Road To 2016 British Cycling Olympic Talent Team inductions
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British Cycling Olympic Talent Team inductions

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Following selections for the 2012/13 for British Cycling’s Olympic Performance Programmes, this weekend saw inductions for 31 Talent Team athletes and a four day camp, which for some would be the first experience of pulling on a Programme jersey.

British Cycling’s introductory Performance Programme for young athletes aged 14-16 has discovered and nurtured the likes of double Olympic gold medal winners Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, and double junior road race world champion Lucy Garner to name but three.

Despite such a strong success rate however, Gary Coltman – British Cycling’s Talent Team Performance Manager – does not consider it the Programme’s job to identify who the next World or Olympic Champion is going to be, or fast track individuals to success.

One of 31 athletes arriving at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester for the 2012/13 Talent Team inductions

Instead, Coltman describes the Talent Team as a precursor to the Olympic Development Programme (ODP), which puts athletes through a process of development and opportunities, the common factor of each Programme.

Referring to it as a ‘preparation phase’ that ensures young athletes have a good understanding of what’s required when they move up to ODP level, as well as the all important skills to handle the challenges of the road ahead, Talent Team members are not named on the UK Sport funding structure and the support consists of the ‘basic essentials’ for development – good coaching, opportunities to develop and much less about the finer details of performance orientated support. That comes later.

“Talent can be identified at any time and at any point along the pathway” Coltman explains. “The Talent Team is about developing young cyclists who have shown the potential to achieve success in the future, to be the best they can be.”

Clothing is distributed to Talent Team athletes for use on camps.

This in turn provides British Cycling the opportunity to work with the talented athletes who have shown potential and are ready for what the Programme has to offer. It also provides information to the coaches further up the pathway and can be particularly helpful to the ODP coaches in making their selections.

Whilst the majority of riders on ODP have progressed from the Talent Team, there are still occasions when riders who haven’t been selected for the Programme join the ODP. Most recently, Elinor Barker became junior time trial world champion as part of the ODP, despite missing out on Talent Team selection in 2009.

Talent Team coach Jeremy Hayes delivers a session to seven BMX-focussed athletes at the National Cycling Centre, which houses an indoor supercross track.

Coltman goes on to describe the technicalities of selecting riders at such a young age, where physical maturity and huge variation in development are as influential as talent, dedication and hard work.

“We always make it clear we can get selection wrong; we don’t have a crystal ball, which is what you need at this age. There could be a rider who missed selection and goes on to be the best in the world, but ultimately we have to choose those we believe are ready for what we have to offer.

“If a rider we missed gets selected later – if we look back and believe we made the right decision at the time – we can still be comfortable in that and applaud the individual. Talent Team is not about desperately trying to get athletes onto the ODP; it is about giving them all the resources and letting them drive their own programme while experiencing the process.”

Road, track and mountain bike athletes hone skills at the Tameside closed circuit.

And in Coltman’s opinion that process is as important as the physical development attained during their time on the Talent Team.

“Talent Team is about educating and learning, not about giving. The presentation we hold at selection camp shows an example of a rock climber with a person holding the rope. We are holding the rope – the individual has to climb the rock face. If you fall we have the rope, but we also provide the challenge and it is up to the individual to take that challenge on. This process will move them on as a person, as a bike rider and if they move onto the ODP puts them into a good place. And if they choose a different route – for example to race abroad on a team – they are well prepared for that.”

The most unique challenge presented by the Talent Team however is the relationship between the rider, the parent and the coach – and as a parent Coltman presents a message centred on the wellbeing of every rider.

“I always stress the need that parents have to be on board with our message. I reiterate that we are challenging all the kids to be the best athlete they can be, I challenge all my coaches to be the best they can be, we challenge each other in the office to be the best we can be. Now I challenge you to be the best parent you can be. Critically, I’m standing with the parents when I say this, otherwise we are expecting a lot from the kids.

Parents and athletes receive a presentation from Coltman and Olympic medallist Miriam Baten

“It’s important everyone buys into an ethos where the kids take control – but we also recognise they are young and it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a two year learning curve that puts a rider through the process of being a part of British Cycling, and every year we start afresh with a new intake. This is just another year.”

British Cycling will be documenting the induction of all athletes to the Olympic Performance Programmes this week, with ongoing coverage of each pathway as part of the Road To 2016.