Junior World’s Sydrome

Posted: June 11, 2014 in Opinion
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Reading the wonderfully written story in The Saturday Age about Zac Shaw a month or so back got me thinking… is our (that is, Australia’s) fixation on performing well at Junior Worlds a good thing?  No other nation seems to care as much about results at Junior Worlds as Australia.  Why is this?  Is it just a tradition?  Are medals at Junior Worlds part of the ASC/AIS Winning Edge funding requirements?  Is it driven by a number of coaches who only work with young athletes and lose them when they move out of juniors (under-19s)?

In many ways, as the father of a junior cyclist, it doesn’t make sense!

Junior World’s comes around as young cyclists are entering year’s 11 and 12 – the two most important year’s of schooling they will face.  They can always come back and do uni if their cycling career doesn’t work out, but they can’t redo their HSC or VCE (or whatever its called now days?).  They get one shot at getting a good enough ENTER score to get into university… and if they happen to be one of the top junior under-19 cyclists, they also get the chance to continue Australia’s proud tradition of being the leading nation at the Junior World’s.

The only problem is the two don’t really go hand-in-glove and a number of our junior athletes seem to focus on the Junior World’s as the be-all-and-end-all, never looking beyond this big prize.

Perhaps this is where the problems start?  What problems you ask… well just last year, three of our most promising young cycling prospects hung up their bike.  Zac Shaw (VIC), Jack Edwards (NSW) and Kelsey Robson (WA) all returned from the Junior World’s as Champions sporting rainbow jerseys and seemingly the keys to an exciting cycling future.  Right?

Jack Edwards on his way to some rainbow stripes!

Jack Edwards at the 2013 Junior Track Worlds on his way to winning some rainbow stripes!

Sadly, very wrong… all three amazing talents have hung up the bike and are pursuing a more ‘normal’ life.   In the article, Zac says he is happy… while Jack Edwards can’t stand the sight of a bike at the moment.  Kelsey was more realistic in her reasoning stating female cyclists can’t make a living.

I know that “the powers that be” are concerned about this and are trying to work out why this is so.  Some feedback suggests that parents can have a significant impact on the outcome of a young athletes decisions.  It’s a very hard balance to be the parent of young cyclist… I’m sure that gets magnified significantly when they are selected on a Junior World’s team.

As parents, as our kids grow up, we are: coach, mechanic, soigneur, taxi, cook, psychologist and more.  There is a fine line between encouragement and falling into the category of ‘pushy-parent’.  We all want the best for our kids, but it is sometimes difficult to step-back and look at the bigger picture… and our kids need us to, as they’re living in the moment and find it hard to see the big picture themselves.

I don’t think there is any one thing that caused any of Zac, Jack or Kelsey, or a long list of juniors past, to prematurely hang-up their bike.  I think its a combination of personality, environment and opportunity that determines outcomes like this.  I guess all we can do as parents is provide the most caring, supportive environment and network possible.  We can protect them from unhelpful influences while preparing them as best we can for what can only be an uncertain future.

Or course not all who represent Australia at Junior World's hang up the bike…

Not all who represent Australia at Junior World’s hang up the bike… Jackson Law, Jack Cummings, Alex Morgan & Alex Edmondson take Gold in the Teams Pursuit in Moscow in 2011 all are still riding at different levels.

I say uncertain as no matter how good, how focused and committed they are, the reality is that they’re only one crash away from the end of their cycling career… so we as parents need to help prepare them for life beyond cycling.  Athlete welfare is one of the buzz phrases doing the rounds.  This isn’t new in cycling, with Michael Drapac the original outspoken critic of the CA high performance pathway and recent articles on the cyclingtips.com.au blog making claims about out how badly athletes were treated under past coaching regimes.

I’ve started to write a blog on here about the black hole that is under-19’s racing – especially for athletes (and their parents) coming from the comparatively well organised junior racing on both the track and the road.  But it actually makes sense that there isn’t as much organised competition for under-19s… as stated above: they are in year’s 11 and 12.

Any how, some food for thought… would love to hear from parents of under-19 athletes on how they’re coping with school and training.

  1. I so agree with you , there must be a balance, & a career to come back to because as much as we think our kids , in my case grand kids , are talented etc anything can & does happen , as was the case with my grandson Seb.

  2. Allee says:

    I did compete at the junior worlds championships in 2011 & 2012, I no longer am a cyclist, I completely understand the stress and pressure and why these guys, who are good friends of mine, hung up the bike.

  3. Tirian McManus says:

    I couldnt agree more with needing a back up to cycling as im currently studying part time at uni. But I dont beleive that Cycling Australia push Jr worlds upon us. The junior world championships are really the first chance we get as australians to race on the world stage and make a name for ourselves. Unlike europe where there are european champs ect.

