADER! Not a follower. Have the confidence to lead the group or attack in a race. The person at the front of the training pack does it harder than anyone else. Others can draft off the cyclist in front and training becomes easier. Take your turn to lead. In the early stages of your cycling career you will not know whether you are a leader or a follower but remember, to be a great athlete means developing leadership tendencies. Try and lead through example. Always have the correct kit, listen to the coach, don’t talk when they are talking to the group, be positive in your approach, tell the coach when you cannot make training and help your team-mates when they are going through a difficult spell. One of the most difficult things for any coach to comprehend, is the cyclist that intentionally arrives late for training. They spend longer in the changing rooms and don’t apply themselves fully in the session. Perhaps the advice to you is to start playing cricket as cycling is too tough for you!
  5. COMMUNICATE with your parents, coach and team-mates about what your thoughts are and how training is going. You do not have to train in isolation. Many people think cycling is an individual sport but the ‘team’ plays a far bigger role than they realise. The team acts as a support network for you when things are not going well but at the same time you have to support your team-mates when they are going through difficult times.
  6. BE CONSISTENT IN YOUR EMOTIONS. Don’t get too carried away when you have a great ride and don’t be too upset if things go wrong. Don’t get too excited at a particular result. Something usually comes along two minutes later to ‘screw things up’. Keep yourself on an even keel as it is far less emotionally draining. There are always good days and bad days in cycling. Put the bad days down to another day at the office. Dealing with the ups and downs will not only make you a better cyclist but also a better person.
  7. WORK ON THE TECHNICAL side of cycling. The best cyclists are always working on their technique. Find out what is meant by cadence, power, core strength, bridging the gap and drafting. These are just some of the vital ingredients required to be a competitive cyclist. There is no substitute for working on your technique. It can be argued that no one has the perfect technique. Everyone has flaws. However, great cyclists work hard on minimising the number of these flaws.
  8. CONSISTENCY IN YOUR APPROACH. Cycling is a demanding sport. It is a sport that demands consistency in all its parts, on the bike with technique/volumes, in the gym, in the number of times you attend training throughout the year, in bringing the correct kit and in racing. Remember we ‘train to race’. The main reason youth cyclists put in the hours every week is to be able to race fast at the next event.

Here at Hetton Hawks we want to ensure that every young rider is the best that they can be for THEIR bodies at whatever stage of physical development they may be at.

We will work with riders, parents and the Child Welfare Officers to ensure that every rider not only feels comfortable and proud of their performance today, but that they are both realistic and optimistic of their performance tomorrow.