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Parent-As-Coach: A Primer

In our first “Guest Post” article, we hear from 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist in BMX Racing, Donny Robinson, on the topic of parents coaching their own riders. Donny gives some solid advice, as he was coached by his dad from the age of six til he shipped off to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.

By Donny Robinson

Listen up, parents! Get down and give me five…minutes! It’s time for some coaching for the parental BMX coach.
Please, gather your kids around, because they’ve earned the right to see that maybe you’ve been a little heavy-handed in your coaching approach. Or, perhaps, they might just see that I approve of how you’ve helped encourage and shape them as BMX Racers.

My son is only two (just had his first Strider race last month), but I have witnessed thousands of BMX parents interacting with their kids during practice and national events. It’s quite possible, being such a fierce competitor myself, that, for a moment, I may eventually push my son (in whatever they do) with the same ferocity that I pushed myself in my own professional career. However, I can only hope that I offer direction to my kid(s) just as my parents did for me.

First off, if you’ve never put on a helmet and took a lap around a BMX track, DO IT! Before you ever push your rider to do that extra full lap at the end of training, experience it for yourself; it’s far more difficult than you can ever imagine. And as you struggle for the ability to breathe after only ONE LAP, not only will you know what your kid goes through, but you will also show your rider that you’re invested in being a “team,” not simply shouting from the sidelines, and making not-so-indirect statements in the car on the drive home.

Attention all kids! Listen closely…My parents were right! It’s hard to admit, but I want to save you time, energy and pride. Over the course of my life, my parents have been right far more than they’ve been wrong. Do yourself a favor and try listening to those who have more life experience than you. They really do want the best for you and suggest and urge you on for your benefit.

But, parents, your kids are NOT you! Don’t try and shove them into something they don’t want. There is a difference in realizing your kids’ potential and going overboard in attempts to force what isn’t there (or isn’t there yet). I will only speak to the BMXer / parent relationship, so as to not cross any beyond-BMX lines.

Not all kids want to be Olympians or NAG riders. That’s OK. Heck, maybe they’ll end up liking BMX Freestyle better or another sport / hobby entirely. However, if your kids show interest in racing BMX competitively, then allow them all the resources they need to achieve their goals.

Some Tips

– You are their coach. Push them. If they say they want to succeed, then show them what kind of time and energy they will need to invest. This is a discussion best had away from race day, or the ride home from a not-so-good showing at the track. If they’re not interested, leave it be for a while; pushing more will do no good. My dad let me dictate where my path was headed, but was there with me to train every day I wanted.

– Talk. Before, during and after training. Tell them what they’re doing right and wrong and what things may help them. They may not listen, but they will hear you. And, after everything else they try fails, they’ll come back to your suggestions. Don’t use an “I told you so” tone, as that will likely cause a rebellious response, even in the youngest rider.

– Don’t bother them after a bad race. Give them space. Some may only need five minutes, but I sometimes need five days to “recover” (to this day). We’re competitors and hate to lose, so we will punish ourselves for the mistakes we make. They know how it went, and don’t need reminding of it. They’ll come to you when they’re ready. Then you can tell them how they can improve.

– Stop yelling at them when they’re on the track. They can’t hear you anyway, and it can tend to be embarrassing. (Cheering is encouraged, of course, if only for your purposes).

– Be visible. Even though we’re individuals on the track, we like to know where you are and that you’re watching. Remember: it’s this unconditional support system that will carry them through the ups and downs.

My parents are the reason I stayed with, and excelled, in BMX Racing. More importantly, how they raised me, and brought me through my BMX journey has allowed me to grow up to be the person I am today. It cannot be understated that this time, win or lose, will be a tie that binds your family together forever.
This “little kid” bike can take us all a lot further than any of us ever imagined.

Photo on previous page (clockwise from left): After the 1993 ABA Grands (first grands win-10 cruiser) with my mom & dad; On Powerlite, rockin the #1 plate; On the medal stand in Beijing–the highest of high points for any BMXer; 2015 in Rockford

Excerpt form Pedals2Medals “Winning Wednesdays” ebook. A 76-week guide for riders and parents. PDF copy available on

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