Growing through Risk
I’m going to be honest with you: Mountain biking is inherently dangerous. Riding a bike requires a certain assumption of risk. This is a good thing. Kids need to experience risk and the sensation of fear, and they need to develop strategies to overcome them. We give kids the space they need to build confidence and tackle new challenges. Some kids will take new challenges head on while others take a little more time. It’s OK. We have time. Doing it in that exact moment is unimportant. Try it on the next ride or the ride after that. I guarantee at some point they’re going to do it. When the emphasis shifts from head-to-head competition and kids can be kids, they have an incredible tendency to support and motivate each other.
Redefining a Win
We have a responsibility as role models (to kids) to consider the unspoken lessons a child learns when we create unnecessary urgency around their ability to perform or not perform a particular task at a specific point in time. Actions, mannerisms, and words in those subtle moments fill their sails with wind and send them down a mindset path. Remember, many athletic models are designed to reward talent and skill with starting roles and minutes played. Adventure Bike Club emphasizes effort, development, and the journey. Our idea of a win is watching kids go from “I can’t do that” to “Holy cow, coach. I did it!”
Rethinking the End Goal
It’s important for a process to support the desired result. Most sports are played with a specific set of skill positions, a limited number of players on a team, and playing time awarded for skill and ability. I think it’s important to look at this objectively and realize the intent of most sports is, in fact, to win a specific game or series of games. The odds of winning those games will increase exponentially the more you play the most talented kids. That process supports the desired result of winning, and for a select group of kids and families it’s acceptable.
Perhaps unintentionally we start to label kids as best, better, good, or not good enough. Some kids are born with natural coordination, athletic ability, and competitive acuity. That’s not to say if offered the same opportunities more kids wouldn’t develop, or even overtake the “more naturally talented kids,” through work ethic, consistency, and commitment. But the focus to win now means those kids often do not get a chance. NOTE: I do want to commend the many great traditional sport coaches out there who are overcoming these pitfalls. In pointing out these pitfalls, we don’t intend to indict a person, group of people, or even a sport.
Empowering a New Mindset
Our process is simple and the desired result is clear: Empower kids to discover their best selves by learning respect, effort, consistency, and grit. Kids are grouped by age and relative proficiency on a bicycle, and we don’t label them good, better, or best. Everyone is required to ride their bike and give their best effort. No one is sitting on a bench. When opportunity is equal and failure is encouraged, we promote a growth mindset. We do it by providing a support system without coddling and by actively promoting representation – working to ensure men and women are equally represented and working together respectfully in our coaching staff and at the youth level.