Ed Clancy - How I’ve been keeping cycling a fun sport for kids during lockdown

Last year, Yorkshire’s Olympic champion Ed Clancy co-founded the Clancy Briggs Academy. Here, in a guest op-ed. he writes about getting kids active through cycling.

Olympic star: Ed Clancy.

The current lockdown continues to have a significant impact on grassroots sports – not only on participation, but also on children’s wider development, such as the development of essential life-long skills they can learn from being in a team environment.

After establishing The Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy in January 2020, we had the unique opportunity to see first hand the positive impact sport and physical activity can have on young people – not just benefitting their fitness, but also their mental health and well-being, something which is too frequently overlooked.

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The foundations of the Academy were all about providing a platform for children to learn and develop, but most importantly, for them to have fun. We don’t apologise that this remains our primary objective.

Great Britain's (left-right) Owain Doull, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Sir Bradley Wiggins with their gold medals following victory in the men's team pursuit at the Rio Olympics. Picture: David Davies/PA

Like many grassroots sports, and before the pandemic hit, our Academy members would meet each week at the Doncaster Cycle Track to take part in coaching sessions surrounded by like-minded peers.

The effects of Covid-19 and the necessary restrictions forced us to re-think our approach and consider how we could continue to engage a passionate and eager audience, albeit from a distance.

For us, it was vital that we were able to continue to provide a provision for our members and young cyclists across the UK to ensure their continued development and enjoyment of the sport, during a time of upheaval and uncertainty.

CB Live, an online learning platform, was born late last year and provided our young members with a safe environment to learn and develop with the support of myself, Graham Briggs (former pro cyclist and co-founder) and Ali Slater.

Great Britain's Ed Clancy following victory in the men's team pursuit final in Rio. Picture: David Davies/PA

One of the things we weren’t anticipating was the feedback from kids, and their parents, about how much of a positive impact our wider education sessions were having on their cycling progression.

I was quite a late starter in my cycling career, I’d always rode BMX and mountain bikes, but it wasn’t until I graduated onto the British Cycling programme that I really understood about the importance of other aspects of the sport, including areas like nutrition and psychology.

Listening to our members’ feedback made us realise that there was a huge appetite for this broader support at a much younger age, so a year after launching the Academy, we launched an online coaching programme designed to ensure that first class cycling coaching was readily available to all 10-18-year-olds across the UK.

Having raced alongside Graham and Ali, we knew how much camaraderie and what the benefits of learning in a group environment could bring and we brought this ethos through to our virtual Junior and Youth Development Programme.

Ed Clancy.

Alongside our training sessions, we now offer weekly sessions focussing on everything from essential bike maintenance to the importance of nutrition and even what to pack in your race day bag and what to wear – particularly important during these winter months when you’re facing a snowy ride.

Throughout my cycling career, the mentality of goal-setting and planning has played a huge part in my personal development.

Cycling is very similar to chess in many ways – there are many different movable parts you have to consider.

Through the Academy’s new programme we are able to pass on some of the training and techniques we have learnt throughout our careers alongside specialists in nutrition, sleep development and psychology.

When you start out your journey in a sport you don’t necessarily think about how important some of these elements can be but it’s so important for kids to understand how to have a healthy relationship with food whilst they’re training and, equally, how considering your ‘race day strategy’ and how you prepare before and after a race can be as critical to your performance as the training you do in the build-up.

The sessions are all about learning and having fun and it’s been great to be quizzed by the kids and their parents as we explore different topics.

What started as a training Academy in Doncaster has grown exponentially during the pandemic, with young cyclists from Cornwall to Northern Ireland now taking part in our weekly classes. Whilst the pandemic may have halted the physical presence of grassroots sports, it has been great to see the continued appetite and commitment from kids across the country and it’s something we must continue to nurture to ensure we help them reach their full potential.

We’ve seen a huge increase in the numbers of people cycling across the country over the past year, some for the first time, and it’s reassuring to see the nation really getting behind the importance of kids being able to keep active during these lockdown periods.

As we look to the year ahead, it’s vital for grassroots sports that we don’t lose any of the momentum that’s been built and the routines that have been set in place over the last few months and that as an industry we’re ready and prepared to adapt once more to ensure kids continue to enjoy and develop in their chosen sport, whatever their ability.

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