The Complete Guide to Preparing Kids for Mountain Biking Races in New Zealand: Tips from Coach Alistair.

kids enjoying mountain biking

Grab a coffee and have a read through Coach Alistair’s morning chat about all things race preparation:

Under the expert guidance of Coach Alistair, 50+ Nelson kids, all aspiring champions, face the task of mastering fast, dry, and dusty terrains, all while honing their skills in cross-country, enduro, and downhill mountain biking disciplines in preparation for the 2024 South Island Secondary Schools Championships in New Zealand. This article delves into the heart of youth mountain biking training, offering an insider’s look at specialized drills, mental preparation strategies, and the critical importance of equipment checks, tailored specifically for the dynamic world of mountain biking national championships preparation. Join us as we explore Coach Alistair’s morning chat with ChatGPT, unveiling a comprehensive blueprint designed to equip young athletes with the tools they need to navigate the thrilling path to mountain biking excellence.


Unlocking Youth Mountain Biking Potential: A Comprehensive Coaching Guide

By Coach Alistair and ChatGPT

“I have a group of 50 or 60 young mountain bikers aged from 11 to 16 who I coach in mountain biking, and they are preparing for the National Secondary Schools Championship of Mountain Biking here in New Zealand. I have three weeks to get them ready for the races, which will be held on ski-field style bike tracks, which are quite dry and dusty and very fast. I was wondering if you could make some suggestions as to some particular drills that we could do to help prepare them for the races there. They will be racing cross-country, enduro, and downhill mountain biking.”

You can read more about Gravity Nelson’s After School MTB coaching program HERE:

Teenage Mountain Bikers Getting Ready for the Race of their Life

Preparing for Mountain Bike National Championships

Absolutely, preparing your team for the National Championship is an exciting challenge! Given the conditions and the variety of races, you’ll want to focus on drills that enhance their technical skills, endurance, and adaptability to fast, dry, and dusty conditions. Here are some suggestions:

1. **Technical Skill Drills:** Focus on improving bike handling, cornering, and navigating technical sections. Set up a course that mimics the technical features of the ski-field style tracks, such as tight turns, switchbacks, and rocky sections. Use cones or natural obstacles to create a slalom course that encourages riders to improve their bike handling and cornering skills at speed.

2. **Endurance Training:** Incorporate interval training and long-distance rides into your training schedule. Interval training can help improve their cardiovascular fitness, while long rides will build endurance. Include climbs that are similar in steepness and length to those they’ll face in the cross-country and enduro races.

3. **Downhill Focus:** For the downhill portion, practice on steep descents with loose, dusty surfaces to get them accustomed to the ski-field conditions. Focus on drills that improve their ability to choose lines, manage speed, and maintain control on fast descents. Incorporate sessions that teach them how to use their body weight to manage the bike on steep, technical descents.

4. **Starts and Sprinting:** Practice race starts and short, high-intensity sprints. Being able to start strong and sprint effectively can make a significant difference in race positions, especially in cross-country.

5. **Mental Preparation:** Mountain biking is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Work on building their confidence in handling difficult sections of the track. Visualization techniques, where they imagine riding and successfully navigating the course, can also be helpful.

6. **Equipment Checks:** Ensure all riders are familiar with basic bike maintenance and checks. This includes tire pressure suited for dry and dusty conditions, brake checks, and gear adjustments. A well-maintained bike can be a significant advantage in a race.

Remember, while drills and physical preparation are crucial, make sure to keep the sessions fun and engaging. Building a strong team spirit and keeping motivation high will be key to their success at the championships. Good luck with your training, and I hope your team does fantastically at the nationals!

Young mountain bikers warming up before a ride or race to ensure optimal performance


Warm Up Drills Before Race Runs.

“Thank you ChatGPT, that was excellent. I was wondering if you could also recommend a warm-up drill for one each for before the enduro race and before the DH race.”


Got it! For the enduro races, where riders need to maintain endurance and technical skill across multiple stages, a dynamic warm-up that focuses on both cardiovascular readiness and bike handling skills would be beneficial. Here’s a suggested warm-up routine:

**Enduro Race Warm-up:**
1. **Dynamic Stretching:** Perform dynamic stretches to loosen up muscles and increase range of motion. Include leg swings, arm circles, and lunges to target major muscle groups used in mountain biking.
2. **Cardiovascular Warm-up:** Start with a light jog or easy bike ride to increase heart rate and warm up the body. Gradually increase the intensity to mimic the effort level of the race.
3. **Technical Skill Practice:** Set up a mini skills course with tight turns, rock gardens, and small drops. Have riders navigate the course at a moderate pace, focusing on smooth transitions and efficient line choices.

