Posted by Editoress on 03/29/21
A couple of weeks ago, we published a piece on how the current cohort of Junior riders - those who joined the Junior-aged racing ranks last year - are in danger of missing out on their entire developmental experience in this critical period due to the shutdown of events last year and this year [see Missing Junior Cohort - Another Pandemic Casualty]. This has become even further exacerbated with the recent announcements of the 2021 cancellations of Tour de l'Abitibi, Tour de la Relève and the Mont Tremblant Canada Cup (with its UCI Junior Series event).
Subsequently, Cycling Canada reached out to suggest that I talk with Olympic bronze medallist Laura Brown, who is now a coach with the NextGen program, to see what they were doing to support younger riders during this period with no events. Laura is based in Vancouver, where I spoke with her; we will also being posting a separate interview about her decision to retire from the national team and international competition.
Gold medal winning Pursuit Team at 2015 pan Am Games, Brown, 2nd from left
Laura Brown receives her Olympic medal
Canadian Cyclist: I wrote about how the current Junior cohort is in a tough situation because of the lack of racing. Your thoughts and impressions?
Laura Brown: I think it is really disappointing that this cohort of Juniors is missing racing. But I think it is important to keep it in perspective; no one ever anticipated a pandemic interfering with our sport development plan! What Jenny [Trew - national NextGen coach] and I have been doing over the past year has been running our Advancement Camps. Once a month we have been getting together virtually with week-long camps. Started last August with one in-person camp, in Victoria and in Milton, but not long after that we were locked back down, so we did five virtually once a month over the winter; we just finished our last one.
Advancement Camps originally came out of the track program through Jenny, but we have opened it now to all athletes, so we have road athletes, mountain bike athletes, para athletes. Originally, they were also all Junior, but we have opened it now to late-entry athletes. It's a combination of seminars - educational seminars like nutrition, mental performance, sports science - and then we do a fireside chat; last week we had Svein Tuft come out and talk with us. We also meet on Zoom while we are Zwifting and training, and it's been fantastic. I think at one camp we had over 40 athletes online together.
There's nothing we can do about no racing; it's not safe to travel - especially with minors we have to be more careful - but I'm really proud of the work Jenny and I have done over the past year year; we've had really great feedback from the athletes and from the coaches that these camps were their lifeline and really motivating. Just to see their peers - even online - and to get to spend time with the high performance staff.
Junior Track Nationals 2019
Even for Jenny and I to get to know some athletes, because for first year Juniors this year ... we might not even be aware of who's coming up through the Junior ranks at the moment, so this is an opportunity for us to get to know the athletes as well.
Hopefully we can go back to doing them in person in the Fall, but I think we will definitely keep some of the virtual elements, because it's pretty incredible to have the athletes from all over Canada together online and build that camaraderie. I think perhaps a silver lining to all of this, is being able to develop things like this.
There is no substitute for racing and face time with the athletes, but these virtual camps were great, just to build that camaraderie within all the athletes and the staff. What Jenny and I would also do is that she would plan a coach seminar on one of the evenings.
In one of the seminars we sent a survey out to some of our top national team athletes - mostly later in their sport or retired - about their Junior experience. And what was interesting was the answer to 'What was your best experience or memory as a Junior?' Competition was number one, but in the same breath, Camps and Camaraderie were right there. So to have these athletes look back on their careers and what really shaped them - what really mattered when they were 17 and 18 - yes, it was racing, but it was also training time with your peers and having camps.
So doing it online - it wasn't as good as in person - but I think we did a good job of trying keep our Juniors engaged. That's all we really need to do right now; I know they miss racing, but if we can keep them engaged and passionate about the sport, have some fun and learn, I think they are going to be okay.
As you know, cycling is the long game. A lot of our nation didn't race as a Junior, so I think it's important to keep that perspective. If anything, that time away from racing for these kids has allowed them to focus on their mileage, because that has been our biggest limiter as a nation, just hours on the bike. I think a lot of the [current] Juniors have done a lot of base riding, a lot of building training capacity, so I think they are going to be okay.
I don't want to seem callous, because I can really appreciate how difficult it has been for the Juniors; they want to race their bikes. I want to be sensitive to that, because I know they are struggling. But we are trying to take good care of them.
CC: This is the time of a rider's life (17-18 years) when a lot decisions are made - whether to commit to going further in sport, or whether to focus on education or a career. Are you worried that we could lose riders to other pursuits because there is no competition?
LB: For sure, it can be a concern. Most of the Juniors we are aware of took part in these camps and we saw a lot of new faces. So I'm optimistic that we are not losing them entirely. And if they do decide they want to pursue something else ... that's okay too. Most athletes don't make it in this sport, truthfully. We aren't only trying to build bike racers, we're trying to help create good people, successful people.
Brown with the Men's Team Pursuit squad
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