The BMXA Media Team sat down with the National Coaching Manager and the newest member of the BMXA Technical Committee, Luke Madill, to discuss some of the changes made to the 2019 BMX Australia Rulebook.
COVER PIC: National Coaching Manager, Luke Madill running a coaching clinic at the Cross Keys BMX Club. (Pic courtesy of GetSnapt)
BMXA Media: Why is it important to continually update the rule book?
Luke Madill: As the sport develops, the rules need to develop with it. We also need to work with the UCI rule changes to ensure that our riders will not be at a disadvantage from the rest of the world.
BMXA Media: Which of the new amendments for 2019 do you think will create the most discussion amongst our BMX family?
Luke Madill: We have already seen a lot of debate about the clips for 12 and under classes. I think the age restrictions changing for superclass will also be a hot topic.
BMXA Media: What’s your view on the clip rule?
Luke Madill: I believe it’s the right move. I have witnessed the challenges of riders trying to learn the skills of BMX and the belief that the clip pedal was the answer to improved skills and greater results in racing.
Unfortunately, like most things in life now, it’s a quick fix in speeding up the process and makes riders feel stronger but teaches bad habits along the way.
I am witnessing that a rider’s race results come before their development and ability on the bike. This is then a big hurdle to overcome at a later stage when the sport requires those high-end skills.
BMXA Media: What about the rule to restrict the superclass events to riders 15 and over next year and 16 and over in 2020?
Luke Madill: Again, I only see this as a positive for our riders’ future and longevity in the sport. I understand this may feel like a step backward for those riders at the top of their age, but this is about keeping riders engaged in the sport as long as possible.
As much as everyone thinks this rule change will stop the development of those 14/15-year-old riders, it won’t. What it will stop is the fallout of riders feeling pressured to ride superclass and the disappointment of not making an impact in that class at 14/15.
BMXA Media: What has changed for riders in the late 2010’s compared to ten years ago and when you were in your early teens?
Luke Madill: I look back and a few key changes come to mind. Clips in the mid 90’s, Olympics and SX hills, qualification to world championships for junior and elite riders, plus social media. Not to mention the age a rider can ride as a “Pro”.
Most of these changes can and should be looked at as positives in the development of the sport, but sometimes we forget the damage that can come with the above changes if we don’t broaden our vision and see the warning signs.
What I didn’t see growing up was the rapid rate in which riders were dropping out of the sport at such young ages. Riders retiring at 16/17 years old, when these are the years they grew up waiting for. Riders developing anxiety, depression and sadly even taking their own lives.
This can all develop from the pressure a rider puts on themselves to develop too early.
The push for early development can come from parents, coaches, social media, sponsors, teams or the riders themselves needs to be analysed closely for the welfare of our riders.
This isn’t only from what I’m witnessing. Speaking with other coaches and sitting in on lectures over the past two years are proving this to be a common occurrence in all sports around the world.
BMXA Media: You are seen as a riders’ advocate, but this might be seen as something against the interest of rider development?
Luke Madill: Yes, I understand that, and I realise that people may say that because I have had my time, that I am only thinking about myself. I work with riders of all ages and traveling to the national series this past year, I can see the development in our country is becoming younger every year.
Unfortunately, the stats are showing that early development of riders leads to an early drop out.
I truly believe that if we can take the pressure off these kids and let them enjoy the sport without the worry of what result they may or may not receive, we will see an even greater development and longevity of riders in this sport. If that’s seen as a negative, then I am happy to take the hits.
BMXA Media: So, from your answers it seems like you are a strong advocate for riders staying in the sport longer so that they can find and reach their peak. Is that something you have a gut feel for, or do you have data supporting this?
Luke Madill: Yes, there’s statistics to support this and the reasons for this have been noted in the past years of rider development.
When you ask a rider now what their goal is, 90% of the time, the answer is to race at the Olympics.
This is great, and I would never discourage someone from that. Realistically, only a couple of riders in each generation have the chance to race for Australia at the Olympics.
Please don’t think I am trying to put a negative perspective on the Olympics, but we need to understand the pressure that comes with this and decide, does BMXA build our sport to focus purely on those few riders that go all the way, or do we cater to the larger pool of riders in the BMXA family.
We have seen in the last five years the average age of riders making the final at a world championships for elite men has increased to 25 and 23 for women.
When we look at our national championships, the average age of riders in the top 8 was 21 for men and 20 for women, while in the superclass event of the national series, the average age for men was just 16.
Where were all of our older riders?
This all shows us that we have a large drop out in development of riders above the age of 21, when that is potentially their strongest years. It also tells us that they are skipping their development and the superclass and are heading straight to the UCI rounds as that is the path to the Olympics.
As I have mentioned in other stories in The Dirt, even at 14/15, your son or daughter still has 10 years in the sport before they reach their peak.
I also see riders in superclass that still haven’t developed all their skills.
Should a 14 or 15-year old male or female rider be racing at the highest level we have and struggle to jump, manual, gate start or race on an 8m hill when they can’t jump the first jump?
Or should they be in their age group developing these skills and building their confidence without the pressure of proving themselves in Superclass?
When I look internationally, America and Europe are always known for having strong development. Europe runs junior/elite and America only allow riders 17+ in their pro classes.
You may argue that they have a higher and stronger rider count, yet they still have the same issue of the same riders winning those age groups.
If our riders all stayed in their 14 and 15 age class, those classes still have a strong field that means that it isn’t a walk in the park to get to the podium.
At the world championships, our challenge class riders’ results are still strong. We get so excited to announce our new world champions or finalists in the challenge classes, but unfortunately, we aren’t seeing that flow into our elite classes.
Another interesting statistic I came across was in the history of Australian BMX racing, we have only had one rider win a world title in a 20” challenge class (16 and under) then go on to win a world championships in elite.
This was Rachel Marshall.
Riders like Sam Willoughby, Anthony Dean and Caroline Buchanan were strong riders growing up, but it wasn’t until they were 16+ they began to dominate the world.
In between, there have been plenty of Australian riders get onto the podium at world championship level as a teen or even pre-teen before dropping out of the sport ahead of their physical and emotional peak.
So, I guess it’s hard to ignore the fact that the majority of riders who developed into a world class elite rider did so in the later part of their careers.
Again, I am not trying to scare you. We just need to be aware of our riders and our own intentions and how its effecting their development.
And watch the video below.
BMXA Media: How can we continue to develop our young riders without the pressures of racing as a ‘Pro’ in those critical mid-teen years?
Luke Madill: By no means do we want to stunt the development of those who might be deemed capable of riding the pro straight or down an 8-metre hill. We are currently working through plans to ensure those riders who have that ability can continue to train in that way with the proper supervision from qualified coaches.
BMXA Media: Finally, you have recently been appointed to the BMXA Technical Committee for 2019. What do you hope to contribute to the committee and in turn the future of Australian BMX?
Luke Madill: Hopefully a clearer view from a rider’s perspective with regards to the way rules and races can be applied. I have been able to gather a greater understanding of what happens behind the scenes throughout this year’s national series.
Conversations I have had with Paul Connors and Chris Houghton have provided me with more clarity on why things are being run a certain way and why they can’t be run the way myself or the riders think (this doesn’t stop me from arguing my point haha). I do believe it’s a good relationship that will hopefully benefit the sport and our riders in the future.
To read a summary of the 2019 BMX Australia Rulebook changes – CLICK HERE
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