Developing Youth Athletes, with USA Cycling’s Alec Pasqualina

With the help of the director of the Olympic Development Academy, we explore how to best develop young athletes, particularly in cycling.

Alec Pasqualina racing MTB
Alec Pasqualina racing MTB

Young athletes have a host of concerns outside of sport that make their development a unique, challenging undertaking. While they can often be sponges for new information, skills, and techniques, they are also dealing with complex stressors and pressures—in many ways they are more vulnerable than their adult counterparts.

Today we discuss ways to develop young athletes with Alec Pasqualina, USA Cycling’s Director of the Olympic Development Academy, or ODA.

While he willingly admits he doesn’t have all the answers, the 25-year-old Pasqualina is attempting to take this fledgling program within the national governing body and bring opportunity and access to more young cyclists than ever before.

We hit him with all manner of questions about the general principles that guide youth athletic development, as well as specific questions on the ODA, how it compares to the Long Term Athlete Development model, as well as the thornier subject of how parents should and should not be involved in their children’s development.

We also hear from several other coaches with decades of experience in youth development, including Houshang Amiri, director of the Pacific Cycling Center; Coach Ryan Kohler, Coach Rebecca Gross, and former collegiate cyclist Adam Wisseman.

If you have kids, listen up. If you coach kids, pay attention. If you are a kid, tune in. Let’s make you fast!

Alec Pasqualina of USA Cycling's Olympic Development Academy
Alec Pasqualina of USA Cycling’s Olympic Development Academy

Episode Transcript

Chris Case 00:12
Hey everyone welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Chris Case. Young athletes have a host of concerns outside of sport that make their development a unique, challenging undertaking. While they can often be sponges for new information, skills, and techniques, they are also dealing with complex stressors and pressures. In many ways, they are more vulnerable than their adult counterparts. Today we discuss ways to develop young athletes with Alec Pasqualina USA cycling’s Director of the Olympic Development Academy, or ODA. While he willingly admits he doesn’t have all the answers. The 25-year old Pasqualina is attempting to take this fledgling program within the national governing body and bring opportunity and access to more young cyclists than ever before. We hit him with all manner of questions about the general principles that guide youth athletic development, as well as specific questions on the ODA, how it compares to the long term athlete development model, which you’ll hear more about, as well as the thornier subject of how parents should and should not be involved in their children’s development. We also hear from several other coaches with decades of experience in youth development, including Houshang Amiri, director of the Pacific Cycling Center Coach Rebecca Gross, and former collegiate cyclist Adam Wisseman. If you have kids, listen up. If you coach kids pay attention if you are a kid tune in, let’s make you fast.

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What Is The ODA? And Who Is Alec Pasqualina?

Chris Case 02:17
Alec Pasqualina welcome to Fast Talk, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Alec Pasqualina 02:21
Likewise, thanks so much for having me.

Chris Case 02:22
So you are the director of the Olympic development Academy down at USA cycling, tell us a little bit about what that entails and what the goals are of that Academy,

Alec Pasqualina 02:34
The ODA -as we call it, or the Olympic Development Academy- was started in 2021. And it’s kind of an effort of USA Cycling to offer more opportunities for more athletes, its primary goals are to help athletes in their development towards the national team. So within that development, we’re emphasizing kind of three things, education would be the first one. So kind of the second piece within development that we’re emphasizing is, using the education that we try to provide these athletes for that athlete’s own empowerment and decision-making skills. I call that kind of the athlete’s agency so that they’re not heavily reliant upon experts, constantly good coaches, and whatnot. They’re able to make their own decisions and be empowered to, kind of take their athletic career into their own hands. And then the last piece of that, -the third aspect that we’re emphasizing within the development- is actually race opportunities. And within the US, we’re a little bit at a disadvantage, because for most cycling disciplines, the top level of competition often exists overseas. So we’re trying as a national governing body to leverage our resources and our access to provide more race opportunities for athletes overseas. So within those kinds of three pieces of development, our goal with the ODA is to help athletes bridge the seemingly large gap between a national team level and right beneath the national team level.

Chris Case 04:17
Can I ask you why you’re qualified for this director role? What’s your background, both as an athlete and you know, in the youth development sphere?

