Thursday 26 July 2012

The Coaching Process

On race day I estimate there are about a 15,000 different things you will need to keep focused on from the big things like taking control of the race to the tiny things like rubbing the creases out of your skinsuit or the difference to a DH cyclist between 21psi and 22psi in the tyres. When you start cycling you will know very little, may have some prior experience from other sports or other life experiences but a reasonable expectation is every year you may learn around 1,000 things that will benefit your cycling. Some of these learning experiences will be the stuff you need to avoid or at least manage. So when one commits to high performance sport one can expect to spend a good ten years before you can be assured of having a good base of knowledge and experience to succeed at the highest levels.

David Slyfield has studied this and confirmed that many of New Zealand’s Olympic Champions (Ulmer, Wardell, Ever’s Swindell twins etc) had all been part of a performance programme in their sport for at least 10 years before they won Olympic Gold. Sarah Ulmer started her journey in 1993 as an U19 cyclists and had been competing since 1990 and it took till 2004 before she won her first World Title and then later that year winning the Olympic Games breaking her own World Record time. It is crucial that you commit to putting in these years on getting experience before you can expect to succeed. This means getting experience and also realising that as you go through your first 5 years of major events like NZ Champs, Oceania Champs, World Cups, Junior Worlds, Commonwealth Games, World Champs and even initial Olympic Games or Professional events that you are going to encounter barriers and make mistakes.

Based on the work of Ivstan Balyi it is helpful to think of several stages you go through along the pathway to elite performance. It is also a heads up to why we don’t consider U17 and U19 racing and even U23 high performance and give it the label: development cycling. I have taken Ivstan’s ideas and changed them slightly. His concept can be viewedhere.

Learning to live stage

These are the fundamentals of life such as having goals, manage energy, have purpose, engage in meaningful activity, have friends and spend time with family. It is also finding educational or vocational pursuits that match your goals and life plans.

Learning to be healthy stage

This is living a healthy life where you make the time and commit to healthy nutrition and exercise for health’s sake. It is getting regular sleep, getting the balance of macro and micro nutrients and exercising for cardiovascular and muscular fitness.

These first two stages form the base of any plan to ultimately aspire to elite performance. The bigger the base the higher the peak can become. There can be no success at the top with a stable platform to launch sporting excellence from!

Learning to train stage

This is where you start to focus on the elements that build towards sport. Physical fitness, mental preparation and basic skills. It is where you start to practice sound training habits like dynamic stretching before exercise and static stretching afterwards. Learning what to eat before, during and after you train. Learning how hard to train and the differences between training to build fitness and condition and event specific preparation. Learning how to switch on and off from cycling, how to relax as a relaxed state is the best way to mentally prepare for training and racing. Realising that cycling is more than just physical and you need to learn the skills of the sport from bike set up, the rules of cycling, riding skills, and group riding skills.

Training to race stage

This is the stage where you start to focus on the specifics of your goal events. These should be the events that motivate you and excite you, the events that get you out of bed when your legs are tired, or it is wet and cold outside or you know that in today’s training session you must push beyond your current limit. A big part of this stage is chasing as much quality racing as you can. Any training session will isolate 2-3 features of performance like endurance, speed, skill but only quality racing will challenge all aspects and this is why you may have to compete in 3-7 NZ track championships before things click and then go through the same stages as you step up to Oceania Games, or World Cups and highlights the challenges of competing in Olympic Games that only happen every 4 years where no other sporting event or experience is quite the same.

It is from chasing quality events that you find where your strengths and areas for improvement lie. There is no fitness test or series or tests even that compare to the feedback any event will give you on the work that needs to be done. This also illustrates the importance of quality racing. No event in NZ comes close to the demands of a World Cup Downhill Event, a World Track Cycling Championship or Tour de France which is why we need to think further afield to test and challenge ourselves. For road and track cycling we are fortunate to have such high quality racing so nearby. For Downhill cycling the major events are based in Europe and America.

In this stage you can expect setbacks and harsh learning experiences but only by taking on the challenge do you find out what needs to be done to move to higher levels in the sport.

Racing to perform stage

This is the ultimate stage where you get to the start line with those 10 years under your belt, you have those Million pieces of information stored ready to put into action and are prepared to take control of your race no matter what gets thrown at you. The British track cycling team talk about chasing 1% gains in all areas and in the case of Chris Hoy talked about the differences eating a packet of chips six months out, deviating off the racing line or tyre glued on badly could make. In 2004 Hoy won the Olympic Kilo by .1 of a second. After they dropped the Kilo from the Olympics he made an attempt on the World Record and missed by a similar fraction of a second only to be told after he had flown back from Bolivia that is aerodynamic front wheel had been put in the wrong way round.

It’s where we get down to the smallest details of physical training and monitoring with power, testing aerodynamics in the wind tunnel, selecting the lightest but adequately durable equipment, determining the dietary intake to the nearest gram, spending hours visualising race day, developing contingencies for weather, crashes, the competition, the course, the history of the race to take advantage of all those little 1% opportunities that will present themselves leading up to the event and on race day. In 1996 when raging hot favourite Shane Kelly of Australia pulled his foot out in the Olympic Kilo ruining his chances you could see the past 10 years of preparation for that one moment flash across his face.

These five stages are the stepping stones you must tread carefully and slowly across in your cycling careers. Some of the riders I coach are well into the training to race stage and Steve Bayley as a 2002 Paralympic Champion in Downhill Skiing knows only too well the demands of sporting excellence that he now take on towards the 2012 Paralympic Track Cycling.

My job as your coach is to educate you along the way. The biggest things I can suggest is chase hard competition. It is only here where you find at your current ability and can decide what needs to be done to take the next step. Life is lived in a series of sprints. You should always have some event or challenge 2-3 months ahead of you to fire you up and inspire you to focus your energy to get the maximum results. There is so much exciting racing over the next 12 months that if riding your bike stupidly fast is your passion then you can live each day with motivation to burn!!!


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