Monday, September 12, 2022

Coaching Philosophy

I've been coaching youth mountain biking since 2021. It's been very rewarding, particularly since both my child and several of her friends she's had since she was a toddler also participate. After one of our races, we had a rider come in dead last. She was pretty distraught, had a bad race, and was crying. I didn't know what to do, so I patted her on the back and said "good job, you'll get 'em next time". It felt hollow and I know she thought I was full of it. It was at that point I decided to find some way to communicate with the kids to help them set goals that are realistic and offer an individual level-set. That way, if you have a good race or a bad race you can look back at your individual chosen goals and see why things went well or went poorly. 

Feel free to use this philosophy, just cite me (or those I've cited when I've borrowed from others). 


This philosophy is designed to give everyone, from the riders who are hyper-dominant to the first-timers, proper expectations and goals for themselves, teammates, and their community.

We want every participant to have expectations, goals, and stretch goals. That way, even if they don’t do well relative to their age group, they can still compare what they did with what their goals were and hopefully have a sense of accomplishment or at least see a path to improvement and a reason for their poor performance.



At every practice, race, or when we’re on our bike we will have 5 points that we’re going to check in on. We’ll have expectations of ourselves for each point. On race day, we’ll have a 6th set of expectations that will include goals and stretch goals.


5 points for every ride: FEATS

F - Focus
E - Energy
A - Attitude
T - Technique
S - Strategy



We want you to focus your thoughts on the task at hand. We don’t want your mind wandering, don’t let small talk or nervousness distract you from your FEATS and EGGS (below). Take deep breaths, focus on the task at hand, and visualize the obstacles, crux moves, the course, and the race.



Maximize the energy you have every ride. Don’t waste energy accelerating when not necessary (mitigate with proper cornering/breaking technique). Did you sleep well? Did you eat ~2 hours before the ride? Do you have proper snacks for 2+, 3+, 4+ hours, etc. (eat 2 hrs before the ride, 2 hrs into the ride, and every hour thereafter)? 

On race day you’ll have a special kind of energy to harness - nervous energy. Everyone has nervous energy before a race, it means you care about the outcome - it’s a good thing. Use focus techniques to prevent the butterflies from making off with the energy you’ll need to meet your race day expectations, goals, and stretch goals. The best way to address nervous energy is to take deep breaths and ask yourself if there is anything you can change to affect the race right now. The answer will almost always be no, and as you move closer to your start time the answer will be more and more likely to be no. By the time you’re lining up, you won’t have anything to be nervous about - there will be nothing you can do other than concentrate on your strategy and review your techniques as they apply to the particular race you’re doing (flat corners, technical ups/drops, punchy climbs, technical descents, berms, jumps, etc.).



There are 3 types of attitudes you will need to be cognizant of: attitude towards yourself, attitude towards your teammates, and your attitude towards the other participants. 


Most importantly is your attitude towards yourself. Negative self-talk is a killer. You must be kind to yourself, and treat yourself with respect. If you fail on a climb, your internal dialogue might be "bad job, me!" Instead of that, you might want to say “Your weight wasn’t back far enough, try to keep your saddle in your chamois and give it another try”. Instead of “I can’t do it,” try to think “I can’t do it yet”.


Attitude towards your teammates. Always keep in mind that your teammates are the people who most understand what you’re going through. They have the same coaches, the same practices, and the same love of the same sport. Show your teammates love and respect. If you need some help, encouragement or inspiration lean on them. If you see that they're having trouble, offer them support. 


Attitude towards other participants. Note that even though the other racers are your competition, they’re also, to an individual, your people. These are bike people. These are folks who’ve made the personal decision to invest in practicing, riding, and racing. As you grow up you’ll find yourself continually in groups with the kids you’re meeting and competing against. You’ll be in clubs, on race teams, approaching your HOA to get money to build a pump track, or organizing a letter-writing campaign to petition the city to open up a park to a new jump line. Trust me, these are your people so treat them with an attitude that shows respect and care. 



We will be teaching a lot of different techniques over the course of the season. The 4Ls of cornering (Low, Look, Lean, Load), body/bike separation, ready position, technical ledge ups, technical drops, ledge drops, technical rock, race starts, and measured output to name a few. You’ll build your technique quiver over the course of many seasons and you’ll want to review your technique before and after a ride or race to see how you fared.