Alec Pasqualina 04:28
Yeah, good question. I would say that maybe I’m not super qualified. And that’s something that I continually try to improve upon. So that’s kind of part of my mindset within this role, but a little bit about me and my background. I was a mountain bike racer, for as long as I could remember. I started mountain biking before kind of Nikah but really started mountain bike racing cross-country in the NorCal, Nikah League. I grew up in the Bay Area of California. And so I had this really cool opportunity to be on A high school cycling team with 60 other athletes. Not everyone raced but really just it became a serious high school sport, which was really cool to see. As I got more into cycling, and as I got more into cross country racing, I started to race a little bit on the national circuit. And then I got the opportunity to race in Europe with the USA cycling Junior development program, kind of like a two or three-week race block. And then from there, I made the difficult decision to go to a non-cycling college and went to school and focused on my studies. But kept bike racing along the way, getting very mediocre results in UCI elite fields, -that at the time, we’re talking like 2015-2016, where -we’re pretty big. And so that’s kind of my athletic background, I still really enjoy cycling, and in my experience coming up through the program, and really being a well-qualified candidate for the ODA. Like if the ODA existed, when I was an athlete, I would have been a really interested customer, potentially, in that program. And I think I could have benefited from it a lot. So that kind of first-hand experience of being within a USA cycling development program, having the opportunity to race in Europe, but never quite making like a world championship team, or having the level of like a shoe-in national team type athlete like take a Chris Blevins or Riley Amos. The athletic experience is kind of what guides my philosophy and in working into this role. Then on top of that I kind of professionally, I take a very product management approach coming from- I used to work at Training Peaks so coming from a kind of software background. -Trying to take a real critical lens to, we’re offering a product as a national governing body, we’re trying to solve a problem. What is that problem? How do we build a product or multiple products to help customers solve that? And how do we offer it in a sustainable fashion so that we can do it year after year no matter what funding we get from the USOPC or whatever that is, or from sponsors or whatnot.

Trevor Connor 07:30
So tell us a little bit about the sort of athletes that you work with. So who is the ODA targeting? What age are they? What are you looking for? How do you identify these athletes?

Alec Pasqualina 07:46
Yeah, great question. And part of the reason why it’s such a great question is that I don’t think I have a full solution that we’ve entirely decided upon in that realm. Age group, fairly simple, basically the primary categories, we want to work with ar 15-16, 17-18. And then under 23, so 19 to 22. Those are your kind of prime areas of development within the athlete, if you’re looking at an athlete who’s serious enough to commit and needs opportunities, but still has a lot of potential. So we want to work with those age ranges. But the way that we get there and how we’re identifying talent and where exactly in the pipeline of development that we want to exist, isn’t 100%. This last year, we just finished -well, I guess we still have one more event with our mountain bike team.- But our mountain bike program was essentially a 12 athlete team with 15-16, 17-18, and under 23 athletes in which we raced a primarily domestic circuit. We had a development camp that went along with domestic circuit racing and we offered a three-week European race block. And so the idea behind that program was really targeted for athletes who weren’t growing up in a Boulder or a Reno, or a place with a really built out development team or development program. It was a way for athletes to get experience at national level races and have a European race block, but mostly national level races who didn’t have the infrastructure of, a boulder Junior cycling, or Reno Debo or an about racing. Something like that where you have coaches that have experienced traveling to these races, they know how to prepare athletes. We want the athlete from potentially Louisville, Kentucky that doesn’t necessarily have a mountain bike team or Bismarck, North Dakota.

Trevor Connor 09:56
If these athletes don’t have that sort of a program to develop them, how are you finding them? How are you identifying these athletes?

Chris Case 10:04
Or are they finding you?

Trevor Connor 10:05
yeah,

Alec Pasqualina 10:06
Yeah. And I think we can improve in that realm, but we have an application. And essentially, we are marketing it so that athletes can apply to that, I think that part of the outreach and finding those athletes is going to be really important. We do want to have a minimum standard of an athlete on the program, and we’re still kind of working through some growing pains with that. How do you have an opportunity generating program for lots of athletes who could potentially thrive? But also have some sort of minimum standard that an athlete does need to get to, that an athlete could get to more or less by themselves. So that’s what we’re working through there.

What Are The Unique Struggles To Working With Younger Athletes?

