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You as Your Child's First Coach

You as Your Child's First (and Most Important) Coach

Krystal Robinson

Robinson Fitness, LLC

It was in the summer of 1999 that my dad saw an ad in the local newspaper about BMX Racing at Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin. My dad had raced back in the 1980s and he was pretty excited that BMX was still alive and that there was racing so close. So, on a Saturday night, he loaded up the family in our truck and we headed out "just to watch" the races. Within two weeks, my dad had a bike and uniform and was ready to get back into it. At the time, my mom and I assumed that this was his mid-life crisis and would only last a short time. We were dead wrong.

After watching my dad race for a summer, I thought that maybe I should give it a try. My first time out, I fell on the first obstacle and vowed to never race BMX again. 16 years later and after hundreds of national, regional, state, and local races, and traveling the world, I'm still at it.

When I first started considering becoming a coach, I started to reflect on the riders and people around me who were always pushing me to be better and to excel. There were a few riders and some older girls at my local track that I looked up to and gave me feedback and quick tips and tricks on how to get a better gate start or how to clear a particular jump. But, not surprisingly, my first and foremost supporters in racing BMX were my parents, with my dad taking the role as my "unofficial" coach.

My dad will be the first to tell you that he was pretty hard on me when I first started racing. Reflecting on that now, I know that it wasn't because he was upset when I didn't win, it was because he wanted me to be the best I could be at all times – on and off the track. This included hours watching race videos and dissecting every pedal and every move I made (or didn't make).

For the last 10 years, I've worked in the fields of early education and youth development as a teacher, director, and now field support staff. One of my passions is ensuring that professionals working with children have the skills and tools that they need to help children grow and develop at an optimal level. Having recently become a USA Cycling Certified BMX Coach and finishing my Master's in Leadership Development with a concentration in Early Childhood Program Administration, I have a very unique perspective on BMX and supporting our young riders.

In the fields of early childhood and youth development, best practices are very clear that parents are the decision makers and primary educators of their children (Early Childhood Ohio 19), but we need to consider what this looks like in the context of BMX Racing. As a coach now working with riders as young as four, I've observed the true impact that a parent's perspective has on a rider and their performance. What is absolutely undeniable in BMX is that YOU (the parent) are the rider's first and most important coach.


This article intends to inform parents about developmentally appropriate practices to support your child in BMX.


Why is BMX Different than Other Sports?

BMX is unique in the fact that it's an extreme sport and is an individualized sport. While there are teams that count on riders for team sheet performance, the success of the rider is determined by their skills and abilities alone. This can create a significant amount of pressure on any rider.


How does BMX Affect a Child's Growth and Development?

When we talk about how BMX plays a positive role on development, there are significant benefits outside of staying active and physical development. BMX can increase self esteem, promote a positive self image, and foster positive character development. These increases come as a result of goal setting. For example, a child's self esteem might swell when they finally master a particular obstacle or skill or maybe when they win their first race. BMX is also a very social sport. Children race each other and families spend a significant amount of time at the track which creates a small community of people. The sport can also engage children in volunteerism, higher levels of leadership, community engagement, and altruism.


What does it mean to use "Developmentally Appropriate" Strategies?

While developmentally appropriate practices are typically used by early education professionals, these are practices that can be implemented by anyone who deals with children in any capacity. When we are looking to coach and teach a child specific strategies related to BMX, they are especially relevant.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children defines this as:

"An approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children's optimal learning and development.

DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals" (NAEYC 2009).


Within Developmentally Appropriate Practices, there are three core considerations of DAP:

1)Knowing about child and learning development.

a.Knowing what is typical at each age and stage of development is crucial.


2)Knowing what is individually appropriate

a.Observing your child's play and interactions to truly learn about their interests, abilities, and developmental progress.


3)Knowing what is culturally important

a.Understand what is important to you as a family and the communities you participate and reside in.

(NAEYC 2009)


Understanding these three core considerations, how can this apply to how you can support your child in BMX?

1)Knowing about child learning and development

a. Have a general understanding of where your child is developmentally in relation to typical patterns of development. This could be through progress reports from school or just your observations of your child's development.