    • cycdad says:

      Thanks Tirian, its great to hear first-hand how an athlete feels about this. I think there are a lot of good people in CA’s high performance program with the best interests of the athlete at heart. Good luck with your study and with your cycling career.

      • Tirian McManus says:

        Thank you! But I also do agree there is huge importance put into the jr world champs onto us to acheive.

  4. Dad U19W says:

    Dad to 1st yr U19 Woman. The balance between Cycling, Education and living life is hard for most U19 girls for sure, I think that of late there is less focus here in NSW to “push” for a Jnr Worlds berth. However, as Tirian said its the first opportunity to gain exposure to an International field of one’s peers. My personal view is there needs to be a higher level of competition for every one to aspire to and if it’s Jnr World then thats the higher level. Along the way there also needs to be achievable levels of competition to offer a sense of achievement for all , this starts at Club, State, National, Oceania, etc. The dilemma, for me, facing all U19’s in general is they need to complete a certain level of training to remain competitive, and able to simply complete races. With out the training, negativity can set in from getting hammered every race, resulting in people leaving the sport. Couple this with Education/social pressure and we risk loosing a rider.
    On the positive side, for women in particular, I believe they have a slight “advantage” over the boys. The u19 women can race the Elite women in most open races. They gain experience, and have a wide selection of races to choose from. Yes the races are hard, and can offer a realistic gauge to performance. While the focus for most is simply finishing within the time, it offers invaluable experience. While at the cost, of a moderate to high level of training.
    With this amount of “quality” racing here in Australia, and growing all the time, it may well take the pressure of Junior worlds being the “only” goal for the majority.
    Having said that there needs to be a focus on “levels” of racing for more riders to be able to achieve satisfaction and fulfilment from the sport that they love.

  5. Gil Carver says:

    Interesting read this, i can only say that, we as parents have a lot more influence than we believe.

    Keeping them as grounded as much as possible is the key.

    Keep this blog going, its definitely worth discussing for those who are still very much in the thick of things.

    Very helpful.

  6. Robbo says:

    As a sport cycling can tend to be all consuming, this can cover the parents as well.
    My son has competed against many of the names listed here throughout his cycling career. I have seen and continue to see many parents who appear very pushy, interestingly I wouldn’t say this was apparent for the parents of the riders we knew who were able to compete at junior worlds.
    Cyclists hang up their bikes for many reasons, and some were always destined to hang it up.

  7. surroundedbycyclists says:

    Great article which touched on many interesting points and it raises a number of questions for me.

    Firstly, are high performance institutes held accountable for ensuring that athletes maintain their education? Are these kids given extra funded tuition to assist them when they return to school after time off for competition? Or consideration when their exams are being marked? Is there any counselling/briefing to assist them to manage the pressures they’re under? Im not privy to the inner workings of CA but one has to wonder what measures are being put in place to ensure these kids are well supported in their life outside cycling. (Obviously, parents have a huge role in this too).

    As a parent, (and Im not sure my kids would listen to me!!), my advice, for what its worth, would be this. If you’ve got exceptional ability at 16-17 years of age, you will still have the same abilities when you’re 20-21. Only by then, you’ll have a degree or trade under your belt, a few years more maturity, more time to be a “normal” kid, and the knowledge and reassurance that is gained from knowing that you have opportunities outside the sport. You’ll also still have every chance to pursue your sport as a career. Don’t get me wrong, Im sure its fantastic to represent your country as a 17 year old, but it would appear that for many, the price is far too high.

  8. Janine says:

    My son sat out of racing in his year 12. Has raced in France the last 2 years doing online uni because he got in and he gave him something to do in his down time. Late last season he was hit by a car in France fracturing his spine and suffer a closed head injury. Thank goodness he has fully recovered. But this season he put his contract on hold and is home and back at uni full time. So glad we made him think about a post cycling option. Thanks for the blog

  9. Alex Carver says:

    As I have also hung up the bike as a past junior worlds champ, I think I can give a good insight into this.

    I agree with Tirian when he says, junior worlds isn’t something that is forced upon us as juniors. Yes, Australia has a history of riders winning world medals at junior level. Often its thought that Australia put too much effort into junior worlds based on the fact that we do so well compared to other countries. This is not the case. 90% of the worlds best cycling nations put the same amount of emphasis on junior worlds as Australia do. Look at GB, Russia, Italy, Spain, and all the rest. They may not be as successful as us at a junior worlds level, but they would put the same amount of emphasis on JW as part of the athletes development. Its the same for Australian riders.

