Finding a good skills coach


Since I’m not going to make it to CO and it doesn’t appear your coming to New England anytime soon I have one simple question:

How does a rider find a knowledgeable mountain bike instructor/coach in their area?

At face value this seems like an easy questions but the more research I’ve do on local “instructors”, the more questions I have.
There are two or three options within New England. Each of these options have instructors that have long resumes of wins in various events throughout the country. But my experience (from the snow sports industry) is that
being a good athlete doesn’t necessarily make you a good coach.

Do you have any suggested “interview” questions for a potential coach?

In the end, I hate laying down my hard-earned cash for a sub par instruction.

Southern New Hampshire

Joel rips some parking lot slalom in one of my sessions. It’s all about the drills.

Hey Chad,

This is a great question!

Let’s say you’re an adult with a job and a brain. You want to get better on your bike. You’re looking for a skills coach in your area.

Riding abilities

– While a great skills coach might be a great racer, that isn’t necessary. A solid curriculum and great communication skills are WAY more important than great riding skills.

– As a matter of fact: Racing has an internal focus; teaching has an external focus. Very few great racers have the dispositions to be great teachers. (And vice versa. Bummer.)

– Your coach should be able to demonstrate riding skills at your level (to catch you where you are) and higher (to show you where to go). A lot of “elite” riders can’t step it down and meet ordinary people at their levels. If your teacher flies in from the clouds, you’ll just be overwhelmed. It comes back to this basic notion: Is your coach focused on himself, or on you?

Ask these questions

– What is your approach? Listening to him boast then following him down gnarly stuff is not a curriculum. If he (usually he) can’t articulate a clear, logical progression, beware. Some of these guys teach out of my book, which is a decent place to start.

– What makes you an effective instructor? Listen for a deep understanding of riding dynamics, effective communication skills and a personality you can bear. If your suitor spends too much time telling you about the medals he’s won, beware.

– Who do you typically work with? Make sure the demographics match yours. Young dudes are easily impressed. If you’re a more sophisticated consumer with expectations regarding professionalism, make sure your target can work at your level.

– I think you should ignore most rider testimonials on coaches’ sites. The state of the craft is so low most people are impressed with whatever they get. Ask people you trust what they got from the experience. Cut through the “that was rad” and find out what they actually learned — and how that has affected their riding.

Come to class with a dialed bike and an open mind. Have fun!

— Lee

The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance Girls’ Group doesn’t care how fast or cool I think I am. All the care about is my ability to make them better riders.

Know more. Have more fun!

Join the leelikesbikes mailing list:

17 replies
  1. Eric says:

    Hey Lee. I think this has been brought up before but what about an official coaching certification?

  2. Slyfink says:

    I’ve never taken their courses, or known anyone that has, but it seems to me that Mad March Racing comes out east every year, and also has a solid curriculum based on what I’ve read on-line. Check out their website maybe?

  3. aussie chris says:

    A friend of mine was instructed by Shaums March and learnt quite a lot.

    Though Chad, if you haven’t got a copy of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, I’d suggest you do that before you start paying the bigger bucks.

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    >> Hey Lee. I think this has been brought up before but what >> about an official coaching
    >> certification?

    That was the original plan, to create a certification for MTB skills coaches. I’ve had really bad luck with making that happen.

    I’ve tried collaborating with other instructors, and I’ve tried to certify new ones. So far everyone I’ve worked with has become an adversary and/or competitor, or they’ve taken the info and vanished. It’s a huge bummer, and I figured the market wasn’t ready.

    For the past few years I’ve hunkered down, done lots of teaching and continued to hone my approach. I have the whole curriculum — skills tree, progressions, drills, teaching points, etc. all mapped out and ready to convey to would-be coaches.

    Qualified skills coaches make the world a better place, and they can make a good living. Heck, in the past week I’ve taught 50 middle school students, a father/son and 13 dudes ranging from beginner to pro. There are crappier ways to pay the bills!

    I dunno, is the market ready? All I need is a solid business model and the right people. Who wants in?

  5. Chad says:

    @aussie Chirs…

    I have a copy of Lee’s book and reference often. But at this point I really want the real time feedback a coach can offer. Please learning new stuff from a good coach is fun.

  6. tony says:

    it’s a sport full of renegades. that’s what makes it so appealing to so many folks. try to regulate it and create standards, most people fight that, even if it will better for the sport or even for business.

    if you regulate it, it could be taxed. you have to pay fees for permits. renew your license every year. continuing education units. for many folks, thats too much to ask.

    hans rey is trying to make an international standard for bike park design in europe (recent bike magazine article). pump track nation is doing the same thing in a grassroots way. but will city government recognize smart bike park designs in the same breath as skate parks? not yet here in norcal. (heck, we have trouble getting dog parks in some areas…)

    the future seems to be in youth league development. With your gig as director of that program, Lee, maybe in your lifetime you’ll see some sort of certification course for the private/commercial sector. but certainly, the hs coaches must all get certified. Will your curriculum be the standard for that course?

  7. Dave says:

    I believe that in order for a standardized coaching program to work, Lee you will have to have defined geographic regions and possibly levels of certification. A HS coach could have a different cert than a regional “Master Instructor” who has claim on a certain region. The master instructor could eventually be trainer for the HS coach program in his area.

    The regions would not be unlike a sales rep region in a product marketing business. It would give the master instructor some differentiation as a return on his investment of time and expense for instruction, and it hopefully would protect you from having instructors become competitors and adversaries.

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    Thanks guys. Great insights.

    I am the official skills adviser for the national high school mountain bike racing program, so, yes, my approach should make it into the manuals. But it’s an organization like any other. This will take some effort and time.

  9. tony says:

    for what it’s worth (priceless I’d say), i just got back from a two hour urban dirt ride in SF and i had Lee’s voice in my head the whole time…

    “light hands, heavy feet”
    “pump that backside”
    “weight the outside pedal and keep the elbows high”
    “brrrrap over that curb. HA! take that!”

    by the way, when is the new book shipping out (with autograph for prepaid folks)?
    thanks, Lee!

  10. leelikesbikes says:

    Wow, thanks.

    I just talked to the publisher. They get the book next week! It takes ’em a couple weeks to process and send it to distributors, bookstores and me. When I get mine, you’ll get yours.

  11. Eric says:

    I’ll second the need for regional and tiered certifications. I’d love to work with new-ish to intermediate riders, but realistically can’t see myself getting to a point where I’d have a lot to offer an elite level DH’er.

Comments are closed.