USA Cycling Coaching Summit

From Lucas Wall...

It's always fun to visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs with its beautiful Pikes Peak backdrop. After 15 years I made a trip back October 13-17 for the USA Cycling Coaching Summit. Lots has changed since I was there as a junior rider. It was great to see a number of new facilities on the campus, but apparently my tolerance for dorm beds has decreased since my last visit. That didn't take away from five excellent days focused on coaching.

The Coaching Summit included presenters and attendees from around the US and a few foreign countries. Some familiar names from popular cycling literature included Dr. Andy Coggan and Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach. A number of the other presenters shared research and experience from their work with elite athletes, Olympians, ProTour teams, and developing young athletes in cycling, triathlon, and running.

A few of the themes that came up repeatedly by different presenters included:

  • Train smarter, not longer
  • It takes years to reach the elite level (about 7+ in men, and about 4+ in women)
  • Track riding = get faster; regular speed work is important to peak performance
  • Riders need to learn to ride by feel -- not just a HR or power
  • In women, the menstrual cycle hormonal changes need to be considered for optimal performance
  • Sleep is a very important part of recovery, and thus training

The first presenter, Istvan Balyi, specializes in long-term athlete development and shared his ideas about the steps involved in growing a sport and the athletes who participate. It's a common sense model that starts with kids having fun in the sport, learning basic skills, and progressing to learning how to train, training to compete, and training to win, all the while helping people stay active and healthy for a lifetime. While it sounds like a simple progression, it's hard to make happen. For example, when one 14-year-old is 6' tall and another is 5' tall, they are clearly developing at different rates and programs should accommodate for this so kids stay involved. After all, two-thirds of elite athletes are late developers.

The crew at the Velodrome at Bloomer Park seem to be on track with their programs related to this model as their programs develop beginner through elite athletes. Michigan Youth Cycling, the efforts of the Cheryl Olson and others in the state to enhance the racing program for women, and the junior riders who have attended regional and national camps the last couple of years (Hana Berkooz, James Anderson, Alexey Vermeulen, Tony Wieczorek, and Noah Veltkamp) are just a few examples of things going right with rider development in Michigan related to the long-term athlete development.

A few of the other presentations with immediately applicable practices included Dr. Stacy Sims' tips for managing and adapting to exercise in the heat. Some ideas were old, others new, and couple controversial, but overall really got people thinking about how to manage your body temperature in a hot climate. And even how these adaptations might enhance performance at altitude.

Dr. Randy Wilber provided a good overview of the effects, adjustments, and approaches of living and training at different altitudes (i.e. sea level vs. 5000+ feet). Dr. Andy Coggan talked about aerodynamic testing with a power meter. Let's just say you can be very accurate if you're obsessive-compulsive (he described himself that way, then provided it to be true).

Some other presentations included case studies in coaching, properly identifying and managing an athlete with a concussion, communication styles, business opportunities, Paralympic cycling, and an introduction to the USA Cycling sprint track program by the program's new director, Jamie Staff (2008 Olympic Gold medalist from the UK).

The Coaching Summit ended with one of my favorite presentations which was about using technology with runners. I'm not saying that because one of my professors, Dr. Steve McGregor, gave the presentation, but because the approach he shared applied the Performance Managment Chart data (used in WKO+ software and covered in "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" by Allen & Coggan) to running, and it actually peaked my interest in working with runners. That's saying a lot because while I have run a fair amount in the past, I really prefer to watch others run now.

Overall, it was a great event that I highly recommend for other coaches to attend in the future. It's only held every two years, so look for it in 2012. You can look forward to hearing about new research and approaches to improving performance, meet a lot of other like-minded cycling coaches, and see the Olympic Training Center.