    Being so far away from the rest of the world, we as riders don’t have any where near as much exposure to the highest level of racing (in euope). JW is the first taste of that level we get. I think its important that the riders are well aware of this and are as best prepared for this as possible – because the jump from u19 to u23 is not an easy one (exceptions made for the odd Caleb Ewan). If you are a successful at a junior level, you certainly have the potential to be successful at an elite level. Junior worlds can provide a great platform for the young aussie riders to begin their elite career in Europe. I think that JW is very important that us as aussies continue to strive for the best at junior level. Pro teams ALWAYS look at aussies at junior worlds for potential signings as they know we have one of the worlds best development systems.

    I think you would find that there are a lot of GB, french, italian, spanish, russian Junior world champs that have also hung up their bike – all for their different reasons. So, its not just Australians that have this “problem”. In the end, its not that Australia puts too much emphasis on JW, it comes down to the individual and what they want to achieve. Yes, I wanted to become a professional cyclist when i was a junior. After racing as an u23 with the AIS on the road for 2 years, I decided I wanted to do something else with my life. My goals and ambitions changed – so did my career. Junior worlds and the AIS was one of the BEST experiences of my life and I do not regret focusing on my sport for that time. What 17-21 year old gets to travel the world doing something they love doing and in some cases, get paid to do it.

    • cycdad says:

      Wow Alex, fantastic insight and first-hand account of your time in the system. There is no doubt some amazing experiences to be had for those fortunate and talented enough. As you rightly point out, travelling the world racing your bike offers an amazing kind of education you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

      The other very pertinent point you make is that everybody is indeed an individual and there are many and varied reasons they may hang up the bike and it is probably easy to take pot-shots at the ‘system’ in trying to understand and make sense of this.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and all the best with your studies and your future pursuits (pardon the pun).

  10. Dave Sanders. says:

    Hello all.
    I believe I am more than qualified to comment on this subject.

    As a long standing state and National Jnr coach , and also a parent of two sons who went through the Jnr Worlds process.
    In fact I believe that I invented the term ” Junior Worlds Syndrome”.

    As a coach , we want our young athletes to achieve at the highest level.
    For a long term career.

    As a parent we just want our kids to be happy..
    Whatever they are doing.
    Or not doing .

    As a National Jhr coach we are looking for young athletes who have the capabilities , both physiologically and psychologically to go onward to become potentially World and/or Olympic champions.

    The fact is that very few of our junior champions go on to achive those goals.
    But is that all negative ?

    What an amazing experience for a young person to travel the World and represent their counrty in international events..

    Sometimes this may be the highlight of their lives.
    At least they did have a highlight in their lives.

    Young Alex Carver has summed it up pretty well above.

    Its an opportunity to do something special in your teenage years.
    Where they choose to go from there is up to the individual.
    It’s a huge commitment.

    This is an not easy sport and. it is challenging at every level.

    My No 1 Son came home from Jnr Worlds with a silver medal and played around for another year or so before dropping out.
    Did win an Austral .
    Which was very special to us. .
    . But has good memeries from his experience. (Typical Jnr Worlds)

    No 2 son said it was the worst experince of his life.(Jnr Worlds)
    Ended up a very close 4th at Jnr Worlds..
    I’m still having trouble dealing with his version of what went down. ;

    But so be it !!

    Hey I once read in a coaching manual that there is generally a big gap between the expectaions of a parent and/or a coach than the actual young athlete themselves.
    And I have seen that many trime.

    I believe our system still offers the best oppertunity for the young athletes to make their career.
    Buit the shock is how hard it really is at the World level often changed their minds.

    So, lets not blame the people who really do put their lives into trying to give your kids something special in their lives.
    And just enjoying the great moments as they come.

    • cycdad says:

      Hey Dave
      Thanks for weighing in. I have since learnt that you probably are the author of the term Junior World Syndrome and I believe a lot of coaches recognise the issue.

      The last thing I want to do is blame those that keep the sport going and the kids coming through; I guess I just wanted to start a conversation. Ask some questions. Is there a better way? I appreciate the input of you and the other contributors. I think if we are aware there is a potential issue it better equips us to prepare for it – and I’m speaking as a parent here first and foremost.

    • One thing to add, as an athlete having been through that pathway, I think there is a lot of merit in what Alex and Tirian are saying. No one forces you to go to junior worlds, but it is’s very implicit that being in a national team is essential for ongoing state and national institute participation.

      I think the most important factor in coming out the other side with a good back up plan is having a supportive school.

