Parents want their kids to be active. They want them to develop healthily. They want them to socialize and be safe at all times. Parents wish for their children to build confidence and achieve, but parents of cyclists and even parents who cycle themselves often find themselves confused in the face of a sport with a myriad of disciplines and a confusing spectrum of bicycle product. Cycling in South Africa is not the most structured and regulated sport. It is not completely unstructured, but fairly confusing at times. This Parent’s Guide to Cycling in South Africa will offer parents a framework to make better choices when choosing the correct bicycle, a program, a coach and to be prepared when they arrive at an event. This guide consists out of seven parts.
PART 1: Why cycling?
PART 2: So let’s play cycling - you are here!
PART 3: The battle of the disciplines
PART 4: Rather safe than sorry
PART 5: The bicycle, the set-up and important equipment
PART 6 A: Riding, training and competing – Primary School Children
PART 6 B: Riding, training and competing – High School Children
PART 7: Cycling in South Africa
So let’s play cycling
Cycling is a game; not just any game and not just a game, but still a game. We play the game because we enjoy it; some enjoy the competition and the glory, some the journey, the adventure and the friends and others the challenge and the accomplishment. To be able and afford to ride a bicycle for fun and fitness makes me one of a very small percentage of people on the planet. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be one of them.
The role of the parent
When our children are still young, age 2-14, the parent is standing in as training partner, coach, manager, mechanic, event organiser, doctor, sponsor, supporter and even psychologist. You will have to remember the child’s helmet, medication, fill the water bottle, pump the tyre and help to tuck away the shoelaces to prevent them from getting entangled in the gears. However, as they grow older it becomes a whole different story. Yes, you will still be useful to hurry back home to fetch the race number your child left at the breakfast table and not be upset about it to not upset your child on race day.
1) The Coach
Parents can be coaches, but this is easier said than done. First, to become a coach you will need to qualify yourself for the task. There are various bodies who train coaches in South Africa. The UCI (Union Cycliste International - the world body that regulates the sport) trains cycling coaches across all continents. Cycling South Africa (Cycling SA) trains cycling coaches nationally and SCSA (Schools Cycling South Africa) facilitates the training of school cycling coaches. Biokineticists are human-movement and training specialists – scientists with university degrees who understand the scientific framework to do research and develop training programs. Biokineticists could decide to become cycling specific coaches. Some medical doctors specialise in sport science and could become coaches too. To be a coach is not simply having the physiological, psychological, technical, tactical, nutritional and cycling know-how. A coach is more than that – the coach is in the first place a teacher, an instructor and a guide; the person who also understands how to convey the knowledge, the skills and implement a program. Coaches of children need to sort the information and plan the instruction to be age appropriate. Most cycling coaches train individuals. A school coach has the added challenge to work with groups and understand the group dynamics of children of different ages, genders and stages of development.
2) The Manager
The parent can be the child’s manager, but again, it is not straight forward. The manager is the person who oversees the rider or team's commitments, sponsorships and general operation. The official cycling bodies, the UCI, Cycling SA and Schools Cycling SA train managers; managers for various disciplines: for road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking & BMX. Sport managers can also receive sport management qualifications from tertiary institutions. As your child grows older, they prefer their parents to take a step backwards. It can get quite awkward when the parent tries to solve a rider dispute or present their child’s talent to a sponsor or lodge their child’s appeal to the race referee. Over time some responsibilities will shift onto the child’s own shoulders and some onto a qualified manager.
3) The Soigneur
Soigneur is the French word for a ‘care taker’. Soigneurs are the chameleons in professional cycling teams; they are the assistants responsible for feeding, clothing, massaging and transporting the riders. On amateur level the task of soigneur is for the most the work of the parent. You are the soigneur! A fancy French title we reserved just for you. It includes your job to wipe the tears and swipe the credit card at Spur after the race for a burger & chips. O, yes, did I forget to mention: you are the sponsor too!
4) The Mechanic
Visiting the bike shop. Upgrading the bike. Spending hours on YouTube watching bicycle channels, collecting ideas and catching tips. Washing the bikes after a ride, oiling them, fitting a speedometer, a new set of pedals, grips or tyres. I suggest that you collect as many bicycle tools as you can. These are the greatest moments for me as a parent. I encourage you to support the child who wants to work on his/her own bicycle. For some tasks you will need a specialist mechanic, but we all know that already.
Some must-have tools: Tyre levers, a foot pump, a pedal spanner, a set of Allen keys, patch & solution or a tubeless plug set and chain oil/lubrication - also called “chain lube”.
5) The Guardian
Your job as a parent is to keep your child safe... But safe from what?
This famous joke about learning to swim also applies to cycling: Don't go near the water until you've learned how to swim! Riding your bicycle is the only way to get better at riding a bicycle.
