Recently I partnered with my bike shop sponsor, The Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, to put on a junior mountain bike camp. Our goals were simple: get kids out on the trail, teach them some basic bike skills, and have a lot of fun. Some of the skills were pretty simple, like learning how to maneuver around cones and brake correctly. Other skills, like cornering and bunny hopping, were more advanced.
Around 30 kids came to the clinic with ages varying between 4 and 13. Obviously there was a big difference in skill level so we broke everyone into groups based on age. But regardless of how new or advanced the kids were on a bike, they all worked on the same skills. Most of the instructors hopped on a bike and practiced right alongside the kids. Personally I think a few of the kids were cornering better than me. ☺
After completing the skill drills we took a break for snacks and then headed out onto the trail. Again, we broke the kids into groups based on age. I rode along with the 5 to 8 year olds and I can’t even begin to describe how proud I was to see so many kids out on the trail. It was a blast listening to them talking to each other as they rode along the singletrack. At one point I heard one little girl telling her friends that her dad bought himself way more bike gear then he bought her (uh-oh) and another little boy was talking about how he was going to race the Slush Cup at Iceman. The conversations were completely random, but not unlike conversations my friends and I have ourselves when we ride.
For the most part the kids were all really respectful of each other and warned each other if there was a rock or root coming up. There was absolutely no pressure or competitiveness between them, and if one kid had to walk a steep hill, they all got off and walked. That said, there were also a few tears, a few crashes and a few moments of yelling. Once again, not unlike what happens when my friends and I ride. ☺
At one point one of the little girls lost control of her bike and crashed into a ditch. This is something I have done many, many times in many, many places and I knew that she was probably crying more out of frustration and embarrassment than anything else. I picked her up and she pointed out that she had a scraped knee. I showed her the scars on my knees, the other instructors showed her the scars on their knees, and the crying stopped immediately. “Do you know what other kids will think when they see your knees?” I asked her. “They’ll know that you are super tough!” I gave her a hug and a few of the other junior mountain bikers ran over for an
Impromptu giant group hug. It was a great moment...kids are the best!
After riding trail we had a slow race (to practice balance) with preliminary rounds and finals. The instructors joined in and “slow raced” against the kids. For the grand finale we had a fast race on a short section of singletrack so that the kids could practice all of the skills that they had learned. Seeing all of the kids lining up with their number plates was awesome, but seeing them cross the finish line with a big smile on their face was even better.
All in all it was a really great day. We definitely plan on holding more junior mountain bike clinics in the future. I wish that I had started biking WAY earlier then when I did. Taking kids out on the trail doesn’t just teach them new bike skills. It’s a great way to teach them healthy habits early on. It’s also a great way to show them how much fun it can be to get outside and be active. After all, the great outdoors is one giant playground!
Here are some tips to hold a kids clinic:
*Have parents RSVP to the event. It’s important to know how many kids are coming so that you can make sure you have enough instructors. We had six instructors for 30 kids.
*If you are holding the clinic at a local trail system make sure that park management knows that you are going to be holding the event and has approved it. It’s also a good idea to put a “Caution-Kids On Trail” sign at the trailhead so that other riders know there are “little ones” out and about.
*Send out an email a few days before the event with an itinerary for the parents. That way they can have an idea of the schedule of events. Also include a list of items each kids should bring, i.e. helmet, bike, warm clothes, snack, sunscreen etc.
*Bring a few extra demo kids helmets just in case someone forgets theirs.
*Give parents the option to ride trail or hang out and watch. Our group had a mixture of both.
*Have number plates for the kid’s bikes. We laminated ours and had the kids write their names on the number plates with dry erase markers. That way we had a “instant cheat sheet” to remember everyone’s name.
*Do some warmup exercises before breaking everyone into smaller groups. It’s a great way to introduce the instructors and get everyone gathered in one place.
*Keep the “skill drills” short. We probably spent about 20 to 25 minutes on each drill before sending the kids to the next one. I think that was the max amount of time to work on each drill before the kids started to get bored.
*Have multiple breaks. We stopped for snacks multiple times during the three-hour clinic. In our flier we told parents to bring a snack, but we provided apples, bananas, water, crackers and a sports drink mix. Another good rule to follow is NO PEANUTS ALLOWED!!!
*Provide juice boxes. We didn’t bring any this year but I guarantee we will have some next year. That was the number one request from the kids!
*Bring a few other games just in case the kids want to take a break from riding. We brought a slack line and Frisbees and the kids loved playing around with both during lunchtime.
*Hold a few races but provide a prize for everyone. Throughout the day the number one question that I got from the kids was about the prizes. They wanted to know how many there were and if everyone would get a prize. We had a mixture of prizes to giveaway, from bike lights to water bottles. The important part was that everyone left with something.
*Bike Bucks are the best!!! The Grand Rapids Bicycle Company gave out “bike bucks” to all of the kids who attended and they were super excited about it. As they were leaving all I could hear about was what the kids were going to buy from the bike shop.
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These are a few of my favorite things: Mountain biking, good coffee, good food, and hanging out with my husband, family and adopted greyhound. It really doesn't take much to make me happy. Of course, winning a race every now and then is good too! www.daniellemusto.blogspot.com