Physical development within the youth age categories varies massively and this can obviously have a huge impact on race results. If not managed carefully, winning too many races when new to the sport can work against a young rider later in their career.

Problems can start from when a young rider wins right from the beginning. There’s much less scope for a rider to learn about their strengths and weaknesses when they’re light years ahead of everyone else. This may not seem to be a problem in the short term, in fact it may appear to be quite the opposite. It doesn’t become a problem until a few years down the line when other riders’ physical development catches up, and the rider who always had it easy suddenly has to fight hard for a race win.

Once everyone is of similar physical development it’s more likely to be the riders that have had to battle hard from their early years who are going to get the better of the early developers who used to have it easy.

Now that doesn’t mean being an early developer is a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean an early developer can’t go on to win in the long run. The key is to ensure early developers are challenged, by being exposed to situations where they aren’t going to have it so easy, they need to be exposed to defeat as well as victory. This will make them much stronger mentally in the long run. I’m not suggesting we make it so difficult that they can never win, just that we mix it up so as well as winning races, they are also challenged by being put outside their comfort zone.

There will always be the odd exception, some will develop early, win early and even when things get difficult, still have the mental strength to stay at the top when others are closing in. But that’s the exception, what’s more likely to happen is the early developer who wins everything will find things really tough later on, that is if we don’t give them the challenge they need.

This doesn’t just apply to young riders, no matter what age someone enters the sport, if everything comes easy to them from the beginning it could make things difficult to handle when they step up a level and things suddenly get a lot tougher.

What’s equally important is that young riders who are slower to develop physically, receive the encouragement they need to not only enjoy their sport but also to learn about the strengths they can have in other areas, whether that be skills or tactical approach, encourage them to work on the things they can develop in the short term. They will catch up physically later on.

Enjoyment of the sport is always the number one priority whether for a 14-year-old or 64-year-old. But for anyone wanting to continue to make improvements in their performance, being challenged, and being taken beyond their comfort zone is critical to that development process.

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Dan Small, Mountain Goat Coaching.

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