by Tim Curry, MS ACSM-RCEP

Why a Great Season Starts with a Roadmap

Preparation provides a solid foundation for training plan creation and reduces wasted time and confusion later on in the process. If you create a plan without accounting for all the necessary information first, you’ll constantly have to adjust for unconsidered factors throughout the season. This can cause frustration for your ride leaders, and athletes, and yourself. Your best bet for an easy process is to gather all your essentials first. Culinary professionals call this mise en place. Our recipe for success starts by outlining a range of variables that will come into play later.

Great minds might ask what the meaning of life is, but we'll start with “What's the purpose of a team training plan?” Your gut response might be C) To improve race performance. Race performance can be important, but when properly developed and executed, training plans are as much about safety and fun as they are about performance. Data shows that most injuries occur when an athlete is fatigued. Fatigue-caused loss of form, reduced reaction time, and poor decision-making are all factors that make injury more likely. Intentional training helps improve fitness, reduce fatigue and manage risk of injury with minimal effort! Remember that a fit rider can ride farther and longer than an unfit one. Better fitness makes extended trail miles and more advanced trails a possibility, and we all know these rides can be more fun for coaches and riders. Team training plans benefit everyone involved.

Designing a season-long training plan takes time and consideration. Your initial planning for team training will likely take you hours to layout, edit, review, and re-edit before you are satisfied. It's a labor of love, but completing your macro and mesocycles for your plan will provide big payoffs later. We'll get into the nitty-gritty of what these 'cycles' are in part two of this series. For now, understand this early, large-scale planning time is critical for informing all your daily training prescriptions later.

It’s no surprise that kids like fun far more than they like rules. Plan on having athletes who don’t care about participating in your training plan. Remember, in NICA our focus is kids on bikes. If riders don’t want to train, that's fine; don’t punish a rider by moving them to a different group for this reason alone. You should plan on explaining, and having your group ride leaders reiterate, the purpose of the training plan you are doing in practice. Encourage your group ride leaders to incorporate motivators that are important to their athletes in the discussion. This helps promote buy-in from your athletes when they understand the ways your training plan will help them improve as a rider.

As we move through this 3-part series, we’ll break down how to build a season training plan from start to finish. For now, we’ll cover choosing a plan creation platform, creating a list of your team’s needs and goals and the variables that will contribute to the season, making SMART goals, and categorizing race types. Let’s get started…

Choose a Plan Creation Platform

Decide what you will use to create your plan and detailed lists. An inexpensive, and effective option is to use a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, etc.) and document (Word, Google Docs, etc.) program. While you can do this work with pen and paper a little technology makes planning far easier and allows you to easily update info or collaborate with others. There are more advanced training programs available, but they tend to be costly and are not necessary for our planning. Pick the best choice to fit your team's needs and time constraints.

Gather Information

The first and largest part of your preparation is to assemble a list with your team’s needs and influential details. You can download our provided worksheet for this purpose at the end of this article. Include any factor that will impact the planning or execution of your training plan, such as:

  • Total number of athletes and coaches (include coach level) – These factors define the number and composition of your ride groups (include the number and general facts about your ride groups if you can). 
  • Weekly team training ride details – How many days per week will you train and how long will training be each day?
  • Training equipment availablility – Do all, only a few, or none of your riders have training equipment (i.e. heart rate straps)?
  • Important dates and events – Race weekends, team camps, adventure rides, etc.
  • Coach training days – Plan for holding coach meetings/training sessions, especially early on to get everyone on the same page regarding the team training plan. 
  • Practice locations – Start with a list of where practices are likely to occur for each practice day.
    • For example, during a Monday practice, we can go to _____ and ______.

    • Even a rough plan will be helpful as there are certain needs for certain training days.                                                                                               

  • Team goals – Create a list (it can be general to start) of areas you want the team to improve in based on what you’ve seen or heard about team needs. 
    • This isn’t just fitness-related, it can (and should) include skills or other areas as well.                                                                                              

  • Designate Team Training Days  – It’s not necessary to create a training plan for every day of the week for most NICA athletes. Instead, utilize your team training days for this work. Some advanced athletes may want more in-depth training plans for all days of the week. It's better to set up these plans independent of your team plan because they are based on individual athlete needs.

Categorizing Races

Identify and note all the races for the season. Assign each race or major ride event a category to designate their importance. We typically  use three categories:

Class A – The one or two (at max) most important events of the season. 

  • All your training is focused on promoting peak performance for this event.                                                                                      

Class B – Typically three to five events that aren't as important as Class A events.

  • Good performance is the goal and training is altered to promote that goal. 

  • These events can be a dress rehearsal for a Class A event.                                                                    

Class C – Any other remaining event. 

  • We don't alter training plans for Class C events, and athletes may be fatigued heading into them. 

  • Great for general experience or specific testing (ex. test a new nutrition product(s), race strategy, etc.)

For a typical NICA season, you'll likely have only (or mostly) Class B events with one Class A event. If you’re aiming for consistent performance for the whole season, make all NICA races a Class B. If you’re aiming for great performance at a specific event, designate that event a Class A event. We won't typically have any Class C events due to the limited season and number of race events, but if you feel this is a more appropriate category for an event go ahead and use it.

Refine and Format Your Goals

Goal setting is a crucial, but often neglected part of planning creation. All your training plans should be designed based on meeting a specific goal. Review the list of goals you’ve set to make sure it’s a SMART goal. There’s no need for an IQ test, in this instance SMART stands for:

  • Specific – Is your goal tied to a specific variable you can objectively assess?

  • Measurable – Does your goal include something you can objectively measure?

  • Attainable – Is your goal something that can actually be achieved?

  • Realistic – Can you realistically complete your goal within your constraints?

  • Time-sensitive – Does your goal have an end date that is concrete?

Make sure these goals are also intrinsic. If the athlete can control the factors that impact the outcome, it’s an intrinsic goal. Common goals might be something like “We want to win the JV1 state championships”. While that's a great aspiration, this isn't a SMART goal since there are many variables outside the team and athlete’s control (ex. flat tires, illness, etc.). Luckily, statements like this can easily be turned into SMART goals with some minor adjustments. Consider what’s necessary to accomplish this goal that’s within the athlete’s control and likely to positively affect the outcome. What skills do they need to learn or improve? What fitness abilities are important?

Start by identifying one or two SMART goals you’d like the team to work towards throughout the season. Create one or two monthly SMART goals for each month of the season that will help your team make progress toward the main goals. Finally, break it down even further with one or two SMART goals per week that support the monthly goals. While weekly goals aren’t as necessary, they can help focus training plans and create a sense of ownership and accomplishment for your athletes each week.

Time to Start Planning 

Now that we've gathered all this information, we can put it to use creating an awesome training plan. Join us in the next part of this free series, where we’ll start our season-long plan with the macrocycle and mesocycle. 

For in-depth coverage of the topics presented in this series and to see a walkthrough of how this type of planning is completed, check out the featured courses below. These courses teach you how to create effective training plans for individuals or teams, and provide NICA CEUs to support your coaching license in the process.

Downloadable pre-planning worksheet: Team Training Plan Pre-build Form.pdf