Trevor Connor 10:40
So you’re working within an interesting age range, because you’re talking about athletes who are at a point where they can show some potential, they can show some strength, they can show some interest, but they’re not fully developed. These are not adults, especially when you’re talking about a sport like cycling, where athletes tend to peak around 30. So what are some of the unique challenges that you face working with this 15 to 23-year-old age range?

Alec Pasqualina 11:08
Definitely, they’re definitely not the same as adult athletes. And they’re definitely not elite athletes. So I think there’s a lot of challenges associated with that, but the biggest one is, -you’re traveling, there’s a lot of emphasis and stress on these athletes to go race overseas or to go race at these places domestically, where they’re potentially lining up against some really top talent.- The biggest challenge in that is keeping it fun. You are at an age where you don’t have to do this, there are a lot of things competing for an athlete’s time in these age ranges, Right? Not to mention the normal things like school and family, but other sports, other hobbies, other interests. If mountain biking is not fun, an athletes not going to continue to do it. So I’d say that’s the biggest challenge. But that’s also the challenge that we’re most excited about, right? We want to make this fun, especially as it gets more competitive.

Trevor Connor 12:17
Let’s hear from one of my old athletes, Adam Wisseman, who started as a youth and progressed pretty far as an athlete, but also had that experience of losing the fun while training.

Adam Wisseman 12:32
Yeah, I think the big thing for me was there’s not really money in cycling. And so to be able to afford to spend all that time training I had to rely on my parents quite a bit. And you know, I appreciate all the help they gave me, but I didn’t feel good about kind of living on their dime, pursuing this. And for me, it was important to be able to support myself and not be, one bad crash in a race away from poverty, essentially, because I feel like that’s how a lot of cycling ends up being. If you’re not racing, you got to work another job to make money. It doesn’t take much to end your season, a bad crash, burnout, that sort of thing. And then you have to have something else to fall back on. So I think for me, it was wanting to be able to support myself and just wanting more stability than the cycling lifestyle to provide.

Trevor Connor 13:48
That’s fair, that’s a good point. Now the other thing I remember is you race Tour of the Gila and you won the amateur race. And the way you described it to me was you stood on the podium, on the top step and looked around and said “This is it?”

Adam Weissman 14:06
Yeah, it’s a weird feeling because you’re out in the middle of nowhere. There’s a bunch of dudes you are racing with and there’s a few officials and a couple podium grils and there’s no one else out there. It’s sort of a lonely experience, it may be different if, cycling was bigger in the US and there’s a good fan base. It just seems like such a solitary pursuit. And I guess it goes hand in hand with the, I guess, financial instability and trying to make a career out of this. I think, most,- at least from what I’ve heard low end- pro riders, they’ve got to have second third jobs to support themselves. They might be getting a token paycheck, but bike racing is not a career unless you’re fairly high up. So Why not stabilities? Well, I guess you have got to give up the hope of that stability, you got to be okay with just scraping by or finding another way to finance things.

Trevor Connor 15:13
I’m glad to see these development programs that are saying, we shouldn’t be beating up these kids, we have to keep it enjoyable, or we’re going to going to lose them. But to kind of go down this rabbit hole a little bit, what would you say in terms of training is fundamentally or at least somewhat different about this age range? What do we need to consider is the training differently? Can you train them like you would train a 25 or 30-year-old? Or do you need to take a different approach to it?

