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Youth cycle racing – which way now?

14 June 2015

We’re living in a golden age for youth cycling and racing. Never before have there been so many opportunities to ride or race, so many great bikes available, so many excellent facilities, so many clubs and coaches – and so many kids enjoying cycling!

It’s surely the best time ever to be a young rider in any discipline of the sport: whether it’s BMX, track, road, MTB, cyclocross or cycle speedway.

So everything is rosy? Not entirely, perhaps. Lots of experienced parents & coaches think it’s a bit more complicated than that, and in a minute we’ll take a look at why that is.

And British Cycling has just announced some radical changes to youth competition which will soon affect every child racing. The biggest impact will be felt in BMX initially, and the BMX community is outraged by the changes to its sport and, indirectly, to its whole culture.

So here’s Youth Cycle Sport’s take on the current state of youth racing and on the governing body’s changes. It’s written from the same positive point of view as our “The Rules” feature, which is the most popular article YCS has ever published.

So what’s the point of children’s cycle racing?

Cycle racing is a superb way for children to have fun, make friends, keep fit & healthy, learn new skills, increase their self-esteem – and, of course, to take part in competition against each other.

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Are there any problems with the sport?

Despite all those very positive benefits, many experienced coaches & parents have some reservations about the current state of the sport. Specifically:-

“Collateral damage”

Sometime the BC Performance Pathway unintentionally causes “collateral damage”. Young riders who don’t reach the highest levels can become disillusioned and leave the sport.

The objective of identifying & developing talent to ultimately win Olympic medals (and therefore secure major funding) isn’t always compatible with the objective of making cycling a sport for all.

Volume & intensity of training & racing

Over the last few years the volume and intensity of youth riders’ training & racing has increased, and it has been pushed down through the age categories.

For example, the kind of training that Under 16 (Youth A) riders did five or six years ago is now being done by Under 14s (Youth B). And what Under 14s once did is now typically being done by Under 12s (Youth C). And so on.

Some coaches think it’s too much, too serious, too soon for long term success and enjoyment of the sport.

Equipment “arms race”

In circuit racing in particular, an “arms race” for equipment has developed, and this puts less well-off kids at a disadvantage. Even in Under 12 races it’s now quite common to see bikes with premium brand carbon frames and carbon deep-rim wheels.

Expectation based on early success

Children who become used to winning races and getting attention at an early age often don’t stay ahead of their rivals as they move up through the age groups.

Those kids and their parents often can’t help getting excited about their early success, and racing can become much less rewarding when a rider is no longer winning regularly.

Unlevel playing field?

What about those kids who don’t show early talent, or develop later than their rivals, or don’t have very good equipment, or don’t have knowledgeable, committed parents who are able to take them to lots of coaching sessions or races?

Most people who love cycling and who believe in the value of sport want to make sure that these kids (the majority of kids, in fact?) can still benefit from taking part in cycle racing.

Cycling is a competitive sport, after all, so there will always be winners and losers on the day, but that doesn’t mean that these kids should just be cannon-fodder for the winners to beat.

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How is British Cycling about to change things?

In November 2014 BC announced that its Youth Workgroup had done some work on a review of youth cycling and competition. You can read the full announcement here but their initial output was:-

to encourage as many young people to get into cycling as possible, there must be an emphasis on making the sport fun, accessible and easy to understand. The group acknowledged that talent identification for the Great Britain Cycling Team is still crucial, but that this should only become a priority from the age of 13 upwards.

BC announced a first phase of changes which would restrict national competitions to riders aged 13 and older while those under that age bracket would compete at a local and regional level with ranking points no longer available. That would have a huge impact on BMX in particular, which has a long culture of national and international level racing for young children.

BC also proposed updating equipment regulations to reduce costs to parents – in other words, an attempt to reverse the arms race that we mentioned above.

BC also announced that the second phase of the project would arrive in 2017 with a focus on the pathway of local, regional and national competition. The racing calendar would be restructured

…to reduce the number of national events and increase the focus on local and regional competition, skill development and rest.

There will be three levels of competition, starting at local, progressing to regional and then finally national events. Local events will focus on enjoyment with no prizes or results available, therefore encouraging riders of all ages and abilities to take part and develop new tactics and skills.