2)Knowing what is individually appropriate

a. There is no one like your child and no one knows a child better than their parent. You are the ultimate decision maker for your child. Let me give you an example of what understanding what's best for your individual child in terms of BMX can look like:

My little brother has a condition which has created a difference in strength between the right and left sides of his body. After discussions with doctors and physical therapists that worked with my brother, they felt that the use of certain pedals could actually help strengthen his weaker side. So, my parents made the switch for him. For children who show typical patterns of development, this may not have been the best choice, but it was for him as an individual.

3)Knowing what is culturally important

a. What is important to you as a family that your child gets out of BMX racing? Is it the physical development and staying active? Is it learning good sportsmanship? The answer to these questions will help drive how you support your child. It's more likely that if a parent is focused on good sportsmanship, they might consistently advise their child to shake hands or congratulate other racers at the finish line. For me, my dad wasn't ever really focused on the result (where I placed). He was always focused on me doing my best and pushing myself to be better (on and off the track) and he always made sure I knew that when having good and tough conversations about my performance.


Strategies to Coach Your Child

The following strategies are general actions you can take to support your child with consideration to developmentally appropriate practices.



Characteristics of Recommended Praise:







The child sees concrete ways they are capable and successful.

Appropriate Praise in Action

After every national race, on the way home, my family would play a game where we summed up the weekend. We would go around the car and we would each say the best thing, the worst thing, and the funniest thing that happened over the weekend. This gave us all an opportunity to not only reflect on and celebrate what happened, but to also discuss the things we weren't so happy about and how we might fix those things in the future.


Characteristics of Inappropriate Praise:






This may create a level of mistrust between the child and their parent because this praise typically does not sound authentic. The child will expect this same praise and enthusiasm from others, and it may be detrimental to their self esteem and confidence when they don't get it. This type of praise also makes it very difficult for the child to track their own progress and they may not see the areas where they need to improve.

Inappropriate Praise in Action

Saying "Good job" or "That was great" without letting the child know what action you are specifically praising for. A parent continuously praises their child after every practice lap although an outstanding achievement hasn't occurred. A parent praises their child for a lap they missed watching.


Goal Setting

When setting goals with children, there's several things we need to consider:

1) Set SMART Goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic with a Timeframe) (Doran 1981)

When setting goals, especially with young children, it's paramount that you take the time to listen to them. If you hear statements like "I wish I could…", think about how that could turn into a SMART goal. The first goal should be achievable within a shorter time frame.


2) It takes time to create a habit

Don't expect your 6 year old to learn perfect gate form within a week. It takes time and repeated practice to get these things down.


3) Repeating a goal makes it stick

Remind your child of the goal and discuss it before practice or their next race.


4) Let your child make choices in relationship to the goal

…and let them face the consequences if it doesn't go their way.


5) Roadblocks don't mean failures

Just because a child isn't able to achieve their goal within the timeframe originally set, let them keep pushing towards it.


6) Decided how to celebrate… together

Decide what the reward for accomplishing this goal is together and follow through when the child actually achieves it.



1) Ask yourself the following questions:

a. What are their goals and ambitions? What do they really want to get out of BMX racing?

b. What motivates my child as a unique individual?

c. What questions can I ask that will help me understand their feelings?

2) Be inspiring to your child in a positive way and set an example in terms of behaviors on practice and race days.

3) Don't let your anxiety push them to get motivated… if you're nervous for your child, they will pick up on that!


4) If your child looks up to an older or more experienced rider, ask that person to give them short encouraging and confidence boosting messages (IE – a thumbs up before the child goes into staging or saying "You've got this! Go get 'em!")


5) Have your child watch races of older and more advanced riders. This will help them pick up on track strategies and give them the "Wow" factor of the skills and talents they can work hard to achieve.




In our next section of this series, we will explore things to consider when selecting a coach for your young rider and how having a coach can enhance a child and family's racing experience.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact Krystal at

Author: Krystal Robinson MLD


  • Core Body of Knowledge. (2015). Early Childhood Ohio. Retrieved January 10, 2016, from Click Here
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). (2009). National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Retrieved January 10, 2016, from Click Here
  • Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review (AMA FORUM) 70 (11): 35–36.

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