Canadian Cyclist


April 23/08 4:52 am - Sprockids in Israel

Posted by Editoress on 04/23/08

Sprockids in Israel
By Doug Detwiller

Sprockids has always been much more than just a mountain biking program. While engaging young people in a healthy life style Sprockids also focuses on providing youth with an opportunity to learn about them selves, while empowering them with the skills, values, and strategies to succeed in life. I had been invited to Israel to run a series of clinics for young riders and to conduct training sessions for new Sprockids Leaders. As the date for my departure approached the realization that this seeming surreal trip was about to happen became very clear. One early morning in March I had gone for my usual ride before school and was sitting on my “special rock” in the middle of Canada's west coast rain forest when I realized the next time I would be on a bike was across the world in Israel. As a teacher I am always asking my students to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, and I was about to put my advice into practice.

After 15 hours of sitting on planes I touched down at the airport in Tel Aviv where my hosts Jack and Sheena Reardon met me. Jack is one of the main coordinators for Sprockids Israel, and was instrumental in arranging my visit. Once I was settled into my hotel we were off to their sailboat for some amazing Israeli wine, great food, and to review my itinerary.

As we sat under the stars on their very cool Turkish built wooden sail boat I started to unwind from my travels and it became very apparent the next two weeks were going to be an adventure I wouldn't soon forget. I have been a teacher for close to 30 years, have run the Sprockids program since 1990, but I have to admit I was a little nervous and apprehensive about whether I would be able to connect with the young people here in Israel. I don't speak Hebrew and even though I would have a translator working with me I just didn't know if I could pull it off.

The next day Jack and Sheena picked me up from my hotel around 10:00 AM and we headed to the Soleus Cycling Center to meet Daniel Ben Menachem. Daniel was the other main player instrumental in setting up my visit to Israel. On a side note it was Daniel and his son Lior who built the first single-track trail back in 1991. Later in my visit he would take me for a ride on this very trail. Daniel had just opened his new cycling center, the first of it's kind in Israel, and this was where the majority of our training sessions would take place.

Around 3:00 PM Avinoam Yanai the leader of the Netanya Sprockids club arrive with 19 of their riders. This is one of 10 Sprockids clubs supported by the One to One, a British based charity organization represent by Hedi Wax in Israel. This particular group of riders were of Ethiopian descent and trace their lineage back to King Solomon, The story of how their parents had been smuggled out of Ethiopia, some twenty years earlier, and brought to Israel by way of ships, submarines, and airplanes is one worthy of a Hollywood epic movie.

I have always believed in the magic of the bicycle and despite the language barrier it didn't take long to establish a connection with these young riders. I took the riders through a series of stations and a variety of games which resulted in not only improving their riding skills but bring a lot of smiles and laughter to all of us. When it comes to kids they just don't seem to worry about language, difference in cultures, or other barriers adults create.

The session lasted around three hours and at the end you could feel the honest bond and respect between all of us, a direct result of riding together. After the young riders left the adults went inside for a Sprockids presentation / training session, which ended around 8:00 PM. Then it was off to explore some of the unique restaurants of Tel Aviv. This was the format for the rest of the week. Each day a different group of young riders would be involved in the riding clinic, while future Sprockids Leaders would observe and learn a variety of methods, techniques, and approaches on how to run a successful Sprockids Program.

The skill level of each group varied dramatically and being able to adjust the clinic to meet their specific needs is a very important component of a successful Sprockids Leader. As a Leader we want to provide our young riders with a safe, fun, and enthusiastic environment where they have the opportunity to learn new riding skills and develop the positive attitude necessary to take their riding to the next level.

For successful teaching and learning to take place a Sprockids Leader must establish a connection with their students and a sense of affiliation between the two parties must take place. The next morning I found myself riding with 37 Grade 9 students. Most of them spoke a little English, and as the morning progressed they tried their best to teach me some Hebrew. I found out my name meant “Fish” in Hebrew, and this would serve me well in connecting and breaking the ice with groups throughout my visit.

After a fantastic morning of riding we returned to the Soleus Cycling Center for another training session. This time my group of riders was some of Israel's top young XC racers sent by the Israeli Cycling Federation to check out what the Sprockids program was all about. It quickly became apparent these young riders knew their stuff so the challenge would be to elevate their technical riding skills. Utilizing the riding skill stations, which had been build from the designs found in the Sprockids Instructional Manual, the riders were presented with a series of situations requiring them to incorporate proper technique, if they wanted to successfully ride such challenges as plank rides, drop offs, skinnies, and teeter totters.

After the sessions all these riders had met the challenge and it was obvious they had elevated their riding proficiency. Even these racers were proud of what they had accomplished. The next day they came by with their coach to say “Hi” and watch the next group of riders go through the course.

The next day's group represented the other end of the spectrum. They were young riders around 8 years old and had only been riding for less than a week. It was very apparent they were quite nervous about what lay ahead, but within 10 minutes they were all having fun as their skill level improved with every turn of their cranks. By the end of their session there were huge smiles on their faces as they successfully navigated their way around the course to the cheers and applause of the observing Sprockids Leaders. Even though not all of them were able to perform all the tasks perfectly they understood the concepts and mastery of the skills would occur over time.

Every day I found myself faced with new situations and challenges requiring me to adjust my teaching style, as well as my expectations and learning outcomes for the group. But that is the essence of Sprockids, the ability to adapt and adjust the program to the specific need of, not only the group, but also the individuals within the group. Sprockids is all-inclusive, “Nobody sits on the Bench!”

For the final session we traveled to the town of Bet Shemesh to work with a group of young Jewish and Muslim riders with the SRBC Sprockids Club lead by Eitan Hevroni. We started with around 17 riders, but as the session progressed, and the word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood, and before long more young people appeared and joined our group. Numerous adults stopped by to watch these young people go through the circuit. It was an honour spending time with such a diversified group, and one could not help but be energized and inspired by their spirit.

This was my last session in Israel and as we loaded up the cars and headed out of town everything came into perspective. I have always been passionate about Sprockids, and the bicycle's ability to engage and unite all demographics of young people. These young riders once again proved to me kids are kids no matter what language they speak, their religious beliefs, the political climate within which they live, their economic situation, and all other seemingly difficult barriers just seem to melt away once they are on a bicycle. Being able to guide them into the magical world of mountain biking has to be one of the greatest adrenaline adventures of my life. Every time I have the opportunity to work with young people I come away smiling, knowing I have opened up a whole new world to them. One they will continue to explore for the rest of their lives!


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