For the downhill mountain bike races, where riders need explosive power and precise control at high speeds, a warm-up routine that primes the body for intense bursts of effort and sharp handling would be ideal. Here’s a suggested warm-up routine:

**Downhill Race Warm-up:**
1. **Dynamic Warm-up:** Begin with dynamic movements like leg swings, arm circles, and high knees to increase blood flow and loosen up muscles.
2. **Sprint Intervals:** Perform short, high-intensity sprints lasting 15-20 seconds, followed by a brief rest period. This will help activate fast-twitch muscle fibers and prepare riders for the explosive power needed in downhill racing.
3. **Technical Skill Focus:** Set up a section of the course or a skills area with features similar to those found on the race track, such as berms, jumps, and drop-offs. Have riders practice specific skills like cornering at speed, manualing over obstacles, and landing jumps smoothly.

Both warm-up routines should be tailored to the individual needs and preferences of the riders, taking into account their fitness levels, experience, and any specific areas of focus or concern. It’s important to strike a balance between warming up sufficiently and conserving energy for the race itself. Encourage riders to listen to their bodies and adjust the intensity of the warm-up as needed.
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Visualisation before race runs is a key strategy for improving performance


Visualization Drills Before Race Runs

“That’s great. Can you recommend any particular visualization drills to do for the race run?”

Certainly! Visualization drills can be incredibly helpful for mentally preparing riders for their race run. Here are some specific visualization exercises tailored for both enduro and downhill races:

**Enduro Race Visualization:**
1. **Course Visualization:** Have riders close their eyes and mentally walk through each stage of the race course. Encourage them to imagine themselves confidently navigating technical sections, maintaining speed through climbs, and smoothly transitioning between stages.
2. **Strategy Visualization:** Ask riders to visualize different race scenarios, such as encountering challenging terrain or making strategic decisions about pacing and line choice. Encourage them to imagine themselves overcoming obstacles with ease and adapting to changing conditions.
3. **Emotional Control:** Guide riders to visualize themselves staying calm and focused, even in high-pressure situations. Encourage them to imagine using deep breathing techniques to stay relaxed and positive throughout the race.

**Downhill Race Visualization:**
1. **Visualizing the Line:** Have riders mentally visualize themselves riding the race course, focusing on the optimal line choice through each section. Encourage them to imagine feeling confident and in control as they navigate technical features like berms, jumps, and drop-offs.
2. **Positive Affirmations:** Encourage riders to use positive self-talk during visualization, repeating phrases like “I am fast and in control,” “I can handle any obstacle that comes my way,” and “I trust my skills and instincts.”
3. **Focus and Concentration:** Guide riders to visualize themselves staying fully present and focused during their race run, blocking out distractions and maintaining a laser-like focus on the task at hand.

Encourage riders to incorporate visualization into their pre-race routine, ideally in the hours leading up to their race run. Remind them that visualization is a skill that improves with practice, so they should be patient and consistent in their efforts. By mentally rehearsing their race runs, riders can build confidence, reduce anxiety, and enhance their overall performance on race day.

It is natural to feel nervous before a race run: Learn how to overcome this.


Reducing Start Gate Nervousness

“At the start gate, before they begin their race run, what would you suggest they do to reduce their nervousness in the time before the race?”

To reduce nervousness at the start gate before their race run, it’s essential for riders to focus on calming their mind and body. Here are some strategies they can use:

1. **Deep Breathing:** Encourage riders to take slow, deep breaths to activate the body’s relaxation response. Inhale deeply through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through the mouth. Repeat this several times to help calm nerves and reduce anxiety.

2. **Positive Self-Talk:** Have riders use positive affirmations to boost their confidence and shift their mindset to one of self-assurance. Encourage them to repeat phrases like “I am prepared and capable,” “I trust my training and skills,” and “I am ready to tackle this challenge.”

3. **Focus on the Present:** Remind riders to stay present-focused and avoid dwelling on potential outcomes or worries about the race. Encourage them to focus their attention on the task at hand, such as visualizing their race plan or mentally rehearsing the first few sections of the course.

4. **Physical Relaxation Techniques:** Encourage riders to release tension in their muscles by doing gentle stretches or shaking out their arms and legs. This can help alleviate physical symptoms of nervousness and promote a sense of relaxation and readiness.

5. **Visualization:** Encourage riders to visualize themselves executing their race run with confidence and precision. Have them mentally rehearse the start of the race, imagining themselves pushing off the start gate smoothly and flowing down the course with ease.

6. **Rituals and Routine:** Establishing a pre-race routine or ritual can help riders feel grounded and focused at the start gate. Whether it’s listening to a favorite song, doing a specific warm-up routine, or having a brief chat with their coach or teammates, having familiar rituals can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity in the moments before the race begins.

By incorporating these strategies into their pre-race routine, riders can help manage their nervousness and perform at their best when it’s time to start their race run.


What makes a particular community of mountain bike racers so fast?


What Makes The Frenchies So Fast?

“That’s great. Now I have a higher level question. The question is, why are French mountain bikers, in particular, so successful at international downhill and enduro mountain bike races?”
French mountain bikers have achieved remarkable success in international downhill and enduro mountain bike races for several reasons:

1. **Strong Mountain Biking Culture:** France has a rich tradition of mountain biking, with a strong culture that celebrates outdoor sports and adventure. Many French riders grow up in mountainous regions with access to diverse terrain, allowing them to develop their skills from a young age.

