Cycling is like many other sports. It teaches us life lessons such as teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, dedication and goal setting. Work hard, work smart and you can accomplish your goals. Noting worthwhile in life is easy.
However, there is a deeper and more consequential side of how I approach my coaching. Cycling can be a metaphor for life’s challenges and how you approach and meet those challenges can be instrumental in your development as a human being.
As a coach of the U15 development program at our local Juventus Cycling Club here in Edmonton, I am certainly interested in sharing these attributes of sport, and how cycling can be used to grow and mature our next generation of athletes. After all, I started my sporting life as a hockey and volleyball player, both sports extremely dependant on teammates. Graduating to cycling in my late teens, and now with over 40 odd years of riding and racing bikes, I’ve experienced the highs, the lows and everything in between that this sport has to offer.
In my mind, cycling is the perfect blend of individual and team sports. You’ve got to be technically proficient in your own right to be able to ride safely in a group. It’s up to you to eat and drink properly during rides in order to stay fuelled to finish strong. Changing your own flat tire is critical, sometimes even crucial to being able to arrive home safely. Equally important is to dress appropriately for the weather conditions but always guard yourself against fast changing weather. That is all on you.
The flip side is that cycling depends on others. You are dependant on the group to assist with wind resistance, whether in a race or a ride. A group can roll much faster and more efficiently than an individual. As my U15 riders graduate to U17, they’ve begun to understand these benefits and the need to collaborate with others, even if they’re not in the same jersey in our ‘fun’ races!
In racing, team tactics are crucial…can you imagine a lone rider winning the Tour de France? When a cycling team works in harmony, there is no more inspirational scene than when a team sacrifices completely to chase down a breakaway to set up their leader for the final attack or sprint. As our young Juventus riders start to experience this amazing feeling, they begin to understand how true teamwork can become a powerful advantage for the rest of their lives, in and out of sport.
Teaching our young riders to race in a positive way (i.e. attacking style vs sitting in) is also a key instrument to learning about life outside of two wheels. When you attack, you are taking a chance. To some, it seems like you are wasting energy, while others just follow and ‘suck wheel’, not willing to take a pull. An attacking style of racing, however, can create something out of nothing. Just think if no one attacked and the group just rolled to the finish waiting for a sprint. No fun and usually, the same riders would probably win. By taking turns attacking in coordinated manner, a team can have more control of the outcome and create situations in the race that otherwise might not have happened. What a great way to go through life, taking calculated risks and celebrating with your team when you win!
Cycling can be a lonely endeavour for sure. There are hours and hours spent training alone. Simply has to be done. The hard work pays off in many ways such as the feeling of camaraderie of completing a challenging ride or race with a group of your teammates, which for me is still one of the best feelings that I would describe in sport. You’ve helped each other with flat tires, headwinds, shared food, taken goofy photos and maybe even pushed a bonked rider up the last hill to home. Finishing together as a group, some who have been at their limit, exhausted but exhilarated that everyone got back home, is worth a whole Winter of training hours. Those precious moments of surviving their first 100km ride will remain indelibly imprinted into their memories.
When our young athletes get into the workplace (highly likely that they will NOT become pros) this group spirit is an intangible advantage that they will carry with them into every opportunity and adversity that life can and will throw at them.