      Having been over to Italy in year 12 with Davo, I had time to study and Davo made sure of it. Eric Sheppard did the same thing the year after with the VIS. Most athletes and parents would be surprised at the support on offer for educational pursuits if we want to do both at the same time.

      But at the end of the day, something must give. And the UCI is not going to move junior worlds to fit your exams. So you really need to have a school that supports your endeavours and moves assessment schedules around so that you can get both done.

      If there was a way for talented athletes to skip junior worlds but still have an option to take on training camps with state institutes and try and earn a spot once high school has ended, that would be fantastic. But ultimately very hard to put in to practice.

      • cycdad says:

        I think you’ve summed it very well. It’s great that coaches are happy to accommodate your studies but your point about a supportive school is well made. Perhaps the state institute can assist in smoothing the way with an athletes school?

  11. NZ Cyclist says:

    Also notably in New Zealand as i’m sure there are many other similar cases with the likes of Josh Atkins hanging up the bike. Or in younger terms even a couple of guys that Jack may know personally. Connor Stead a what would be 2nd year u19 was a promising pursuiter and enduro. With Quinn Karwowski also stopping, after having been the fastest starter in the team sprint at Junior Worlds 2013.
    Definitely some food for thought here.

  12. Hamish Tomlinson says:

    Here’s a kiwi perspective…

    I went to the Junior world champs in 2009 (same year as Alex).

    The junior worlds was one of the most intense, craziest, and altogether best experiences of my life. As it happens I never went on to anything greater in cycling, and you could probably say I suffered from Junior Worlds Syndrome as I went on to study at University to live a ‘normal’ life.

    I actually don’t agree that Junior worlds holds back your studies, quite the contrary. The skills of dealing with a high pressure situation, having the confidence to aim for achievement at the highest level, setting goals and working harder than anyone else to achieve them. These are skills that can contribute to a distinct advantage at university, and in life in general.

    Isn’t sport at a junior level supposed to be a platform for growing young leaders? Rather than merely hanging up the bike, I’m sure many ex-junior worlds level athletes will go on to have important and longstanding contributions to society in whatever they choose to do. Representing your country on the world stage is the perfect place to start. I completely agree with Dave Sanders, what an amazing experience, and regardless of the outcome, an important experience in its own right.

  13. Amanda says:

    I can relate to this like it’s my own story if me and my bike. Iv competed at national level for over 4 years and just in last 4months hung up my bike. As my dad became pushy and I wanted to get my ed sorted and the fact stands that I can always go back to my bike. But for now I can’t stand the sight of my bike. And to me it’s almost put me off the sport

    • cycdad says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Amanda. I think there are a lot of cycling parents that read this blog and I hope that take onboard your experiences as something to think about in their relationship with their own kids. There’s a fine line between being supportive and being pushy…

      • Tirian McManus says:

        I can say on behalf of NSWIS that we have to have a ACE department (Athlete Career and Education). You cannot gain your NSWIS scholarship unless you complete this meeting really. I just had mine the other day.

        This is a meeting at least once a year every year to plan that year ahead. Be it University, Tafe or work you basically must be doing something other than your sport. NSWIS will pay for me (and have done) for RSA/Barista/First Aid ect courses for you to get a job or further qualify yourself. NSWIS also cover my uni text books and supplies which is a huge cost of Uni. State institutes are 100% behind us regarding this matter and will do anything for us if we ask.

  14. The other point for discussion is: we know that athletes who take on junior worlds and then retire soon after still come away from the experience fulfilled. Alex pointed that out wholeheartedly. But there is the point that the athletes, the institutes and CA have gained incredible experience along that journey. And if those athletes stayed with the sport after junior worlds, those experiences are incredible building blocks for their future success.

    Essentially insitutes are loosing athletes with a built up asset of experience. And athletes are writiing off a level of experience that many of their competitors would kill for. That is ultimately the athlete’s choice, no arguments there. But:

    The question then begs for state and national insitutes: What can be done to increase the ratio of riders who continue on after junior worlds?

    Would a lightened focus and build up heading in to junior worlds change the motivational state of athletes after it? Would forcing education or tafe etc take athlete’s minds off cycling as the be all and end all at that time in their lives?

    I’m not pre-supposing any of the above as a golden bullet. But it’s a curious discussion. And one that may mean better long term prospects for athletes and insitutes.

  15. Sam says:

    There is a long line of riders like this. Think Dale Parker and Josh Atkins, huge huge talents who cracked on living in awful attics, in awful regions in the most awful corner of europe. Its all fun and games when your in the national squad and in the lime light, but its a very different story when you have to make the ‘next step’. They ask themselves what is everyone else my age doing?

