Ask Syd: Should MTB Coaches Have Race Experience?

Hi Syd,

First- thank you for writing some awesome content that I find really, truly valuable! I saw your post on MTB project’s blog and literally each point I was like, “yep” “amen, sista!” “hell yes!”

I love mountain biking and I love the community that comes with it. I’ve recently been doing some more coaching/teaching for beginners/intermediate riders – and I’m planning on becoming a certified coach (to legitimize myself).

What I’m struggling with is the fact that many of the amazing women coaches I’ve met are also racers or have raced. So I immediately start to feel like I’m not worthy of coaching – because I’m not shreddin’ it in a race setting. So I guess I’d love your input on this.

Also, I should mention I’m not opposed to racing. I’ve never tried. – If I had to pick a type of race, it’d probably be Enduro. My fears aren’t necessarily performance based… I’m not a super competitive person by nature and I fear being race-focused that I might start to enjoy mountain biking less.

So if you have any tips on why and when you should try/start racing – that’d also be much appreciated.

Thanks again,

Jess

Racing (and nearly hitting a tree) in Moab. Photo: Noah Wetzel

This question from Jess came at really good time, as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about WHY I race, and how important that really is to me. I figured I’d post my answer up as it might be helpful, interesting, or at least discussion-provoking. For the record, this is coming from my perspective as a racer, not a skills coach — so I’d be super interested in hearing from any coaches out there on whether or not you see racing (or having race experience) as essential to what you do.

Here’s my response:

Hey Jess,

Thanks for the message!

First off, I should just admit that I have a serious love/hate relationship with racing, which you probably know if you’ve read any of my blog posts. Racing has really, really pushed me as an athlete, especially in the mental arena — it’s also really broken me down and made me feel like shit about myself and made me not want to ride my bike. It’s hard to not seeing racing as a venue to “prove” yourself and I would caution you about going into racing with the idea of legitimizing yourself as a coach. This could be really frustrating — or who knows, maybe you’d do super well and it would be empowering. But it’s a risk. There are a lot of good riders out there who are, quite frankly, terrible racers (I know because I am one — I’m working on it, but still!), and not having race results doesn’t mean you can’t be an incredible coach. After all, if you’re coaching intermediate/beginner riders, most of them probably just want to feel more comfortable on the bike and be less scared and they really probably don’t need that much advice on racing.

All that said, I do think racing can be incredibly valuable and it WILL push your skill level and force you out of your comfort zone. Racing, especially enduro racing (okay, I’m biased), makes you a better all-round rider, because you’re forced to confront your weaknesses instead of just relying on your strengths. Like, if you don’t like riding in the mud, why go out on a slippery day unless you know that someday you might have to race in that and you better freaking prepare yourself? Some people have the intrinsic motivation to improve to a very high level just for the sake of improving, but in reality I think most of us will just avoid the stuff we don’t like unless we’re forced to confront it.

As for whether racing will make you enjoy mountain biking less, I think that depends a lot on how much importance you give racing (and results). For me, racing is rarely fun, and when I put too much pressure on myself to “just have fun” that is when I experience the most burnout because I’m like “omg why am I not having fun what’s wrong with me.” The more I see racing as a challenge, and something that will ultimately be very fulfilling if not exactly fun in the moment, the more I enjoy the experience as a whole, and the more I improve on the bike — which makes me love mountain biking more. That’s just what works for me, and maybe you will find racing itself fun, who knows. But if you don’t, you’re not weird or anything.

So in conclusion, I would say, yeah, you might as well try a race or two, because why not? Just go into with the mindset of “whatever I learn here will make me a better coach,” not “I have to get x result to be a good coach” because that is bound to fail, no matter how well you do. Even if you don’t get a good result or whatever, dealing with that disappointment or frustration will give you perspective to help your clients. And if you find out that you simply don’t WANT to race, that’s okay, too and probably a lot of people you will work with will feel that way too.

Of course, there will always be those people who only want to be coached by people with World Cup DH results or whatever, and frankly, those people are dumb, because just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they can teach someone else to go fast. I have seen this firsthand — lots of fast people have bugger all idea how they do it, and good coaches can’t always put into practice what they see, but they SEE it, and they can help their clients see it, and that is about 1000x more valuable than somebody going “I dunno just don’t use ya brakes and go fast brah.”

Hope that helps and sorry for rambling!

Cheers,
Syd

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Syd Schulz

Pro bike racer.

Writer.

Calculated risk-taker.

Anti cliché.

Pro burrito.

Bikes before likes.

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2 thoughts on “Ask Syd: Should MTB Coaches Have Race Experience?

  1. “when I put too much pressure on myself to ‘just have fun’ that is when I experience the most burnout because I’m like ‘omg why am I not having fun what’s wrong with me.'”

    I love this, because one of my pet peeves is to have casual acquaintances tell me to “just have fun” and “remember why you started riding in the first place”. Well, I started riding in the first place because I have an innate need to challenge myself athletically and running was destroying my body, and for fun I eat cheesecake, pet cats, and watch TV. I guess I have to focus on, “This thing I’m doing is making me better because X” rather than “This thing I’m doing is fun”, because frankly, sometimes it isn’t, and that’s okay.

    Regarding needing race experience to be a skills coach, I think what people look for in a coach is what they aspire to be themselves. There is definitely a market of beginner/intermediate ladies who just want to be better at bikes without necessarily having racing aspirations, so as long as a coach is good at demonstrating and communicating the skills they want to learn, racing credentials won’t matter that much.

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