- It is a real challenge to find safe open spaces where little ones can enjoy their riding. They soon outgrow the driveway and courtyard and as they grow older we need to ensure that there is no bullying, no drugs and that the coaches and management staff are credible people. Some of the training areas for cycling, especially for mountainbiking, can be quite remote. Teach your child from day one to always cycle in groups or pairs - never alone and always be clear as to where they are at all times
- A child is a child and per definition cannot be held fully accountable for his/her decisions. They will make mistakes, they will lose their cool at some point, maybe even cry, transgress a rule or exaggerate an injury. There must always be safe space for kids to play and learn. Making mistakes is part of learning. Naming and shaming can never be part of youth sport. It is your responsibility to evaluate your child’s sports programme and ensure that the children enjoy the necessary protection and support
- Each cycling discipline has its own rules, regulations and etiquette. Regulations are there to make a sport fair and safe. Cycling is potentially dangerous and speeds are high. Know your rules and make sure you child knows the rules too. Generally kids feel empowered to know the regulations of their sport. Often, during training we need to share the trail with fellow riders, runners, hikers, horse riders, dogs, livestock and even wild animals. No personal goal should ever outweigh the respect for other people and animals. Teach your child to always wear a helmet and to ride in a predictable fashion. Being out there on the bicycle with your child is the best opportunity to instruct your child to be safe
- Sport events in South Africa are regulated by sport bodies and government event acts. Although cycling is considered a potentially dangerous sport and it holds the rider accountable for his/her choices, there are basics that need to be in place: there must be an on-site ambulance and adequate, properly trained, medical staff at any cycling competition. In mountain biking the particularly dangerous and technical areas should be marked properly; like bridges, overhead dangers and steep drops. All road intersections and pedestrian crossings should be marshalled at all times
- There are a myriad of nutritional supplements and “meal replacement” out there on the market. Children are in their growth and development phases and cannot consume all the nutritional product designed for sporting adults. Many of us are not equipped to read and understand medical journals and generally gets confused between scientific findings and popular claims. Better to consult your medical doctor before your allow your child to take any of these specialized nutritional supplements and meal replacements.
- Safe bicycle equipment is your responsibility. In Part 4 of the Parent’s Guide to Cycling we will cover the pre-ride bicycle safety check.
- Ensure that your child understands the traffic rules. Never assume that your child, who has no drivers licence, understands even the basic of rules. Teach your child to never try to solve a traffic dispute by swearing at motorists and other road users and never to resort to violence and you should be the good example yourself.
- As guardians we need to protect our children from burnout and harmful training regimes. We as parents need to educate ourselves about the principles underlying the development of young cyclists. Part 6 of this Parents Guide will give you a solid framework
- Parents should recognise the symptoms of over-training and understand the importance of recovery
- We need to understand what it means to say that cycling is a late development sport
- We need to understand the value of early childhood skill development
- We need to understand the developmental phases of a child and the windows of opportunity we have during each phase. In an era where we are bombarded on YouTube with child prodigies or Wunderkinds, we are often tempted to get our children to specialize and excel at a too early age
9. Lastly, the bicycle industry is a billion dollar industry. If your child is any good at cycling, there is a chance that business will offer their financial help, but there is nothing for nothing. Tying your child down to appear and perform on demand is a potentially dangerous situation. Kids have academicals, social and family commitments and even other sport commitments! A child must always be free to choose what they want to do. You as the guardian needs to protect your child against any commercial exploitation
6) The Supporter
It seems redundant to mention that the parent should be the child’s number one supporter, but quite often parents confuse supporting with coaching.
- We need to be critical of our comments and criticism from the side of the track.
- To add pressure on your child is not a desired form of support. Often parents like to publish photos on social media of their children on podiums with medals and trophies, congratulating them on their efforts. We must never set our children up to disappoint. Sometimes your personal congratulations is enough support. Let the general media take its course. Just now you will feel compelled to offer all kind of excuses next to the field when your child does not live up to the standards you have set them up to. Our children do not need our excuses. Parents should also never get involved in arguments with other riders or parents
- When our attention only revolves around our child and his/her performance, we tend to kill the spirit of the sport. The rule is always: do something for the team or the sports-program in order to do something for your child. Children need to feel that they are achieving. An overly expensive bicycle from the parent could steal the child’s initiative to better his/her own performance and could load an unfair expectation onto the child
7) The Parent
Besides all the specialised roles, you are still the parent. You need to keep your child’s head level, his/her feet on the ground. Teach them the value of being humble: of being appreciative, to give recognition, to share and be helpful. Parents should also encourage their children to look after their equipment and spend less time comparing their equipment and achievements to others’. As the saying goes: Comparison is the thief of joy.
A personal perception:
Over the years I’ve attended a number of business talks comparing sport to business. There are indeed many life lessons our children can learn by participating and competing in sport, because there is a strong correlation between the commitment, the perseverance, the overcoming of set-backs, the need for strategy planning, teamwork and many more corresponding aspects. There is however one key difference between sport and business: sport is a game in which we choose to present winners, in fact, we present you only one winner at a time. What is more; we not only present you the winner of the clan, or the dorpie, or the district, or the province, or the country, or the continent; we present you the winner of the planet! What was inconceivable and abstract 150 years ago is now the norm in most sports. Sometimes I must admit that the evolution of the human psyche did not keep up with this speedy development and too often we end up with sport stars who are detached from reality and incapable of normal human interaction.
To present this one winner also implies that there were a horde or losers. This is only true, because it is just a game and each one can choose how they want to deal with their losing. However, in business it does not work like this. Maybe there is a winner after the job interview, but in business we tend to set our own rules; there are many winners spread over a thousand “categories” measured and defined by the players. I’ve sat in many “the-best” Italian restaurants and can truly say each one was special, or should I say, “The best”. It is true, some companies are focused on their annual industry’s awards ceremonies sponsored by some other “independent” presenting company with apparently no interests in the industry. And although some choose to measure the success of business in total money accumulated or the size of their brand’s footprint, the-best Italian restaurant has no interest in being the largest restaurant group in the world, in fact, it would be the antithesis of what they wish for.
If we truly believe that winning and the road to winning are these all-important life lessons, we are mistaken. I have seen many successful sportsmen and women struggling in business, despite the head start they have enjoyed. I have also met as many who have experienced success in business. We should be careful to place too much emphasis on the so-called culture of winning when our understanding of winning is as limited as it is in sport.