2. **Technical Terrain:** The challenging and varied terrain found in France, including steep descents, rocky trails, and technical features, provides an ideal training ground for downhill and enduro riders. French riders are accustomed to riding in demanding conditions, which helps them develop the technical skills needed to excel in international competitions.

3. **Supportive Infrastructure:** France boasts a well-developed network of mountain bike trails, bike parks, and training facilities, supported by local governments, cycling organizations, and passionate communities. This infrastructure provides riders with opportunities for regular training, competition, and skill development.

4. **Coaching and Development Programs:** France has established coaching and development programs that identify and nurture talented young riders. These programs provide aspiring riders with access to expert coaching, training camps, and resources to help them reach their full potential.

5. **Team Unity and Camaraderie:** French riders often compete as part of national teams or sponsored teams, fostering a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. This support network allows riders to share knowledge, experiences, and strategies, contributing to their collective success on the international stage.

6. **Mental Toughness and Determination:** French riders are known for their mental toughness, determination, and competitive spirit. They approach races with confidence and resilience, able to overcome challenges and setbacks with a positive mindset.

7. **Investment in Technology and Equipment:** French riders benefit from access to cutting-edge technology and equipment, including high-performance bikes, protective gear, and bike components. This technological advantage allows them to ride faster, safer, and more efficiently on challenging courses.

Overall, the combination of a strong mountain biking culture, technical terrain, supportive infrastructure, coaching programs, team unity, mental toughness, and access to advanced technology contributes to the success of French mountain bikers in international downhill and enduro races.

The Gravity Nelson After School Mountain Bike Coaching program

Reviewing through Chatgpts answer to Alistair’s questions here it is exciting to see that the Gravity Nelson Youth Mountain Biking program already covers the majority of these points.    The kids in the program will be able to attest to the number of lessons we have had in Term One 2024 already, and in previous years that cover off all of the points above.

The proof is in the pudding, we have already seen huge success for the kids in the development program with multiple podiums at the recent 2024 Tasman Secondary Schools champs, the Cable Bay Enduro Jr and Adult races, as well as the fun Nelson Summer Series.  These races and the lessons in the After school program will all help to build the kids towards  the upcoming South Island Secondary Schools championships in March 2024, as well as towards the National  Mountain Bike Secondary Schools champs in October 2024 in Christchurch.

Winning races

Podiums for the kids who participate in the Gravity Nelson after school mountain bike coaching program.

The 2024 Cable Bay Enduro Jr podium for girls

Podiums for the kids who participate in the Gravity Nelson after school mountain bike coaching program.

FAQ: Professional After-School MTB Coaching Program

Q1: What advantages does a professional after-school MTB coaching program offer for young racers? A1: Our professional program provides structured training, focusing on technical skills, race strategy, and mental preparation. Coached by experienced riders like Coach Alistair, participants gain access to specialized drills, equipment advice, and personalized feedback that significantly enhance their racing capabilities at a national level.

Q2: How does the coaching program prepare kids for the diverse conditions of national MTB races? A2: We tailor our training to mimic the conditions young racers will face at events like the South Island Secondary Schools Championships. This includes mastering various terrains such as fast, dry, and dusty tracks, and improving techniques for cross-country, enduro, and downhill disciplines, ensuring they’re well-prepared for any challenge.

Q3: Can beginners join the after-school MTB coaching program, or is it only for experienced riders? A3: Our program welcomes young riders of all skill levels, from beginners to experienced racers. We assess each participant’s ability to provide appropriate training that challenges them while fostering growth and confidence on the bike.

Q4: What specific skills do participants learn in the coaching program? A4: Participants learn a wide range of skills, including bike handling, cornering, navigating technical sections, endurance building, downhill racing techniques, starting and sprinting strategies, and essential bike maintenance. These skills are crucial for success in national-level competitions.

Q5: How does the program incorporate mental preparation for races? A5: Mental toughness is key to racing success. Our program includes visualization drills, positive self-talk strategies, and focus techniques to help young riders overcome nerves, build confidence, and enhance their performance under race conditions.

Q6: Are there any opportunities for real-world race experience within the coaching program? A6: Yes, we provide opportunities for participants to apply their skills in simulated race conditions and local competitions. This real-world experience is invaluable for understanding race dynamics, managing adrenaline, and implementing strategy effectively.

Q7: What makes your coaching staff uniquely qualified to train young mountain bikers for national competitions? A7: Our coaching team, led by Coach Alistair, brings years of competitive mountain biking experience and a passion for teaching. With a track record of guiding young riders to success at national competitions, our coaches offer expert insights, personalized training plans, and a supportive learning environment.

Q8: How can I enroll my child in the after-school MTB coaching program, and what are the requirements? A8: Enrollment is simple. Contact us directly via email or phone to discuss your child’s biking experience and goals. We’ll provide all the details on program requirements, scheduling, and how to get started on their path to mountain biking excellence at the national level.