During the season you’ll find yourself reviewing different strategies with your coaches and peers. You’ll find a way to formulate your own strategies for practices and races from what you’re told, what you learn, and your own experiences. Once you’ve concocted a strategy it’s best to try to stick to it during the ride or race. Know, however, that about 10 different age-old adages communicate that the first thing lost in any endeavor is the plan (the best-laid plans of mice and men…). Some examples of strategies you can create/tweak/perfect for yourself:


  • Warm-up strategies
  • Practice strategy
  • Race day strategy
  • Passing strategy
  • Measured output strategy



Race day addition: EGgS

E - Expectation
G - Goal
S - Stretch Goal (or Season Goal)



The expectation is that you will finish every race you start. Unless you are physically unable to finish the race, you finish the race. If you find yourself walking and dragging a bicycle that’d better serve as a boat anchor - you still finish the race and you drag that anchor across the line with you. That is the expectation we as coaches have of you and it is the expectation we want you to have for yourself.


This is a goal you set for yourself that you will be very happy with and it’s within the bounds of reason. I.E. - if you’ve only ever got 10th place before, a good goal might be 5th. 1st would be a good stretch goal, but your goal might not be 1st unless you have reasons to pick it (increased training, modified (proven) strategy, different participants/competition).

Stretch Goal

A stretch goal is a big goal, maybe a goal you have for yourself for an entire season. Stretch goals should be hard to attain, and might even seem impossible. A great stretch goal would be something like:

1st place


1st place by X:XX min. I.E. - your stretch goal is either you win or you win by 30 seconds, 2 min, 5 min, etc.




FEATS was brought to my attention by Marty Christman and is based on this video (swimming):

I made up EGgS (and it shows, lol)

Marty Christman and I made up the four Ls of cornering, kind of on the spot, at a Bulldogs practice in early 2022. Turns out that lots of other people have come up with Low, Look, Lean - so convergent evolution? ha

Mountain Bike Cornering. The "Four L's"

Being good at cornering is a life-long pursuit, you'll forever get better. That said, there are 4 main points that you need to keep in mind that'll keep you rubber-side down and ripping.

Note, the 'Four L's" was an impromptu presentation that Marty Christman and I came up with late in 2021 at a Bulldogs MTB practice after being inspired by Lee McCormick in this vid

The "Four L's" are:

Low  - Low to the bars
Look - Look through the turn 
Lean - Lean the bike
Load - Load your outside leg

We're going to be using this pic as an example and discussion point, mainly because the riding position of this rider is so exaggerated. You will note that this pic has a berm, but the rider is still using best techniques. We'll note below which techniques you can fudge when you're riding bermed turns. 


Keep your weight low & towards the bars, generally in what you think of as an attack position. Move your chest towards your stem, if that helps you think of it. Staying low will keep your weight centered (both left/right and fore/aft). When you're low to the bars you have more motion in your elbows allowing you to extend your inner elbow and pull your outer elbow in. This allows you to push the bike down while keeping your center of mass midline of the bike, right between the contact patches left to right. The second reason to be low to the bar is to keep your front contact patch weighted by centering your mass more to the front. It's a natural reaction of riders, who've all gone over the bars at some point, to slide back in any intense situation to prevent an endo. Back is safe in most cases. However, when cornering (or jumping) sliding back is decidedly less safe. 


Look at the beginning of the turn until you break the plane of the turn, eyes on the entrance to the turn. As you approach the turn, I want you to scan the turn briefly and then look back at the entrance to the turn. As soon as your front tire breaks the imaginary beginning of the curve I want you to immediately turn your head, shoulders (a small bit), and even your hips towards the exit (or as far as you can see along the turn if you can't see the exit comfortably) until you actually exit the turn. If you see people blowing through turns it's because they're not watching the exit, they're almost assuredly looking directly at where they blew through the turn (generally the apex). 


Lean the bike, not your body. To do this you'll need good body/bike separation which is a technique we'll cover later in detail. In brief, body bike separation means elbows soft, knees soft, standing above the seat in a neutral (left/right fore/aft) riding position allows for good body bike separation. While leaning the bike is something you can fudge if you have a berm, it is still good practice to lean the bike while trying to keep your body in a more verticle position, just in case there is a dry/loose patch along the line. In our example, the rider's body position isn't vertical but you can see that their upper body is more vertical than the lean of the bike. If this were a flat corner without a berm, this rider would be sliding on their side already. Thus, this is one of the "Ls" you can fudge on when in a corner


Load your outside leg. This technique is of utmost importance when riding a flat turn. You must drop your outside leg to keep the weight as low as possible. If you fail to do this on a flat turn, you'll either have to slow down to keep the friction at your contact patch as high as possible or you'll find yourself in the weeds. This isn't necessary when riding a berm unless the berm is loose/dry or you're more comfortable that way. This is the other "L" you can fudge on, you can feel confident cornering with level pedals if the berms are significant enough.