by Tim Curry, MS ACSM-RCEP

Plan Implementation “Fun Team Training”

By now you've written and agonized over your team training plan until it's just right. You've recreated the Mona Lisa in plan form and you're confident it will help increase your riders' fitness, allowing them to ride farther with a smile. There's just one thing…how do you get your masterpiece to the masses? The greatest training plan will fall flat on its face if it isn't implemented properly. Don't forsake your baby at the finish line! 

For the final installment of this series, we’re going to dive into some general recommendations for how to move your plan from paper to successful real-life execution. 

Set Your Team Up for Success

Your training plan is vitally important, but we need to think about how that plan is shared and put into action. To drive successful implementation we’re going to borrow some knowledge from the business world, specifically, establishing a basic organizational structure and plan of execution.

Start by identifying at least one group ride leader for each riding group in your team. Remember these will be NICA level 2 or 3 coaches, and you can have more than one per group if needed. The group ride leaders are your critical link between your plan and your athletes. If the group rider leaders don’t understand the plan and how to make it work things will fall apart quickly. Ideally, they should have experience with your team and riders and can bring in knowledge about what their group is likely to be focused on and capable of during training rides. 

Next, it is recommended, but not required, to identify and pair your remaining coaches with groups they’ll ride with throughout the season; for this purpose, we will call them group coaches. While it’s easier planning-wise to have them join as needed the day of practice, scheduling them ahead provides greater consistency and helps your plan implementation go more smoothly. 

Invest in Your Coaches

Identifying the core groups (group ride leader, group coach) is just the start of your engagement with your coaches. Coaching education helps ensure the successful execution of your training plan. You have an intimate understanding of the workings of your plan as you’ve built it over the last few weeks or months, now we need to make sure everyone else is up to speed. 

Start with your group ride leaders. These coaches will need to know more about the planned activities as well as their role in helping to successfully execute the plan. You’ll need to discuss components such as:

  • Intensity - How will they assess and teach training intensity to the athletes?

  • Warm-up and Cool-down - What is the plan and is it realistic for the group?

  • Ride Planning - What is an appropriate ride location for the training day? Why?

  • Safety - How will the training portion of the ride maintain safety expectations?

Additionally, it’s a good idea to include some brainstorming with this group about how they bring your plan to their riders. Specifically, focus on what group ride leaders believe the focus is for their group and how it relates to the plan (or even just the idea of structured training). For example, group ride leaders could explain the same training plan to their riders in a couple of ways depending on group focus:

If the focus is: Improving race results

  • The training for the next few weeks will include some hard to very hard intervals. These will help improve your body's ability to use oxygen which increases your ability to perform aerobic work. This is one important aspect of mountain bike racing. 

If the focus is: Longer adventure rides

  • The training for the next few weeks will include some hard to very hard intervals. This might not seem like something for adventure rides, however, these are used to improve the amount of oxygen your cells can use. You’ll be able to rely more on your fat stores and conserve your carbohydrate stores, which means we can go for longer rides with better adventure miles. 

If the focus is: I just want to ride with my friends

  • The training for the next few weeks will include some hard to very hard intervals. I know that this might not sound fun, but our goal is to improve your aerobic fitness. When we improve aerobic fitness it means we can ride faster for longer durations on our rides. This opens up new trails to ride, and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like riding their bike longer each day?!

While your group ride leaders should have greater communication and training on your plan, it’s also important to have basic education for your group coaches as well. Remember everyone needs to know the plan and how it will work, not just the group ride leaders. People left in the dark tend to formulate their own answers to anything they’re unsure of which can be in opposition to your plan. Work with all your coaches as a team to make sure that the purpose and execution of your plan is clear. It’s a great idea to set up and hold regular coaches' meetings and training sessions throughout the season, especially in pre-season. 

Invest More in Your Group Ride Leaders

Group ride leaders are the lynchpin between the training plan and the athletes. Beyond coaching education sessions it is a good idea to establish a way to communicate regularly with these key coaches. This could take many forms, including:

  • Post-training-ride huddle sessions - Take 5-10 minutes and go through the group quickly for feedback, questions, or issues. The goal is not to solve a problem here but to survey and see if there is a need for a larger discussion. 

  • Weekly or bi-weekly group ride leader meetings - Once every 1-2 weeks have a meeting set up that allows for a larger discussion to happen. This could be right after a practice or on a totally separate day. 

  • Slack, Teams, Skype, etc. - Use a digital platform to create an asynchronous collaboration space. This allows for organized group discussions (as well as problem-solving when necessary) to happen around what is going on during practices. 

Regardless of what you do, invest in your group ride leaders. Without them, it is much harder to execute a team training plan smoothly and successfully. 

Develop Athlete Buy-in

The final component of your implementation approach is to actively promote and develop rider buy-in. As the NICA saying goes “Safety, fun, performance”. The more we can engage our riders in the training plan by helping them understand the purpose of the plan and how it applies to their goals, the more engagement we will have, and the more we improve the fun aspect of our work. This means we are educating the athletes, as appropriate, on what we are doing and why. Make this education meaningful to them by focusing the discussion around their goals and how the plan can help with achieving them. Remember that attention span is limited so this is not a speech! These are short discussions at the start of practice that we keep building on each time. 

Finally, an important, and often overlooked component of successful implementation is to elicit feedback from your athletes. This can take many forms but you could start with these two practices:

  • Direct Feedback Opportunities - Start conversations with athletes while riding and use them as a way to ask about how they feel the training sessions are going. Some athletes are very open with their feedback while others may not feel comfortable providing it in the moment.

  • Indirect Feedback Opportunities- Offer a way for riders to provide anonymous feedback. Creating a Google or Microsoft form is a simple way to do this that does not require any login or identifying information. This is an easy way to continue gathering feedback when athletes (or even coaches or parents) may not feel comfortable bringing up important concerns in person. You can use this as a way to look at general trends within your team and decide if adjustments are necessary. For example, in a team with 100 riders receiving one complaint about practice being too hard over a month probably isn't something to worry about. However, 75 complaints would warrant further investigation with your group ride leaders; perhaps there is a group where we need to adjust the training plan because they are not progressing as quickly as expected!

It's All Worth It In The End 

Having a well-executed team plan can help improve group fitness gains while creating an experience that is more fun and safer. You're also providing knowledge and skills your athletes can use to continue to enjoy sports in the future, regardless of their path forward. By creating an effective, safe, supportive training environment you are showing athletes what thoughtful coaching and training should look like. 

Thank you for taking the time to learn a bit more about the creation and execution of team training plans. For more in-depth information on topics that can be used to refine your training planning in the future, check out the highlighted courses below.

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