    • chloehosking says:

      Sorry for the long post but…

      I represented Australia at the junior world titles in 2008 in the women’s road race. I’ve gone on to represent Australia at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the 2012 London Olympics and was most recently named in the 2014 Commonwealth Games team.

      Disclaimer: I’m a female road cyclist and readily acknowledge that my situation is notably different from male road riders, and male and female track cyclists.

      Certainly when I was trying to get selected for the junior worlds it was the biggest thing ever, I hadn’t even thought what I would do cycling wise after the championships. I ended up having a terrible race and went on to have more than three months off the bike to focus on my studies in my final year of schooling. I graduated with a mark that got me into Arts/Law at the Australian National University (I ended up enrolling in a degree that was easier to do by distance through Open Universities Australia).

      After year 12 I often found myself thinking, ‘wow, that wasn’t actually that big of a deal’.

      A lot of people talk about ‘the black hole’ that athletes experience after major events; suddenly the thing that was driving you, motivating you, is over and it is hard to find motivation elsewhere. I experienced this after the junior world championships and after the London Olympics.

      While Alex said teams are always looking at the junior world championships to scout riders, in my experience – for the women – they don’t care if you won the road race or placed sixtieth. Young riders need to be prepared for reality; that is there is more to life than the junior world championships. But there is definitely a culture in Australia that insinuates that if you want to progress further in the sport you need to achieve highly in the junior ranks. Not true. Look at Richie Porte.

      I came through the junior ranks in what could be called one of the ‘golden years‘ of Australian junior cycling. Riders like Leigh Howard, Cam and Trav Meyer, Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Michael Matthews, Netti Edmonson, Mel Hoskins were all coming through the junior ranks around the same time as me and it was hard not to get caught up in their success.

      In the six years that I have been out of the junior ranks I have often thought that there is too much emphasis placed on the junior world championships and not enough placed on schooling. Not once when I was preparing for the championships in 2008 was I spoken to about my schooling, how I was tracking, or what my plans for the future were. Luckily I was always a very driven student.

      I’ve now been racing in Europe since 2009 and made my way in the professional ranks largely outside of the Australian system and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I’ve also been studying by correspondence for the entire time, I’m only two units away from completing my Bachelor of Communications.

      Male or female, road or track rider, I think it is hugely important to think about life after cycling and to speak frankly, I think Cycling Australia doesn’t put enough emphasis on this. But it’s not just Cycling Australia, the majority of my friends who I race with in the professional ranks have no further schooling or qualifications. I actively try to encourage them to pick up some form of further study.

      I know every body is different and there is no one set pathway that is right for everyone but there does need to be more emphasis on schooling and less on results.

  16. Riders dad says:

    Most of the comments appear to be from riders or moms dads that have moved on from the sport,I think it is a very good blog.If you were to compare it to other sports like Rugby Cricket Golf Athletics then they probably suffer more than cycling.
    The most gifted are never guaranteed to be the champions of tomorrow it’s the athlete that wants it the most.My observations of the young athletes is that it’s such an honest sport there is nowhere to hide its hard mentally and physically and so when a person decides to call it quits it’s a multitude of things .As a dad or a mom you have to look your child in the eye and say only do this if you want it and if you want to stop ,stop any time ,And most of all you must enjoy it.
    I think a young person should be encouraged to follow a dream there and not to be like some of us that followed our parents dream ,find a job and work at it for the rest of your life and think what if .There is an education to be gained from travelling and riding for a team and learning life skills and I would imagine it ain’t always easy.
    So the system as it is now is probably not ideal for everyone but it is still producing champions and world medals it’s just a hard road there.

  17. MarkW says:

    Great information which should be considered by all cycling parents-
    I am no Dave Sanders but I have been involved in both the CA Junior Worlds program and the alternative “Life Balanced – Athlete Based” Cycling Programs that have developed in the last decade (specifically the Drapac Program) – and I have to say it’s not fair to be critical of either development pathway as together they allow a more diverse environment that can simulate a wider range of Juniors. I can assure you the coaches and managers on both sides have the sports interest at heart and truly luv cycling. The point is kids are different and although I am so personally grateful that Michael Drapac persisted through the tough years with his philosophy for my own family, I have also been closely associated with other juniors whom could only function with a single-minded focus and thrived under the CA development program where there are few distractions.

    The older style Australian Institute of Sports are a simple performance based programs to produce winners on the World Stage – it is based on Stress, Recovery, Greater Stress, Less Recovery and More Stress again to stimulate Youngsters adaption. Clearly Athlete drop-out is part of this program, Yep it’s not politically correct – but that is what it is – and I am afraid its life. The Program is built for the tiny percentage of athletes that can cope, the problem arises that the most talented kids are not necessarily the ones that can cope with the Stress to get the Adaption to succeed.