Regional level events will aim to introduce the more competitive side of the sport with more racing available and a small number of events acting as qualifiers for national races.

Those look like quite radical policies. From an early age, children have a strong desire to race each other and to win, and will always find a way to do that – whether it’s in an official race, in the middle of a coaching session, or just tearing around their back yard.

Then, last week, British Cycling announced that the proposals have been approved and will be implemented. More details of the practical changes across all disciplines were given, and particularly the contentious BMX-specific changes.

It all adds up to a big change in the governing body’s strategy and policy for children’s racing.

However, one discipline of the sport already works very successfully on this basis and is probably a good model for youth cycling development: cyclocross has a national series and national championships for Under 14 and Under 16 riders, but not for riders younger than that. Younger riders have local-level racing for which the entry fee is often as little as £2. Their courses are usually technical enough to help riders develop their skills but still accessible to all. There are rarely cash prizes and there are no licence points or rankings. Apart from some changes to equipment regulations, cyclocross isn’t actually likely to be affected by the new strategy at all.

We shouldn’t forget that British Cycling’s major funding from UK Sport and Sport England is one of the biggest reasons why our sport is so big, and why we are now in the “golden age” that we described in our introduction. British Cycling has to meet very specific, demanding targets to receive that funding. Some of those targets are related to elite success, and others are related to mass participation.

Also, some of that funding must be directed towards the recruitment and retention of riders aged 14+, not younger.

These factors apply to all publicly-funded sports and they aren’t specific to cycling. They aren’t policies that British Cycling itself has control of. So we do have to accept the reality of that situation, and how it influences BC’s strategy.

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Why do children race?

Is it prize money? Trophies? The desire to win? Self-esteem? Dreams of becoming a pro, or making a career from cycling, or becoming an Olympic champion? Inspiration from role models? The social benefits of riding & racing? In order to please parents or coaches?

We think it’s probably a different mix of those factors for each child, and that the mix changes as riders get older.

But, as you’d expect, we think racing is a very positive activity for children, as long as it’s handled wisely and is approached positively – our “The Rules” article summarises everything that we believe about that.

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What makes a child successful at a young age?

We’ve all seen impressive kids who ride with the skill and speed of an older rider, winning with style when still only aged eight, ten or twelve years old. Why do these children do so well? It’s often a mix of these reasons:-

Early physical development

Growing early and being tall for their age means having the longer levers, bigger heart and lungs, and stronger muscles of an older child. It also has an impact on equipment: a tall ten year old might be able to ride a 700c-wheeled road or cyclocross bike which will roll faster than the 24”- or 26”-wheeled bikes that their smaller rivals ride.

Birth date

Being born early in the calendar year is lucky! For example, a child born in January will race against a field of younger kids in their age group.

If the same child had been born just a few weeks earlier in the December of the previous year they would be one of the youngest riders in an older age group instead, and their racing experiences could be quite different.

Cycling parents

It’s usually an advantage to have parents who are already involved in cycling and who are knowledgeable about the sport. Cycling is a technically complex sport compared to many others, and there’s lots to know about equipment, rules and regulations. Parents who come from that world themselves are able to give their children a head start. They can also accompany their children on social rides and in training.

Parents able to make a big commitment

Not all kids have parents who are willing or able to learn about the sport, and who will give up their own evenings and weekends to take them to training sessions or to races.

It’s not just a big commitment in time that’s needed either: parents who are able to spend money on better equipment, clothing and travel give major advantages to their racing child.

Starting cycling at an early age

Take the example of a ten-year-old child who started circuit racing or MTB at the age of eight. They will have gained two years of valuable tactical experience, skill development, and fitness development by the time they are racing other ten year olds who might be taking their first steps in the sport. That’s a massive advantage.

The desire to race and win

Some children have a stronger desire than others and they will take any opportunity available to ride, train or race. It’s a state of mind that future champions need, but it’s not always the right thing for a young child, all of the time.

Parents and coaches need to act as regulators, and check that the young rider doesn’t get too serious too early, nor do too much too young.

Natural talent

Some sports scientists argue that natural talent and genetics are a much-exaggerated factor in the success of a sportsman or sportswoman.

