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Junior Cycling – Keeping Young Riders Involved

Our Junior Cycling columnist Maizy Evans is back! Now residing in Queensland, Maizy delves into the common issues that affect young riders. Maintaining commitment to the time-rich sport of cycling has long been a problem for junior riders. Balancing work, study and long training hours has always been a difficult challenge. Here Maizy Evans unpacks elements of this ongoing issue. 

In recent years, the Australian cycling community has witnessed a concerning trend: a decline in young riders pursuing competitive cycling beyond the Under 17 category. This article explores the factors contributing to this decline and the contrasting perspectives of individuals within the cycling community.

Right now, in Australia, there are plenty of children and mature adults on bikes, but there seems to be a lot less young people, specifically 17 to 23-year-olds riding, and racing bikes. 

From 2022 to 2023 alone we saw a significant loss of riders in all junior categories. As per the start list for the Australian Junior Road Nationals, there was an 8 per cent decrease in the U19 Women Category and a 52 per cent decrease in the U19 Men Category.

There is also a large difference this year in numbers between the Men’s U17 and U19 categories, with 34 less riders racing in the U19 category, compared to the U17.

There are many reasons why we may be experiencing a decline in such numbers, including time demands, injuries, pressure to perform, social activities and lack of enjoyment. 

‘there is a huge drop off from the U17 category to the U19 category, as the more successful riders progress at a faster rate, leaving the others behind’

Max Hobson, an accomplished Elite Road and Cyclocross Cyclist, shared his experiences of junior racing, and how it led him to a complete burnout in 2020. 

“When I turned 18, I stopped racing,” he said. “I needed to have some fun in my life. This coincided with my last year of school”.

In 2020, after racing at a national level for over six years, Max was mentally and physically exhausted, so decided to take a break. Having just turned 18 he was ready to have some fun with his life and spent the year partying with his friends.

“I think that was really important for me and the future of my cycling. It is something I would’ve regretted not doing”.

Max agrees that there is a huge drop off from the U17 category to the U19 category, as the more successful riders progress at a faster rate, leaving the others behind. Only two to three riders from his U17 category are still racing alongside Max now, emphasising the number of young riders who are calling it quits so early on.  

“It’s a tough gig which is why the majority don’t continue past that age.”

More Club Support Needed

Auscycling and local cycling associations across Australia rely on people showing up to their events and contributing to cycling for long periods of time, especially young people, who are more prone to receive grants and promote community funding. Such associations also widely rely on volunteers and supporters, who are usually parents and family members of the junior riders, so without young people racing, the cycling community of Australia will struggle. 

Cycling, and most sports in general, provide positive physical and mental benefits to young people, and isolate them from unhealthy social habits, such as drugs and alcohol. When young people enter the U19 category they become more socially vulnerable to these habits, as they are of legal drinking age, and are more than likely obtaining their provisional driver’s licence. Many young people stop participating in sport due to the temptations of these activities, and that they most likely haven’t experienced many social encounters due to the time demands that competitive cycling requires. 

Sophie Sutton (U23), who has been racing road and cyclocross since the age of eight has never really struggled with lack of motivation, and believes that if you really love the sport, it’ll be in your blood forever. 

She states that her social circle has actually grown through cycling, and therefore makes up for any events with her friends that she may have missed over the years. 

“I did try to train as much as I could on the side of high school, but it was challenging at times and I quite often found myself in a situation where I would have to study after school and didn’t have time for training and would often feel as though I had let myself down.”

‘Cycling, and most sports in general, provide positive physical and mental benefits to young people, and isolate them from unhealthy social habits, such as drugs and alcohol’ writes Maizy.

Sophie believes that work demands have played a crucial role in the drop off from U17 to U19, with it being more difficult than ever to sustain financial freedom, and that injuries caused by cycling are also responsible for such a decrease. 

“I had a crash when I was riding on the road at the start of last year and had to get several stitches in my knee, it made it hard for me to walk for a few days, but the extent of the injury was not too bad. I had to take a fair bit of time off the bike to allow it to heal completely and prevent any further injury.”

The Injury Factor

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states cycling as one of the top sports causing serious injury, with a large spike of injury cases from ages 10-14 and 15-19. Furthermore, over 60 per cent of serious cycling injuries occurred at a competitive level. 

Injuries have a serious effect on not only young people’s physical bodies, but also their mental wellbeing and overall motivation to participate in sport again. Serious injuries can lead to a long road of recovery, requiring immense amounts of support and financial assistance. Frequently, even after minor injuries young riders lack the determination to get back on the bike, with a fear of reoccurrence. 

Both Max and Sophie are still to this day performing at a successful rate, with Sophie recently returning from Japan for the Cyclocross UCI qualifier, and Max currently in Europe competing in an array of UCI events. 

In Sophie’s words, enjoying your sport is a key factor in performing well, and you need to take a break every so often or eventually you will struggle to enjoy physical activity at all. 

“I plan to continue to race bikes for as long as possible, it is just something that I really enjoy.”

Summing Up

The debate over cycling as a fleeting hobby versus a lifelong pursuit rages on, fuelled by personal experiences and societal influences. While some succumb to the pressures and challenges, others, like Max and Sophie, persevere, driven by an unwavering love for the sport. Ultimately, the future of cycling rests on striking a balance between competition and enjoyment, ensuring its longevity for generations to come. unknown.gif

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