MTB Coaches–Good vs Bad?
This has been killing me lately, so why not whine about it publicly and get to off my chest? Haha…
There are ton of mountain bike coaches and coaching organizations out there these days. Everybody and their brother (and sister) seem to be a “certified level blah, blah, blah MTB coach”. As a person who has made his full time living for the past almost ten years as a MTB coach, you can only imagine the opinions that I have on this…
Let me first say that I do believe that its admirable when someone desires to teach a great activity such as mountain biking to others. So more power to anyone who wishes to do this. The bummer is that many of these people who make up this current crop of coaches–and probably more at fault, the organizations who “certify” these coaches–are fully guilty of perpetuating many of the poor, and even dangerous, techniques that have been circulating MTB forever. I’m not seeing the evolution in technique that we should be seeing in the current state of coaching.
We have, and continue to see, the influence of downhill MTB, BMX, and motocross in bike design (my coaching is heavily influenced by these three sports, which, when it comes to skilled riding and training for skilled riding, are light-years ahead of MTB), but where’s the progression in how to ride the bike?
Likewise, I don’t see the consideration of the way the bike is actually designed to work. In fact, many of the techniques that are taught be these organizations–yes, you’ve heard of them; think, self proclaimed, “International Global Standard” of coaching–actually fight the way the bike is designed to work. I definitely don’t see a proper understanding of kinesiology and biology of the of body being brought into MTB coaching by any coaching organization or curriculum (outside of DirtSmart, where this plays a HUGE role in everything I do).
Why? Because most people who coach don’t understand these crucial elements in human movement as they relate to riding the bicycle, and, thus, their necessity in riding the bike correctly. They don’t understand bike design. They’ve never ridden motocross or BMX…or downhill (most) at high levels. They haven’t spent a life that has revolved around going fast on two wheels at the highest levels. They don’t make a living doing this. Its a hobby for them.
Definitely tooting my own horn here, but…
… Racing professionally; consistently racing and riding with some of the best racers and riders on the planet; school; where I’ve chosen to live (and moving around and traveling my entire adult life); toil in virtually every nook and cranny of the bike industry; sacrificing…well, pretty much anything material… It’s all come from, and been filtered through, riding bikes and obtaining knowledge and experience to enable me to ride bikes better and faster.
I do have a PHD in riding stinkin’ mountain bikes… Yeah, I said it!
And, much of that education does come from outside of mountain biking. Hate to say it, but much of inside of mountain biking–where most coaching is drawing from–is stagnant and dogmatic, yet persists as the status quo way to ride the bike.
You gotta know the difference…
Now, I will say, that many of the techniques taught by many coaching organizations will often work for a beginner rider in very easy trail settings (which probably is the bread and butter client/situation for most of these coaches). But, if these are the techniques that the student relies on when the trail gets a little more difficult, the student will be in danger because they simply won’t work well…and that could mean getting hurt. And, that’s just talking safety; take it further, and there’s no way a rider will get very fast or be very proficient on the bike if their “go-tos” are what what many of these organizations teach as proper technique.
Bad technique is being taught left and right in MTB: “You can’t brake in corners!..”; “Push down on your fork for rebound to help wheelie…”; “Use your front foot as a bracing foot…”; “Weight the handlebars…” (I heard this one today from a guy who is an awesome personal trainer…but, suddenly he’s a bike coach? Huh?)…I could go on forever with this… Stuff like this is being taught by pretty much every organization out there and will get you killed if you use it when the trail is actually a bit tough.
*** Do I never use the above techniques and many that I could name as dangerous and improper? No. I will use them on occasion, and again, they will work fine in certain settings. However, they are not building blocks to the higher levels of riding (This is a very big part of everything I coach: it all comes from a simple foundation, and you build off of that–even up to the highest levels) and won’t work when things start to get even a bit tough on the trail. It is up to the coach to know and communicate this. Again, many coaches simply don’t have the experience to do this.
Also, I’ll take any coach who actually believes in these techniques as tried and true out to a semi-difficult trail and say, “OK, take this corner without braking.” They won’t and can’t do it. They’ll make the corner (probably), but they will be doing something all together different than what they coach. I’m not saying that they are doing anything malicious or purposefully lying to their students. They are simply ignorant of how things actually work on the bike. And this is natural and fine. I’m positive that I am still ignorant of many things in riding; I must be, because I continue to improve and evolve my coaching and curriculum (and, even though I’m all old and washed up, and maybe not getting faster in terms of raw speed, I do continue to improve in my personal riding with control, efficiency, etc.).
So, am I saying that these people shouldn’t be MTB coaches? Ummmm…No.
They should be able to do whatever they want to do. What I am saying is that the student–the consumer–needs to be aware of what they are getting as a product. Who will be you’re coach? Not the organization, but the individual. What are the coach’s credentials, experience, reviews? Can they ride (Yes, I do believe it is very important that a coach is a very capable rider)? Have they raced (if you desire to race, probably pretty important your coach has been there), and at what level? Mountain biking is an athetic endeavor. What do they know about the body and how it works in an athletic sense? How do they know this? What do they know about bike set-up and bike design? Training? … Again, I could go on for days…
Chances are, with very rare exception, you won’t be able to find any of this information on particular individual coaches outside of a cute and cleaver little paragraph/bio next a headshot on a website.
And, remember, just because someone was a pro racer, doesn’t mean that they can coach their way out of a wet paper bag. How are they as a coach?
I guess this is why my camps do cost $500 for two days. And, yes, you can go down to the clinic that your local shop is putting on, and the local pro is going to coach it!..For only $50!!! So, why would you spend the money on that pricey DirtSmart camp?
Well, you can also go down to your local Walmart and get a mountain bike for $200, so why would you spend thousands of dollars at one of those pricey bike shops?
And I’m not saying that all coaches out there, besides me, are “Walmart Coaches”. I’m just saying know what you’re getting into, and–like anything else–you’re going to have to pay a bit for the best product.
Honestly, if you are a straight-up beginner and don’t really intend to even be a “mountain biker”, you probably don’t need high level coaching. But as soon as you intend on riding and progressing–even a little–you’re going to want the best coaching you can get, not only to get more proficient, but to not hurt yourself. And if you want to get fast, to be the best rider that you can be? Like pretty much any other tool that will really see some use, “Buy cheap; buy twice…”
I love coaching all levels of riders. I get just as much satisfaction and believe that I am equally as successful whether I’m coaching beginners or World Cup downhill racers. My students, of all levels, will attest to this. However, I highly doubt that my World Cup downhill racers would have gotten much out of the example of the the “$50 local shop clinic” that I gave above, and I’m quite sure (positive) that my beginner students would have had a much tougher time progressing as riders with “cheap” instruction.
OK, I feel better now…