We've just come back from an excellent training session where we spoke to the riders about different skills that can be used when racing. This session has provided the inspiration for this blog post.
One of the keys to success in every walk of life is your ability to develop. That can be in relation to bike riding, bike racing or your chosen career path. In order to do so, you have to keep an open mind and accept that success has to be earned, it isn't a given. And yes, that means that hard work is necessary; regardless of what anybody tells you, there aren't really any shortcuts.
Having an interest in your own personal development will also help you off the bike too, which will become even more important in the years to come. Despite what you may think, the number of careers in any sport are limited and becoming a professional in any sport is even more difficult (take women's football, for example - there are around 150,000 women who play football each week, but only a handful earn enough to be considered full time professionals.) When you compare that to women's cycling in the UK, where less than one per cent of the numbers playing football (i.e less than 1500 women) regularly race, opting for cycling as a career (i.e. where you earn enough to be able to sustain your own lifestyle without having to resort to grants and alternative funding) is a risky strategy as there just isn't the money. In order to succeed in that arena, more often than not, you need a third party who is willing to support you financially, whether that be in the form of family or a partner or somebody else entirely.
There is of course, more to life than riding your bike. One thing that is yet to be seen in women's cycling is what happens once you no longer are able to race at a professional level, if that's the career option you decide to take. Have a look at people who have been professional cyclists (male and female) and find out what they are up to nowadays. On the other hand, have a look at some of the current professional female cyclists (Hayley Simmonds and Emma Pooley spring to mind - both have obtained professional contracts whilst being over the age of 25 and have PhDs) - it seems that for women at least there's the opportunity to study and gain your qualification first before deciding that you want to turn professional. Current research also suggests that women get stronger with age and that peak physical fitness for a woman is actually nearer 30.
Any sport is always a constant. You can go away for 10 or 15 years and come back to it at a later stage. Your education is so important. Get it right first time (GCSEs, further education, higher education, how far you want to go depends on you) and think about what you want to be doing when you're nearing 40. What do you want to own? Do you want to own a nice car, a couple of bling bikes and live in a nice house? If so, that doesn't happen without some hard work, some luck and a lot of perseverance. I'm not saying that you should give up racing to focus on your life outside of cycling; indeed being involved in competitive sport helps you develop the grit, determination and tenacity to succeed in life (especially if you're a woman), but at the same time, don't be fooled into thinking that you should stop concentrating on your education before you get to 18 on the promise that you will be the next Laura Trott. Have a plan B - it's always best to be prepared.
Until next time...