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UCI World Cycling Centre: the finer points of coaching off-road disciplines

Coach Diploma students observe the BMX athletes
Coach Diploma students observe the BMX athletes

Coaches of cycling’s off-road disciplines have been discovering new techniques and acquiring new skills on the Coach Diploma course at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC).

Seven coaches from as many countries have spent the last three weeks in Aigle, Switzerland, learning from the experts during classroom and practical sessions.

Between the BMX talent identification camp and the development camp for young cyclo-cross riders, the course participants have had plenty of opportunities to see the UCI WCC expert coaches in action. The course also included two days dedicated to the mountain bike discipline.

 “This Coach Diploma course has been an excellent opportunity for the trainee coaches to learn alongside the experts,” explains UCI WCC High Performance Manager Belinda Tarling. “We had 27 BMX athletes on our talent identification camp, some of whom will be aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Our Diploma students were able to witness how experienced international coaches work with raw young talent from the world over.”

Similarly, the students participated in the cyclo-cross development camp, which culminated in a race, the EKZ CrossTour in Aigle, where they could see how the athletes had absorbed their coaches’ advice and put into practice their new skills.

While the first Coach Diploma course of the year in August was devoted to coaches of track and road cycling, the current course is specifically tailored for off-road.

What the coaches have to say

Former BMX athlete Outi Leinonen desperately wants to see the discipline grow in her home country of Finland and jumped at the chance to attend the off-road Coach Diploma course.

“I am learning a lot and have been making so many notes,” she said. “Finland doesn’t have formally trained BMX coaches, so my goal is to develop a programme for Finland. At the moment, you have one person saying ‘A’, another saying ‘B’, another saying ‘C’ and the athlete’s dad saying ‘D’.

“I’ve travelled around the world and seen different systems but since I’ve been here (at the UCI WCC) I’ve quite often been thinking ‘I wish I had known that when I was racing.’! It’s a little bit frustrating.

“My dream is to have one of our athletes training here, but I can see that for the moment the level is too high.”

Course colleague Mark West is founder and Manager of a mountain bike team in Lesotho, the Sufferfest African Dream Team, which has been going from strength to strength in the last couple of years: one member competed at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and three athletes at the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, Australia. The team is ranked in the top third of the UCI Mountain Bike Ranking.

“So far, I have been more of a facilitator for the team, trying to open doors to get them better equipment,” explains West. “But as they get better, it has become obvious that they need more people coaching.”

He said he would introduce a more scientific approach to their training as well as place more emphasis on skills,

“Most riders learn basic stuff as a kid but my guys didn’t spend their childhoods on bikes.”

The Coaching Diploma course covers all aspects of training, from talent detection, through to planning and delivering sessions, monitoring performance, and event analysis. All participants must pass written and practical exams to receive the UCI Coaching Diploma.