    What propels this Burn-out problem is there is not a Scientific Sports Test that can identify this Ability to Cope (I call it trainability), so the program has to lure in a number of athletes knowing that only a few could possibly succeed. Strangely CA and the AIS tried to develop this testing résumé right back in the early 90s with Charlie Walsh, Neil Craig… and the crew trying to test for trainability to warning athletes earlier that this program is not for you. Sadly a test doesn’t exist for Trainability and even if it did Charlie Walsh well tell you – physically talented athletes don’t appreciate being told they are not good enough for the elite program. So the program simply aims to getting a heap of gifted kids and then it’s a case of simple old Natural Selection.

    So what’s with all the Blogs and Criticism – for me the problem is not the Natural Selection process of the CA (Institute / Government) program but the fact that so many juniors are so desperate to get in the program – given what the Junior World Program is and what is now available. Thanks to the amazing work of people such as Michael Drapac, Andrew Christie Johnston, Tim Leunig kids have options now and with good advice they can pick a pathway that is the most appropriate for them as an individual. With all the negative press surely parents and personal coaches can understand what this CA Junior Worlds Program is all about – so why do they (ie Parents Minders Personal Coaches and Athletes) not assess what is the best for their developing athlete?

    That is why this Blog is so important! It is a wonderful info for educating Parents and Personal coaches to understand the benefits and downfalls of a performance base junior program. If you read Davo’s post closely the junior worlds program is a great opportunity for some and for many others it’s an education in life where you need to reassess and change your whole focus to take advantage of other opportunities that may come past. It is worth referring to the Drapac Philosophy – to change focus is not a failure in fact the most successful and satisfied human beings are those that can see a new opportunity and re focus on a new challenge. Also great feedback by Tirian McManus, Alex& Gil Carver and others – it is essential reading for all parents of talented juniors.

    Of course there is always a something to review and that is the interfaces between the CA programs and the safety net of the Private Teams (not including the Orica Green Edge program that I personally align with the CA Performance Based programs).

    To me the communication channels between these two types programs are still not good; but also the Performance Based Government Programs and the more Athlete Based Aussie Private Teams Programs are the wrong way round. Logically you would expect the Privately Funded teams to be the performance based programs chasing sponsorship money while you would expect the government funded programs to have an athlete focus – feeding to the private teams and assisting with the re education athletes that are falling out the back of the performance programs. The NRS and Oceania Conti Teams are developing to a point now where these interfaces with the Government funded Institutes does require serious reform.

    In closing here is something to consider – the Aussie Team at the Junior worlds in 2007 in Mexico was full of superstars – it was an amazing team – but the competition also included a host of superstars including Sagan, Phinney, Degenkolb etc… plus maybe the most impressive junior I have ever seen Diego Ulissi – I have followed Ulissi ever since and Lampre wrapped him in cotton wool for years and introduced him very slowly to the pro peloton –Lampre have been very patient but he is my early tip for the worlds this year and at 24yrs old Ulissi is looking set to achieve his potential as a senior rider.

    • cycdad says:

      That’s more great commentary Mark, thanks so much for your contribution. I had no idea this blog post would create the sort of discussion it has. I maybe hoped it would, but to see athletes, coaches and parents all discussing and offering opinions and advice is what its all about. Thanks again for your comments.

  18. My daughter was lucky enough to make jnr worlds in both the road and track teams. She had the full support of the VIS, her school and the clubs she was involved with and loved every minute of it, except maybe her crash in the road race! She then spent some time with the AIS women’s road team in Europe before calling it quits. It was a tough decision for her but she missed Australia and wanted a bit of a normal life. She never hung the bike up though as the love for it was still there. There were plenty of opportunities to race locally and so that’s what she did and mixed her disciplines up a bit. Five years later and she is racing professionally in Europe on both the road and the mtb and has just been named in the Commonwealth Games team.
    I believe that she developed many skills and learnt a lot of life’s lessons during her preparation for jnr worlds that she still uses today. To juggle the frequent travel, study and training and still perform with the world’s best is a massive task. Ours was made easier because people like Dave Sanders support not just the athlete but also the parents.
    Would we do it all over again? In a heartbeat!

  19. jeff hopkins says:

    My 2c: Not everyone who enters this sport will stay in it for life and it’s unrealistic to expect that to occur. Be it Junior Worlds, other “life” events or whatever else it is that creates a situation where someone leaves the sport, those situations are not all solvable, and are not necessarily all “problems”. They are just exactly what they are, someone choosing to do something different than cycling. In my opinion, the benefits of Junior Worlds out-weigh the drop-out rate. In my opinion, success at the top level breads growth at the bottom, as young riders can see a pathway to success and choose to attempt to follow it.

