A few months back a friend of mine, who owns a local bike shop, asked if I would lead a Cyclocross camp for kids. Her 10 year old son races CX and he wanted to share with his friends what he does in the Fall nearly every weekend. My first response was "of course". I would love nothing better than to share and introduce Cylocross to the future generation, after all, they are the ones to take over the sport when I'm done with it!
We sat down and had a planning meeting a couple of months back, deciding what we would do each day, how long the camp would be, etc. We decided it would be good to have some helpers and other coaches too, so my friend Jess Cutler came up from Seattle to help, and Bellingham local junior rider, Shannon Mallory, helped as well. Our main plan was to work on skills for the first three days, and the last day would be a mock race for the parents to come and watch their kids put their skills to the test. My original thoughts where "If it's a small group we probably don't need so many helpers. I got this, they're only kids after all". If only I had been fully prepared for what we were to encounter.
I love kids, they're cute, energetic, small, fun, and quite naive. This doesn't mean I was prepared for 10+ kids for 2 hours a day Tuesday-Friday. I learned a lot, and they learned a lot. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to share with the kids my love for the sport and teach them how much fun life on two wheels can be. Now for the fun part.
The coaches introduced themselves, we warmed up playing a little follow the leader. Then I took the kids on a loop around the park (Cornwall Park in Bellingham). The age ranged from 7-14, thats a very large range of ages, with most of the kids 9 and under. We had kids on single speed bikes with back pedal brakes, and kids on hard tail mountain bikes. The warm up lap consisted of some flats, some up hills, some descents on gravel, and a little double track dirt up and down. The first day the kids fumbled getting up every hill, one of the kids super manned into the bushes on a decent, the kids didn't know how to shift their bikes to make it up the hill. After the warm up we decided we needed to teach the kids how to dismount and mount. I was braking down the dismount to the kids 9 and under, and I have never seen so many varied opinions amongst little people. I tried to start with the basic 'ride on the side of your bike'. The kids didn't like it and I lost their attention. So I decided to show them the full on dismount. They watched and within minutes next thing I know every single kid has the dismount down like they've been doing it for years, and then they wanted to move onto something else, It had to have only been 4 minutes (I swear). I quickly show them the mount, they learn it instantly. Then before I know it, they're putting the mount and dismount together like it was no big deal. Such quick learners those little people are. Next up on the agenda, learning barriers. This proved difficult because the kids are quite small and their bikes are quite heavy. I didn't know such a small bike could weigh so much, did you? I haven't ever taught little people cyclocross, so I didn't know any secret ways to tell them how to pick up their bike. Every single kid fumbled with their bikes.
"this is too heavy"
"the pedal keeps hitting my leg and it hurts"
"I hate this"
"Can I do something else"
So I find a stick to act as a mock barrier and what do the kids do? They dismount their bikes and then drag it over the stick as they stomp on it. It was a losing battle and before I could blink the kids decided they where bored, thirsty, tired, and wanted a break. We finished out the day playing some more follow the leader and having the kids work on their barrier techniques.
The day started out with the same warm up loop as the first day, the kids really loved that loop. After the warm up, a quick drink of water we decided it would be fun to play a little "Cyclocross Simon Says". Simon said dismount, mount, dismount and run over a barrier, etc. You get the point. It was a total blast, the kids loved it…for about 10 minutes before it wasn't fun anymore. We took a little "simon says" intermission and decided to show the kids how to do a run up. Cornwall park has this perfect small side hill that the kids struggled riding up, and made a wonderful run up. Once the kids learned this new skill, we played one more round of "simon says" and included run ups, running in circles, some push ups, and a few squat jumps to had some variety (after all I am a personal trainer)!!!
Because the kids attention span is only so big, we decided to teach and work on starts! We taught the kids how to start, and then had them race each other to a cone. After they excelled at starts, we did starts into a barrier, and they loved this! Once again, because they're kids, they eventually got bored, and we wrapped up the day a little early.
The day all about games and working on handling and skills! We started off with the usual warm up loop, those kids where getting really good at that warm up loop, so we decided we needed to work on a little down hill cornering. At the park there is this pretty steep and fast gravel downhill, so we would force the kids to turn at the bottom to learn how to navigate the bottom of a decent, because after all, this is a camp all about skills!!! I only had a few mini heart attacks watching the kids FLY down the hill. After we where all primed and warmed up we taught the kids how to play my favorite game…"Foot Down"! I'm not sure how much they liked this game, we did have to explain the purpose to them. This game was tough because once you put a foot down, you're out of the game. I think it left some kids feeling left out, so we tried to make sure the kids who where out still had something to do, so we worked on barrier skills, run ups, etc. To continue on with the balancing skill we had a "slow race" for the kids. The goal of the game was to work on balance by finishing the race last. You have to keep moving forward and you can't put your foot down. We split the kids into two groups and the top two of each group then race each other in a third race, I offered the winner a box of Clif Bars, this REALLY motived the kids for the game.
After we had enough games, we decided we should teach the kids how to ride off cambers. We set up a couple of cones on the side hill, showed them how to go about navigating through the cones, and sent them on their way! This was by far the hardest thing for the kids to do, but they pushed through, and at the end of the day, they really improved their skills.
This was the day we put it all together in a mini mock race!! The kids wanted to play tag for a warm up, and of course the coaches had to be it. So we played a little freeze tag to get our blood flowing. After the coaches where tired out from freeze tag we did the usually warm up lap. Now the best part about this was seeing how much the kids REALLY improved their skills throughout the warm up. The lap consisted of lots of log barriers, ups and downs on a loose surface, and down hills into corners. These kids worked so hard and felt so much more comfortable by the end of the week. Once we got back from our warm up lap it was time to show the kids the race course!!!! We did a couple of laps on the race course and reviewed some sections that would be difficult for the kids. Then it was time for the kids to race race race!! I will be honest, I was thinking the kids wouldn't be very into the race, judging by their reaction to a lot of what we did that week, I thought they wouldn't put a lot of effort into the race, boy was I wrong!! These kids continued to put me in awe. They raced for 25 minutes, and every single kid was all in, 100%. Those kids where sweating more than they ever had in their lives, and I could hear them all breathing as they zoomed by me, but at the end of they day they all had smiles on their face, and THATS what it's about.
The best part of the week was watching the kids improve their skills from day 1 to day 4. As I have stated multiple times, I am in awe of how hard these kids worked, and how they improved so quickly! At the end of the day they kept talking about next year, and honestly, I CAN'T WAIT!!!! I have 1 year to make next year's camp even better! Thank you kids, for bringing so much joy to my week.