But most cycling coaches on the ground will take a practical view and will notice a child who learns new skills quickly and who has good all-round physical capabilities.

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Why do children leave the sport?

Parents and kids themselves (and less enlightened coaches) can get quite excited by 8, 10 or 12 year olds winning national-level events or titles, and can talk about them being the next Lizzie Armitstead, Liam Phillips, or Jason Kenny.

But it’s actually pretty unusual in most disciplines of cycling for very successful riders at such a young age to still be dominant when they reach 18 years old – the factors above tend to have become equalised by that age.

On the whole cycling is a “late development” sport unlike swimming or women’s gymnastics, for example, in which Olympic gold medals are very often won by teenagers – sometimes very young teenagers.

However, highly technical disciplines like BMX and MTB are so competitive that successful riders usually need to be working on their skills from an early age. That’s much less the case for road racing or track racing.

So the reality is that winners at twelve years old aren’t likely to be the winners of pro road races or Olympic track events. It’s tough for kids who are used to standing on the top step of the podium to get used to that, and we’ve seen many children abandon the sport and stop cycling completely.

Interestingly, the great champions that YCS has interviewed nearly always encourage children to keep doing multiple disciplines, not specialise in a single discipline too early, and to maintain other sports for as long as possible. This can be difficult to reconcile with a child’s desire (and often their parents’ desire) to develop the particular form of cycling that they are super-keen on, when they want to reach the highest level in that discipline as quickly as possible.

In all disciplines, Under 16 racing is at an extremely high level. A rider needs to be highly committed to their cycling and to have great support if they are to continue their racing success at this level.

Early success and praise falls away as racing becomes more competitive. As children reach teenage years, it may become clear that earlier dreams of world-level success are not realistic.

There’s a risk of psychological or physical “burn out” if parents & coaches don’t regulate their young riders responsibly. A child of sixteen who started racing at eight probably can’t remember a time when they weren’t training or racing. We believe that cycling and racing are very positive for children (including for young children) but adults need to stay objective in order to recognise when it might be best for the child to back off a little.

Other sports, interests, education and social activities can become more time consuming or more attractive as children reach their teenage years. They might well decide for themselves that cycling isn’t quite as important to them as it once was.

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Does talent development cause damage?

British Cycling receives significant funding linked directly to Great Britain’s success at Olympic level – funding that we all benefit from. The BC talent development team and coaches are under a lot of pressure to develop the best riders and deliver that success.

BC’s Performance Pathway is extremely successful at delivering those medals, but by the very nature of elite sport only a tiny number of the best riders will ever reach the highest level. Most young riders who join the Pathway at its lowest, broadest level will leave that system before reaching the top.

Last year we interviewed Ian Yates, the Performance Pathway manager, and we asked him about how riders leaving BC’s talent programmes can still enjoy the sport and be successful.

The introduction of the Olympic Development Apprentice scheme looks like a good step forward here: it’s accompanied by some very clear messages that riders might be an ODA for a limited time; that they should be prepared to learn as much from the experience before leaving the scheme and continuing their racing development outside the Pathway; and that the Pathway’s programmes are still open to them in the future if appropriate.

We think the Pathway coaches are conscious of their responsibilities to riders leaving their programmes, and they do their best to set expectations and motivate those riders. However, their primary focus is always going to be on taking the most talented riders forward.

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So where now?

Structural changes

Although British Cycling’s changes were announced as a firm decision, the powerful storm of protest kicked up by the BMX community has prompted a BC statement that appears to acknowledge that there might need to be more consultation and perhaps some changes to the new policies themselves.

Moving away from rankings, license points, and even national events for the youngest road and track riders is something we can support. Success in those disciplines at such an early age is likely to set unrealistic expectations for the future, for the reasons discussed earlier.

Equipment

We agree that youth cycle racing should become more accessible and that the use of expensive equipment should become regulated. What we’ve seen so far of the new regulations certainly goes in the right direction.

Special circumstances

We’d like to see recognition of the special position of BMX because that discipline is particularly family-oriented, has a very strong social lifestyle around it, and early skill development and experience are needed for future success.