    Personally, I have a rainbow jersey sitting on my wall next to me in my office. When I went through it, I took year 12 off from high school and trained flat out for a year to race junior worlds, getting gold, silver and a 6th place. I then took some time off from the sport while i returned and finished year 12, I then moved to the US and raced earned a living racing bikes for the next 10 years. Now I manage a velodrome. Being a world champion has opened so many doors for me throughout my career both as a rider and as an administrator. For what it’s worth, my Junior Worlds team Michael Rogers, Brett Lancaster, Graeme Brown, Ben Brooks, Scott Davis amongst others. Those 5 riders race professionally for a good amount of time, obviously some doing better than others.

    In my experience here in the US, there is no support and as such, no success at the top level of track racing, and so there is no development pathway for riders to follow to make it to the top of the sport. There is a convoluted pathway for road racing, which largely involves privately run teams, but the track has nothing of the sort, and it makes it difficult to recruit young riders who ask what their future as a cyclist might look like, and we show them that no matter how good you are or might get, you’ll have to support yourself in whatever you choose to do.

    My last point of note, is that you can’t generalize this situation, every individuals situation is going to be different, and far too complex such that you can’t just attach a label to it and say “this is the cause”. What if those riders that dropped out never went to junior worlds? Would they have dropped out of the sport? would they have succeeded in the future? Would they have stayed in the sport a short time longer? In my opinion the development of riders who will soon be competitive at an elite (age) level is important enough that competition at the junior level and world championships is an important step for the health of our sport, because without competition we would all just be doing recreational rides and there would cease to be an actual sport.

  20. jeff hopkins says:

    My 2c: Not everyone who enters this sport will stay in it for life and it’s unrealistic to expect that to occur. Be it Junior Worlds, other “life” events or whatever else it is that creates a situation where someone leaves the sport, those situations are not all solvable, and are not necessarily all “problems”. They are just exactly what they are, someone choosing to do something different than cycling. In my opinion, the benefits of Junior Worlds out-weigh the drop-out rate. In my opinion, success at the top level breads growth at the bottom, as young riders can see a pathway to success and choose to attempt to follow it.
    Personally, I have a rainbow jersey sitting on my wall next to me in my office. When I went through it, I took year 12 off from high school and trained flat out for a year to race junior worlds, getting gold, silver and a 6th place. I then took some time off from the sport while i returned and finished year 12, I then moved to the US and raced earned a living racing bikes for the next 10 years. Now I manage a velodrome. Being a world champion has opened so many doors for me throughout my career both as a rider and as an administrator. For what it’s worth, my Junior Worlds team Michael Rogers, Brett Lancaster, Graeme Brown, Ben Brooks, Scott Davis amongst others. Those 5 riders race professionally for a good amount of time, obviously some doing better than others.
    In my experience here in the US, there is no support and as such, no success at the top level of track racing, and so there is no development pathway for riders to follow to make it to the top of the sport. There is a convoluted pathway for road racing, which largely involves privately run teams, but the track has nothing of the sort, and it makes it difficult to recruit young riders who ask what their future as a cyclist might look like, and we show them that no matter how good you are or might get, you’ll have to support yourself in whatever you choose to do.
    My last point of note, is that you can’t generalize this situation, every individuals situation is going to be different, and far too complex such that you can’t just attach a label to it and say “this is the cause”. What if those riders that dropped out never went to junior worlds? Would they have dropped out of the sport anyway? Would they have stayed in the sport and achieved success in the future? Would they have stayed in the sport for only a few more years and then dropped out? There’s too may of these types of questions in each persons situation to make a blanket statement that such and such is wrong. Each person is going to react differently to they own personal experience, whether positive or negative, but at the very least, each athlete is supported in a way that they are able to achieve their best, and it is up to each individual to decide whether they want to continue in the sport or not. The alternative that athletes would not be supported and are forced to choose between a “regular” career and a cycling career before they’ve had a chance to achieve their best cycling performance is one that is definitely not helpful for the future of our sport.

  21. Craig Kennett says:

    Well said Jeff Hopkins. I’d add that from my angle from NZ that Australia is probably the most progressive country in the cycling world. Look how many Aussie riders are going great guns in pro cycling. and you are the best track nation. Track shouldn’t be under estimated either. Many of your pro’s used track to get where they are now. So a few drop out. That’s life. NZ can learn a lot from you in cycling. We’ve got 6 pro riders which is poor. All domestiques too.

