Do it yourself or hire a professional?
One of the first decisions a group has to make is whether they will organize the camp themselves or hire a professional coach or training company (like AthletiCamps) to organize the camp for them. As with the old Greyhound bus tag line, “Leave the driving up to us,” clearly, hiring an outside service with experience in organizing a productive camp can be beneficial. It can take away any pressure from the team themselves and allow the whole team to focus and enjoy the camp. Also, having an independent and objective view of your team in this type of environment can lead to improvement. Sometimes the team itself can’t see the forest thru the trees and having an experienced point of view can help offer suggestions that may allow the team to perform better as a group. Remember, the camp is not just about riding; it’s about teaching the team to perform at their best during the season.
Define a purpose
Have a reason for the camp and make sure everyone is on the same page. Identify areas that the team needs work on, like lead-outs at the end of criteriums. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that every rider has input as to what they want accomplished. Take suggestions from the riders as to what their top priorities are for “their” camp. They can range from the obvious of riding to tactical discussions and team goals for the upcoming season. Begin planning well ahead of time. One of the first steps should be sending out an email to all members and ask what they would like to accomplish during camp. This process will allow the team to be most productive in their limited amount of time together.
Bring in a variety of different sources of information, more than just riding
In line with defining a camp purpose, there can be many topics to cover at camp. For example, at our camps we offer performance testing of each athlete, bring in coaches that can offer different points of view on training, nutritionists, doctors with a focus on exercise performance, and sports psychologists. By presenting a variety of topics, riders can learn that there is much more to athletic success than simply riding their bikes. By bringing in other coaches and experts, it can teach them that there are alternate methods to training. A lot of times, riders get “stuck” in one type of training approach, when, in fact, there are many different methods of training.
Organize riders into training groups that reflect fitness level
If you have a large club or team it might be best to split the camp in different groups or even consider separate camps. For example, if the club has Elite 1’s and 2’s as well as Masters of varying age groups, separate the ones that race together during the season into their own subgroup. The main benefit of this, other than fitness level in relation to riding, is they get to know each other better (while riding) and can race more effectively. The whole group can come together for general talks about things like nutrition and psychology.
If you are going the DIY route, make sure organization (or lack thereof) doesn’t cripple the camp. Define routes, timetables, etc. – Do everyone a favor and have a structured itinerary and schedule, and stick to it. For example, don’t come to a meeting place in the morning and ask the riders how much they want to ride that day and where they want to go. You are sure to get as many opinions as there are riders. When athletes come to camps, they usually just want to follow a lead and not have to think about things too much.
Add a social aspect to the camp
For most teams, bike racing not only represents an athletic hobby, but also represents a social aspect of their busy lives. Training camps represent a small vacation away from everyday life, so make sure there is a good social component to the camp. Perhaps organize a wine tasting or a trip to local sites of interest. Here in the Gold Country, we make sure everybody is aware of the impressive history of this area and try to present that to athletes.
Home or away?
Clearly getting away from home base can have its benefits as it can eliminate any distractions from the riders and can be looked upon as a vacation. On the other hand, going away can cost more (especially in this economy) and may limit many members of the team from attending. One option would also be to bring the organizer to the team. There are many teams that request AthletiCamps to come to them. It definitely represents a balanced approached to getting a camp done.
Schedule some down-time each day and plenty of time to rest up in the evening
Usually, the prime purpose of camps is training and we tend to want to overload on the kilometers given time away from work and daily responsibilities. Allow for down-time in each day’s schedule, and encourage the riders to get plenty of sleep each night. For example, it may be difficult to schedule events after dinner. Riders are tired and had just had a nice meal together. Making them listen to a presentation may not be the best thing at that time.
There is no question that teams that train and race together with proper guidance have better results through the season. The more a team gets to know each other both on and off the bike, the better the chemistry will be when trying to achieve team goals (i.e. win bike races.) Use a team training camp to begin this process this year. And by all means, don’t limit yourself to one camp. Think about multiple camps during the year, where team morale can be improved, a review of the season to that point can be talked about and goals for the rest of the year can be addressed.
Ride safe; ride strong!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.