Talent development

Since the introduction of Olympic Development Apprentices we’re now more relaxed about the risk of ambitious riders turning their backs on the sport.

However, we’d like to see increased awareness amongst riders, parents and coaches about the nature of talent development within cycling. We think this could help those riders who are smaller, younger, and have basic equipment to stick with the sport and keep working at it.

It would also help successful young riders (and parents) stay grounded whilst still enjoying their wins, but not to get carried away too early and risk coming crashing down when other riders catch up.

Racing and winning

Competition is good for children of all ages and it should be encouraged, not suppressed. We don’t think that British Cycling is trying to stop children doing that (why would it?) but we’d like to see a strong commitment to competition throughout the age groups.

It might just be a case that British Cycling hasn’t communicated this commitment very clearly yet, or it might be that some more work and some changes to the new policies & regulations are required.

We do believe that cycle racing is the best sport in the world, that Great Britain offers some of the very best opportunities, and that there’s nothing better for kids than tearing around on bikes as fast as possible!

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Photos by courtesy of Huw Williams, Guy Watson, Richard Maynard, Paul Miller, Laurence Crossman-Emms.

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18 responses to:

Youth cycle racing – which way now?

  1. Katy
    June 14, 2015

    I welcome many of the new changes however one thing that im yet to see mentioned is the actual cost of the races, we can pay upto £10 average being £7 for a d cat 20 min circuit race, the same price as an a/b cat race which is on for an hour. This to me isnt entry level prices and becomes very costly when its predominantly a family sport with a number of siblings participating. Is this going to be looked at, with the possibility of a cap on race fee’s?

  2. John
    June 14, 2015

    Agree with Katy , the cost of races does not match the length or type of event this applies to all catergories even adults. There are more riders than ever racing , with events often over subscribed i see no reason why the entry fee`s have increased to such a high level .£20.00 for a youth Omnium , £40.00 for a 1 hour adult crit . u8/u10 should be a token £1.00 no matter what the event is.

  3. darren
    June 14, 2015

    Taking u12’s away from national competition for me is silly, kids gain a massive amount of experience when they’re young make great friends and generally enjoy themselves. Emily Kay, the Garner sisters Jon Dibben all started young. For me the reasons BC have done this is the govt have given all the governing bodies a telling off for numbers in participation in all sports dropping since the surge in numbers following 2012. Equipment at youth level makes very little difference apart from maybe a placebo effect. The level of training that young cyclists put in is not anywhere near as much as young swimmers or young gymnasts. I know of 14 year old swimmers doing 15 hours plus a week. Id imagine the average u16 cyclist is probably around half of that

  4. Peter
    June 15, 2015

    Look at letthekidsrace Facebook forum.

  5. June 15, 2015

    Katy & John, the entry fee will be down to the race organiser and not BC, and would be impossible to regulate. Some venues just cost more to hire than others. There are also associated costs with some races i.e. medical cover, portal hire, transponders etc etc etc. If you reduced the U8/U10 costs to a nominal amount then the older age categories would need higher costs to make up the shortfall. In CX races the U12s often race for free, or a nominal amount (e.g. £1). But that is because venues for CX can be cheaper to hire, and the adult races subsidise the youths. You don’t get that at a youth race.

  6. Miller
    June 15, 2015

    Having spoken to a senior coach from Yorkshire (where they keep it real) at the Mildenhall Grass Track rally last August, it was apparent BC were going to do something to halt the rise of parents who were pedalling their kids around the country collecting up point like Pokemon cards. It was a minority but definetly on the increase and with no proper structure in place (which swimming has, if someone says they raced Youth Nationals against Rebecca Adlington, you better believe they could swim and earned being in the lane next to her – the same cannot be said in youth cycling) it could not be left to irrational parents to use their common sense (which is never common). Clubs (and their coaches) did not appear to be able to put a halt to the rise of this and we live in a different world now since the 2012 Olympics.

    Favourite parent road racing quote of the week… “The boys are doing well at the moment and winning now so we will race a lot this year, but not next year as they will be young in their new age category”… Read into that statement what you will but as Chris Hoy said recently, it’s about winning and losing at that age.
    Anyway, youth road racing has long since moved away from being a lower working class or even a diverse community sport (no matter what is says in their Charter) and it’s not coming back with those paltry equipment changes.