    Craig Kennett

    • Aaron Kemps says:

      I did junior worlds both in 2000 and 2001 and you are right I medaled there you come to the end of it all and you have that feeling that you have achieved everything you possibly can . There seems like no immediate goals so you don’t have the urgency to train. You sort of go into the next phase of moving on from your junior coaches then moving into the world of racing seniors. I actually had no motivation to train put on heaps of weight you start doing senior races getting an arse kicking something your not use to and everything seems to hard and at a young age you feel like your missing out on so much normal stuff your friends are doing . Partying girls drinking having a good time. That was probably the hardest time also in my career and the thought of quitting does cross your mind several times. There definitely is a gap in the elite program of guiding and developing these guys from young kids to mature racers. There should be off season training program’s organised where everyone meets up for a few weeks it gives them a goal to look to and gives them hope of actually making a career out of it. I personally pulled my head in rode professional for 8 years 4 of those at pro tour. For me the biggest shock was coming from the ais into a pro tour team I found it really tough. You were used to having everything done for you to having nothing done for you living in a different country not speaking the language living in an apartment by yourself sometimes you would go up to a week not speaking to a single person I was only 21 when put into these situations. I really thought there could of been more support from our sports top bodies to help the transition. I could go on for hours the good and the bads. For me it wasn’t perfect and I made some bad choices but I was also happy with the results I achieved the places I went and the people I met . All very good memories. Aaron Kemps

  22. Craig Kennett says:

    Aaron Kemps makes great points about the next steps after junior worlds and what he went through to carry on and that it is hard but Zac Shaw , Jack Edwards and Kelsey Robson didn’t even have a go at the next step after winning at junior worlds. So Why look to blame the system or coaches and parents when everything was laid on for them thanks to the support network they would have had to get there?

    Cam Meyer kicked ass last night in Switzerland. Concentrate on his success which came via the junior worlds by the way. Not the negative fact that a certain number just don’t for what ever reason carry on. Australia is having a big impact on both track and road at the top level in a sport which had always been dominated by Europe.

    • cycdad says:

      Hi Craig, thanks for your thoughts. A lot of the system is clearly first-class and if the only KPI was medals, then its succeeding. If however we look with more detail at what’s going on around the athletes that have been selected for junior worlds we can realise it is a very stressful time in their lives – especially if they want to do well in their schooling. The blog didn’t set out to criticise anyone, it just asked questions seeking discussion. I’m happy to see it achieved that!

  23. Pete says:

    Yes but there seems to be a wider issue of retention in the sport after J17 age regardless of whether they were selected for worlds or even close. What is the fundemental reason J19 grades are not part of most junior tours, carnivals, etc?

  24. Janice says:

    My son went to Junior Worlds and since his return he has really found it difficult to find the motivation to continue to race and train. Junior Worlds took a huge amount of energy and planning for years to complete his HSC and make his school life manageable while he was away.

    No one pushed him into going, and he absolutely wanted to make Junior Worlds.

    On his return I noticed that he and many of his team mates gave up the sport. They were burnt out, after training for hours and hours a week, missing social events, fitting in study and then realizing on their return they are entering the abyss of the post Junior World experience.

    The financial commitment to participate this sport is huge, it can burden a family and significantly change their fortunes. It is very difficult to support a child at an Institute of Sport level without spending tens of thousands of dollars each year. What does this mean for the siblings of cyclists who do not participate, do they become passengers in the journey to cycling stardom? I have seen this over and over again where younger siblings are almost ignored in favour of their cycling superstar brother or sister.

    It was a massive challenge entering the elite ranks and starting a post school life, dealing with both victory and disappointment at Junior Worlds. My son was one of the lucky ones who finished school and gained entry into university, many of the athletes who went the same year did not finish high school, and many had few prospects on their return. It was impossible for them to gain employment and sustain the high intensity training required to be successful as a cyclist. The members of his Junior Worlds team have left the sport in droves. Is this the natural attrition upon which elite sport relies?

    Many cyclists have been successful despite not having been successful at Junior Worlds.

    Mentally my son was exhausted, financially we were depleted. Cycling gave our family the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The question is, will we as a family support his younger sibling when she comes through, I am not sure.

    • cycdad says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Janice. Your contribution is raw and very real. You’re right though, and I’m sure it’s not just for cycling but any elite sport, the commitment required from not just the athlete, but the family as well, is ALL CONSUMING. At any rate, wishing you and your son all the best for the future and your daughter a great experience in the sport.

  25. […] seen the negative fallout in riders giving up the sport upon their return or soon after (CD: I did a story on this a year or so ago which received some outstanding comments and is worth a read) . At the same time […]

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