The OCA MTB High Performance Program recently concluded its inaugural year and while the program wasn’t run as planned, it provided valuable development opportunities for athletes and coaches. The program also provided a number of lessons learned to build and grow athlete programming moving forward.
Launched in November 2019, the OCA MTB High Performance Program worked with a core group of eight athletes [U17/U19] as well as several guest U23 athletes. Athletes were selected based on a combination of performance results and an athlete assessment day utilizing on and off-bike testing protocols administered by the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.
The program was coordinated by Provincial Coach, Rob Holmgren, and Peter Glassford and was created to provide enhanced training opportunities to athletes’ club and personal coach training. The program included technical skills camps, an endurance camp in Girona, Spain, on-going strength and conditioning programming/monitoring by a CSIO Strength Coach, and individual nutrition assessments and consultations from a CSIO Sport Nutritionist. Additional competition exposure and on-trail training camps were also scheduled but following the pandemic shut down, a number of initiatives had to be cancelled or modified. However, despite these challenges, the program was able to achieve many of its key objectives not only through MTB development but also through life skills education and off-bike training.
“In addition to working on cycling skills, the athletes learned about travelling. They learned about packing their bags, meal planning, shopping, preparing for their flights…It was also a chance for them to learn about living with others so things like not slamming your door, being light on your feet, cleaning up after yourself and respecting everyone else’s space and time.” – Rob Holmgren
(For more details on the Spain camp CLICK HERE)
Following the February endurance camp in Girona, Spain, the group was scheduled to do some on-trail training leading into the Canada Cup at Bear Mountain, in Victoria, B.C. This was the first opportunity to get an assessment of athlete in-competition improvement but unfortunately, as with most cycling in 2020, was derailed due to the pandemic. With a complete shut down and everyone at home, the program changed to online delivery. The Strength Coach worked with athletes to build programming based on athlete access to equipment, group-based online nutrition workshops were hosted, including a 3-part cooking series, and yoga session.
“The biggest adaptation we had to make,” Rob said about the challenges they face, “was to keep the athletes engaged in just training. It was hard to set goals of improving performance without any racing as feedback…With younger athletes it’s hard to realize you’re improving without the racing results.”
Not being able to train as a group made it more difficult to push athletes but he credited using Strava as a way for athletes to challenge each other for King of the Mountain or Queen of the Mountain status [best times on a specific training segment].
When restriction loosed and safety protocols were established, the group was able to return to in-person group training in July and August. Although camps were different with strict distancing requirements, smaller group sizes, and no pre/post socializing, they provided a great training opportunity a positive mental and social experience. Regardless of no competitions on the schedule, Rob continued to train athletes on endurance, skills, and speed. The athletes worked to make gains on specific technical sections, including the well-known ‘Boneshaker’, a short rough section at Hardwood Ski and Bike. Rob noted that many athletes reduced their times on this section by over 3 seconds, which can add up over the length of a race.
While 2020 did not allow athletes to see the competition results from all their hard work, it is important to reflect on all the other accomplishments beyond results. Learning to integrate strength and conditioning into training, exposure to international travel, learning how to cook, clean, do laundry, and challenging yourself to be self-motivated are extremely valuable lessons on the pathway to becoming a complete athlete.
The OCA would like to thank all the coaches, practitioners, parents, and especially the athletes for their hard work, positive attitude, and understanding as we adapted to the challenges faced in the inaugural year of the program.