  7. Matt Gough
    June 15, 2015

    Darren, the equipment rules matter because they are giving the user a psychological edge. I have seen this with my three boys and other youngsters in our club. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that the performance benefit is negligible they equate fancy equipment with a good rider and start the race with a negative mindset, thinking that they must in some way defer to that rider.

    I know nothing about BMX and cycle speedway but I welcome these changes for the other disciplines – I want our kids to enjoy cycling and sport for life, not be burnt out by 18.

  8. Nidel Beatty
    June 15, 2015

    Here’s a letter I sent to the Youth Workgroup in relation to the changes for 2016 and how inappropriate I feel they are for the BMX Racing, which from it’s inception has been a sport for all ages, with the vast majority of participants being under the age of 13 yrs.

    I am writing with regard to Youth Cycling, National changes for the 2016 season as stated:

    “The focus of National competition (including National Rankings, National Series and National Championships)
    should be for riders 13 -14 and older.”

    “Young people aged 12 and under are still in the early stages of development. Racing should still be encouraged and enjoyed across these age groups, but it should be at a local / regional level. Results may still be produced, but ranking points should be removed to promote a more enjoyable experience for all.”

    I believe the above changes will have a negative impact on the cycle sport of Bicycle Motocross (BMX).

    The first of the Youth Workgroups 3 key principles, “Youth cycling should be fun. For young riders a lifelong passion for cycling through the development of core skills should be the focus and primary outcome”, I believe is already met by the Club, Regional and National Racing Format of BMX racing as it has existed in the U.K. to date. As to whether this key principle is met by other cycle sport disciplines, I hope this hasn’t influenced a one solution fits all approach to Youth cycling across the board.

    BMX Racing is by and large an Under 13’s sport. The Club, Regional and National tiers of racing have for 35 years made it a “real” sport for children. This “real” sport status has been hard won and wasn’t easy to come by. The enthusiasm children (the U 13’s) have displayed for “their” sport, through the aforementioned tiers of racing, has since the early 1980’s proven to be BMX Racing’s making, the changes announced could in effect be the sports undoing. The acceptance of BMX racing as a “real” sport and not just a “craze”, as dismissively viewed by many, including those from other cycle sports, owes everything to those who the 2016 National changes effect, i.e. the children. Without U 13’s points based racing, BMX racing today would not exist. The U.K.’s success in the sport of BMX Racing, if to continue, cannot survive their exclusion at a National level from racing for points and series rankings.

    The National ranking series is at the very heart of the U 13’s perception of themselves as athletes participating in cycle sport. To remove ranking points for the U 13’s, in a well intentioned effort to “promote a more enjoyable experience for all”, will lead to children’s perception of BMX Racing as no longer a sport, but more likely as an activity such as non competitive rollerblading or skateboarding.

    Is the Youth Workgroup aware that BMX (Bicycle Motocross) as an activity without Club, Regional and National Ranked points based racing already exists as an “enjoyable experience for all” and has been enjoyed for as long as BMX Racing itself. In short, a whole world of riding a BMX bicycle exists beyond “Racing” and came about specifically for those that enjoy BMX bikes but prefer not to race. These non racing BMX’ers would be bemused to hear the Youth Workgroup feel it necessary to provide “a more enjoyable experience for all” as an alternative to the long established tradition of National level BMX Racing for all ages.

    The premise that removing points based racing for the U13’s will make BMX racing “more enjoyable for all” is, in my opinion, misguided. Those that enjoy BMX Racing, race for the love of points based competition, whether they are children, teenagers or adults. Those that don’t enjoy racing, ride for the love of riding, exploring creative and alternative riding styles to those of racing their BMX bikes, whilst, just like racers, developing core skills and inventing some new ones along the way. There is no need for the Youth Workgroup to provide a halfway house between competitive and non competitive forms of BMX riding for the U13’s, in pursuit of any perceived positive outcomes that they feel maybe lacking presently. A lifelong passion for cycling has long been an outcome attached to the culture of the racing and non racing genres of BMX bikes since it’s very earliest beginnings.

    These changes for 2016 will remove the “Racing” in real terms from BMX Racing for the U13’s and although “Club and Regional results may still be produced”, children will no longer hold the “sport” of BMX racing in such high esteem, or see themselves as the next generation of BMX racers, a status they presently enjoy and the sport as a whole needs for its future existence.

    BMX Racing as a sport is generally perceived to be a “Child’s Sport” by other cycle disciplines and the general public. The bikes are small “A kids bike” and roughly 40 – 50% of the racers at a National competition are U 13’s. Teenagers and adults who race or simply enjoy riding BMX bikes don’t necessarily mind this perception, as they know the bikes need to be small in order to be raced or ridden in the manner the sport or genre demands. They also know that the size of the bikes are therefore no barrier to the participation of children and as such children are the majority at any Club, Regional or National BMX Race and without the U13’s BMX Racing would probably not stand on its own as a teenage or adult sport.

    BMX Racing therefore maybe perceived as a child’s sport, but in the main it is only excelled at by teenagers and perfected by young adults, the average Olympic podium age being 21. The culture of BMX Racing has proven consistently over the last 35 years, that BMX racers peak earlier than other cycle sports participants and therefore the inclusion of U13 racers is not only welcome, but necessary if they are to acquire the skills and familiarity of competition to succeed at the highest level by 21.

    Children, Teenagers and Young Adults / Club, Regional and National Ranked Racing – are the pillars of the sport of BMX Racing and have led ultimately to the sports inclusion in the Olympics. I hope the Youth Workgroup will come to realise that the removal of the U 13’s from Ranking Competitions in the case of BMX Racing will be to remove the strongest pillar of all and that the others will not be able to stand alone or succeed without the U’13s.

    Yours faithfully,

    Nigel Beatty.

  9. Gordon
    June 16, 2015

    The removal of national rankings points makes sense as they were meaningless as far as circuit racing was concerned. It doesn’t sound like its the same for BMX racing so I hope their concerns are listened to.
    Reading Nigel’s post, a lot of what he says applies to all forms of cycling. Racing is racing. It’s just one small part of cycling. Why are we diluting the competitive experience for those who love to race in order to accommodate those who don’t? There’s plenty of other forms of cycling that bc could promote and organise that would provide an enjoyable alternative.
    As for the equipment regulations, they’re a joke. You can still buy a £2000 set of 35mm rims. How is this seriously addressing costs? My sport is motorcycle racing, and when the governing body wanted to address the costs and level the playing field they introduced one make series like Aprilia super teens and cb500 racing. This has produced multiple world and national champions that may have struggled to get started in the sport in open class racing. If BC is serious about reducing costs and levelling the playing field they should team up with a sponsor and run a national series. Everyone on a luath, or whatever, and away you go.
    But then what excuses would we use when our little darlings didn’t win?

  10. June 16, 2015

    I’m a coach, a parent of young club cyclists and also I used to race at a reasonable level as a youth – I think this is a great article to get a much needed discussion going.
    My personal opinion is that youth racing is all about riders putting in to practise the skills that are learned in club coaching sessions. Benchmarks are important but races are the real world test that a rider has obtained a certain level of performance.
    However, for under 12’s and probably for most under 14’s I do not think racing should be about youths being under any expectation to perform to a certain level. Most youths that I see start racing have an initial goal of just wanting to make mum & dad happy, or just to ride fast. Some will enjoy the experience of winning, and at first, all will enjoy taking part – but encouragement can easily make winning become an expectation, and make just taking part seem not quite good enough.
    Parents and coaches can help a lot by managing expectations (perhaps sometimes their own?) to ensure that a young rider first and foremost, is racing for the thrill of competition. If a young rider needs ‘motivation’ from a coach or parent week in week out, then something is not quite right. Young riders will make their own transition from wanting to ‘make mum and dad happy’ to wanting to beat a rival or to try and win in their own time.
    Coming from a road and track background, I’ve learned a lot from attending BMX races with my eldest son. Road and especially track competitions can seem pretty clinical and not as much fun in comparison, and I think that a lot could be learned from how this branch of the sport is run.
    Of course at some point, racing will have to get a bit more serious, especially for target races and championships, and so learning to handle nerves and produce a best performance on the day will have to happen at some point. But in my opinion, it’s riders who race for fun early on, before starting to step up at 15/16/17, who go on to have a longer and more successful time in our sport.
    With regard to equipment – don’t get me started – it’s like an arms race at some events and the pressure on parents to buy what they mistakenly see as ‘the best’ is immense! We have gear restrictions, so why not have equipment restrictions? E.g. no deep section or disc wheels, only steel or aluminium frames?
    Also, how about a restriction on how many days a youth can race for each category – this will make parents and coaches think about targets and allow time for family, friends, school, training, recovery…?

  11. Nick Lloyd
    June 17, 2015

    It seems a shame that the thoroughly positive picture I’ve seen at the National Series this year will not be available to our daughter for another four years. Local races are often fairly uncompetitive as it is, with one or two riders turning up, especially amongst the girls. Only those from major conurbations with larger fields will experience much in the way of rivalry or challenge, not to mention competition, until they are into their teens, putting the regions at a serious disadvantage. Get rid of the national points if you like; it’s little more than a distraction. Get rid of prize money if you find it vulger or uncomfortable. Restrict equipment by all means; I rather liked Nicole Cookes description of single speed racing for children and young people in the Netherlands when she was starting out. However, please let them race.

  12. Zack
    July 10, 2015

    I’m 15, where can I enter road races?

  13. Youth Cycle Sport
    July 10, 2015

    Hi Zack – that makes you an Under 16 or “Youth A”. All road racing for youth riders is on closed roads or purpose-built road circuits. You can see appropriate events here.

    It’s usually a good idea to join a club that has a strong youth development and coaching structure.

    Good luck!

  14. August 31, 2015

    One point that hasn’t been made is the detrimental effect the unrestricted growth of youth/junior teams has had on the clubs who graft away every week bringing kids into the sport and developing them. This appears to have the full backing of British Cycling, similar to the Belgian model, which removes riders from the club environment into small imitations of professional teams and limits access to the big races to anyone who stays riding for the club. The result at the moment is that clubs are perpetually working with beginners and never able to see their riders reach a higher level of skill and performance while riding for the club. Coaches at clubs find this aspect of their work taken away from them, and it’s easy to feel as though their work and efforts are ultimately not respected.

  15. October 20, 2015

    The regulation changes don’t touch the cherry picking of road riders by teams outside the Go-ride umbrella, scratch the surface of the arms race in equipment and give no commitment whatsoever to any reduction in the cost of races, which is spiralling out of control. Sport should aim to be as near to free as possible, do that and more people will take part. Cost is the unspoken demon in UK sport, seemingly not recognised by governing bodies or their ‘corporate partners’

  16. Andrew gray
    November 19, 2015

    BC have done about cost of equipment, nothing about a junior female race series and nothing about the total drop off of support for youth riders going into junior, it’s no wonder they in droves. BC is about producing medals and very little else I’m afraid.

  17. 3 months ago

    Hi Guys, Great article. really interestinga dn informative. As are the comments below. I think a restriction to how many times you can race is a really really good idea because as stated it would encourage riders (and parents) to be much more specific and focussed. I run a full time Junior Academy called Oaklands Wolves which starts in September and I am literally this morning replying to emails form top youth A riders who are about to join the academy that are very worried they are missing out on all the racing which riders are being driven to all week long all summer. It’s not healthy, not least because it contributes to that desperate ‘it’s now or never’ feeling where everything has to be achieved now and the BC pathways are the only way. It doesn’t. It’s not. If you’re good enough you will succeed and it is never too late to be good enough. When a UCI Womens Team or world tour team look at your Palmares they couldnt care less about Youth A titles or track league wins. That’ s if thats where the rider (not their parents) wants to get to. Whether they do, or don’t, the minute any of these young riders loose track of the sheer joy of riding a bike fast among friends then they’re very much on a slippery slope. I’ve written an article about that inner motivation and what drives it here if anyone is interested : http://www.jezcox.com/2015/11/how-to-win-races.html
    Keep up the good work Youth Cycle Sport. You really are the definitive voice on these things

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