XTERRA certified coach Jim Thijs shares three keys to coaching young endurance athletes.
In the mountains of Villacidro, Italy, home to the first-ever XTERRA Italy off-road triathlon in 2004, Jim Thijs is teaching the next generation of endurance athletes how to swim, bike, run, race, and more importantly – how to have fun.
“XTERRA is perfect for kids,” said Thijs. “It’s an individual sport but we train in a group setting, several skills are required, and it's outdoors in nature which makes the training spectacular and fun to do.”
Thijs believes there are three important rules to follow when coaching kids.
Kids biker at XTERRA Beaver Creek
First, define real training goals.
Training goals for kids under 16 should focus on form, technique, and attitude, with lots of on-site feedback, “because there in no way to monitor these things if you’re not present,” said Thijs.
“Until the age of 16/17 I want kids to acquire excellent skills in many different sports - swimming, open water swimming, all cycling and all running disciplines. At this stage we train in groups, and I don’t recommend individual training programs until the kids are older and decide which sport they’d like to specialize in.”
Coach and parental support for young athletes is important
Second, be positive.
Positive reinforcement is critical to build a healthy relationship between kids and sport.
“In our group sessions you will never hear me yelling at them to go faster, but you will hear me sharing advice and how to adjust their form and technique all the time,” said Thijs.
Build their confidence early
Third, take a no limits approach.
Thijs believes in a reverse skills process to prevent fear from setting in for certain situations like technical riding, endless climbs, waves in the water, etc.
“Before doing the easy stuff we teach them to ride rock gardens and how to take drops first,” explains Thijs. “Once they overcome their fear and have fun while doing it, a whole new world opens for them. The same for running. Some kids are doing adventurous trail runs before we let them do their first track session.”
XTERRA Certified Coach Jim Thijs
Jim Thijs was one of the best mountain bikers on the XTERRA World Tour from 2006 to 2016 and a fixture in the top 10 at XTERRA majors around the world.
Fluent in English, Dutch, Italian, and French, Thijs is able to coach athletes across Europe and is currently running a youth project while also helping age group and elite athletes who race XTERRA, road triathlon, mountain bike, cyclocross, and trail running.
Find him online at https://www.xterraplanet.com/coaches/jim-thijs