SAFESPORT PARENTING: Shaping future cyclists with the power of the peloton


Welcome to the first of four articles in USA Cycling's series on SafeSport Parenting. This series is written by USA Cycling level 1 coach and member of the USA Cycling Coaching Education Advisory Committee, Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD.
by Kristen Dieffenbach
There is just something about cycling. Road, trail or track, the community of our sport is a key part of what so many of us enjoy.  We share, bond and swap stories in a mud, sweat and gears culture that provides personal challenge, competition and support. As one of the few true lifelong sports, cycling has so many things to offer and for many it also presents an amazing place to bring up our children. 
Learning to ride a bike is a valuable early motor learning milestone for young riders and with the re-incarnation of the late 1800s ‘bone shaker’ as the toddler no-pedal strider bike, even the littlest are cruising along.  Many young riders are growing up in the sport as their parents share their passion for pedaling.  No matter the age and experience level range, families share the pedaling experience through a wide range of traditional bike, tandem, trailer, and trail-along configurations.  These days it is not uncommon to see whole families kitted up and on bikes at events, often with two or more family members competing.  
Shape the attitudes of your youngest cyclists
For children, the sole emphasis of riding should always be centered around fun and skill development.  Focused training and serious competition are not needed for very young children as it can actually be a hindrance to positive long term talent development.  Just being around the sport and the environment presents great opportunities for youngest among us to learn.  Seeing adults play, seek challenges, share and enjoy physical activity are priceless opportunities that will shape values and attitudes for life.   Of course, it is up to the adults in question to be appropriate positive role models and for key adults, e.g. parents, to point out the lessons that are most important to their values.  For example, talking about how a teammate helped in a race or encouraging your child to ask other cyclists what they love most about the sport.
Develop your junior racer
As young riders enter into middle school and high school, it becomes appropriate for them to train, keeping in mind that adolescents are not yet adults and should not follow adult training plans no matter how gifted they appear.  Unlike many sports, the nature of cycling makes it possible for pre-teens and teens to train alongside their parents and other adults, at least until they get faster than we are.  It can be very tempting to channel (and be fueled by) their youth and enthusiasm as they start to grow into their adult sized bikes and to mistakenly allow them to jump right into adult sized training group rides and race expectations as well.  It is crucial to structure and build an age and developmentally appropriate experience for junior riders.  
Build a quality parenting peloton
As the parent, it is up to you to ensure that the role models, mentors and teachers that your developing rider is exposed to through cycling are up to the high standards you set for anyone who joins your parenting team.  The cycling ‘way of life’ emphasizes key values that draw together a wide variety of people into a strong community that, even before the days of the internet, has always been tight knit.  The sport demands a certain amount of dedication and resiliency.  Cycling is hard work, gravity hurts, and flats come in threes, get used to it, pick yourself up and keep going.  Work together, even when in competition with one another to achieve peak performance.  You need teammates and you need to be a good teammate.  Being a slacker in the pack has consequences.  These are all powerful lessons and values that can be learned in cycling.  However, it is crucial to note that it is not the sport of cycling itself that teaches and nurtures the development of young riders.  What matters are the people that make up the peloton and the cycling community and how they model and teach the values that mean the most to you. 
Building a quality parenting peloton to support the sport and lifetime development of your young rider is up to you.  As a competitive endeavor, cycling challenges riders both physically and mentally.  If not undertaken carefully, these challenges can easily overwhelm a young rider’s still developing skills during a crucial period of physical, psychological and emotional growth.  
Next month, the SafeSport Parenting column will take a look at "Selecting a Junior Cycling Coach" and will explore questions such as: What key qualifications should they have? What does a junior athlete really need? What questions should parents ask before hiring a junior coach?  What is the junior athlete’s role in selecting a coach? 

This Article Updated March 24, 2017 @ 07:13 PM For more information contact: