For years there has been many discussions around what age a rider should start following a specific training plan and dedicate their life to BMX. Every rider is different, but fundamentally they all should want to line up on the gate for the same reason.

WORDS: Luke Madill – BMXA National Coaching Manager

IMAGE: Craig Dutton Photography

When we are looking for riders with future potential, we often immediately disregard those who have not achieved a perceived benchmark result by a certain age. Too often, we ignore where a rider is at physically and mentally.

This all leads to one important question: When does a rider reach their full potential?

I’ve heard about riders under 10-years-old with personal trainers, structured programs and being told when and how long they will be training for each week. I’ve witnessed coaches being ‘hard’ by applying strong discipline to commitment in training. These things make me think about whether or not we are going about this the right way if we want to promote longevity of riders in our sport.

We celebrate so many multiple national and world champions in the younger age classes, we always have done and so we should. It’s an outstanding achievement to score those results.

Unfortunately, it is more the rarity rather than the norm that I don’t always see these riders earning the same results when they transition to the elite classes. Even worse, by that time we also lose some of these budding talents to the sport altogether.

So, I took some time to look over the elite riders’ results after this year’s world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan and also took into consideration the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup rankings thus far.

I also had a look at the riders who have filled out the worlds podium for the past four years. What I found was that the average age of riders making finals in elite men’s racing is 25 and 23 for women.

Now what I urge you to think about, is how long a rider possibly needs to stay in the sport to actually reach their peak?

I then want you to think back to the kids that have already had a structured training program since they were 10-years-old. Those riders still have roughly 13 – 15 years to reach their potential.

That’s more than double their current lifetime. It’s an enormous commitment to make and is an extremely long time to be focussed and dedicated to one goal.

Is there an absolute answer to what you as a parent or coach should do to ensure longevity? The truth is that I don’t have one. I have a strong understanding of the sport from being a rider and now a coach. From that experience, more often than not, the ones that drop out are those that have pressure on them to perform as a child.

We all want the best for our riders and it’s normal for parents to believe their kids are the best – you’re their number one supporter and I would never advocate for anything less than that.

However, where I see things going wrong is when a rider needs to be pushed to stay in the sport and when they need to be pushed to achieve the standard set by a parent or coach. If I rider has to be pushed to attend training due to a lack of interest, they will eventually lose interest in riding.

If a coach has to constantly plead with a rider to try harder, chances are that rider just doesn’t want to do the sport at that level.

Not wanting to do the sport at a certain level is more than ok. This is a key point in this discussion. Riders should enjoy BMX for what they are gaining from it. If they ask for more help, then that is when we get our cue to support and help them attain their full potential.

I am not saying that anyone is doing the wrong thing by having a rider pushed at a younger age. For some it’s managed well, a balance between enjoyment and performance is found and longevity in sport is achieved.

Make the priority around keeping the sport fun at the younger ages and then when the riders look like they are committed to having a big future, think about investing more time into the sport.

In summary, does your young rider need a handful of coaches, a training schedule that reads like it was prepared by NASA, and rules and regulations around how they ride their bike? Probably not.

Your rider needs a coach who can educate and guide them and their families. That kind of support will offer them a better understanding of development within the sport and prioritises your rider’s enjoyment above the last result they achieved.

I can tell you now, our elite riders do this because they love it, not because someone said they had to. It’s a long road to your mid-twenties and the road should be enjoyable, not punishing.