Alec Pasqualina 15:43
I think there are some similarities, at least from my specific coaching philosophy, and one of those would be- I’m gonna emphasize building your aerobic engine, no matter who I’m working with, right?- That’s a core concept that I might keep similar between a young athlete versus a fully developed fully mature athlete. Good communication and understanding of the athlete right? If you’re not in good communication with the athlete, you don’t know if they’re overtrained, you’re not checking in with them enough, that’s gonna stay the same and, hopefully, that athlete has a good community that keeps him in the sport. So hopefully, some of those broader concepts might be the same. But you’re definitely right, in alluding to the fact that there’s a lot of differences, when it comes to training with younger athletes, and I’d say that the biggest one that comes to mind- other than keeping it fun for the younger athletes- is this real attention to and carefulness around excessive training. Overtraining is this big broad thing, but I kind of bring in over-specialization into that, too. I kind of see those two together In that sense. I think these are big, considerations with youth athletes, because with adults, you can sometimes get super wrapped up into short-term thinking, right? You’ll have a short-term season goal that you really want to focus towards, or not just a season goal, but a block of races with an “A” race at the end. You can get really specific and focused on those and not really see the bigger picture until you step out of that and start planning for maybe next season or what have you. But I think a huge consideration with young athletes is always having an eye for two years down the road, or five- years down the road, especially if this is a 15-16. With 15-16, this multiplies even more, just because they potentially have a lot more years through puberty before they’re fully mature, fully adult athletes, right? So there are a couple of things that I kind of want to talk about around that. Being mindful of the future, and how it leads into watching for excessive training and overspecialization. We’re really focused on the mental and physical longevity of these athletes. And that’s why going back to the overview of the ODA and what we’re emphasizing and development, two of those pillars are kind of around education and decision making. If we can arm these athletes with the knowledge, that if they specialize too soon, they’re prone to burnout or if they overtrain they’re prone to massive injuries. If we can help athletes make those decisions for themselves, then it’s less of a telling relationship and more of an empowered athlete relationship. And those athletes can take those takeaways to the next team that they ride for, or to the national team, or wherever life takes them, even if it takes them to collegiate volleyball or collegiate soccer whatever it is.

Houshang’s Concerns With Overdevelopment Of Youth Athletes

Trevor Connor 19:01
My old coach Houshang Amiri helped develop the long-term athlete development program in Canada. A Program that has been a model for many countries. Several years ago, I had the chance to interview him about the program and what’s important and developing youths. Before we hear it though, my quick apology that I was sitting in an airport at the time of the interview,

Houshang Amiri 19:19
There is no doubt in my mind and speaking through my experience if the junior years has been mismanaged and if they do wrong training,they never gonna make. I can give you many examples. And it’s not just Junior races- when we talk about Junior, we’re not talking about 17-18. -We are talking about the years before that, we are talking about age from 10 to 17. And all those years are a key element of their development. And without proper approach they’re not going to make. If your looking at the LTd- long traumatic development,- the stages and what has been discovered, what has been researched or suggested is all making sense.

Trevor Connor 20:26
Yes, I was gonna get into that, but so you’re saying you don’t feel a cyclists, or somebody can get to the pro ranks unless they start as a junior?

Houshang Amiri 20:36
They have to start as Junior, but they have to train correctly. What we are seeing is they start as a junior even earlier but they do all wrong type of training.

Trevor Connor 20:50
So I was gonna ask what’s the wrong type of training? Like what do you see a lot of juniors doing that you just want to say stop that don’t do that.

Houshang Amiri 20:57
So when we look, the training has to be based on age-appropriate or developmental age or biological age and not much about their chronological age. Everyone develops differently and if we did have to do writings at right time based on these two area.

Trevor Connor 21:34
So we’ll get into kind of what’s the right progression. I know you were a big part of that and developing the LTAD But before we get there, what are some examples of wrong things that you see that you see are pretty common.

Houshang Amiri 21:47
Obvious I say this to coaches and some of the athletes that speed, for example, is like a rooftop of the building. But before we work on the roof, we need to build a base, the foundation, and those foundations will support the roof. If we keep thinking and working on the roof, and adding more materials to it, that roof is going to collapse. Because we forgot about the foundations. And that is happening all the time. And not mentioning names. I have athletes,as you know, in the past couple of years, everyone thought, oh, there are next top cyclists in Canada or in the world. But those athletes quit. They left the sport just because the trained wrong and they did everything backwards.

Trevor Connor 22:47
Too much high intensity, too much racing, not enough going out and just doing basic base work is that what you are saying?

Houshang Amiri 22:53
Absolutely physical component is one thing and mental and social and emotional component is pretty much under looked with many coaches and even some mentors don’t think about it. That it is not just how strong they are, they can handle stress, they can cope with trauma, they can cope with demands. So it’s not easy for young athletes to deal with all of this at once without any preparation.

What Are The Dangers Of Overspecialization?

Trevor Connor 23:36
I actually I pulled up a study that I think was an important study about just keeping things in check when it comes to youth athletes. And so the title of this study is sports specialization, part one,- there’s obviously a part two as well. -But it says does early sports specialization, increase negative outcomes and reduce the opportunity for success in young athletes. And the gist of the study was saying that, as you’re seeing this new trend in specializing athletes, earlier and earlier, -and by specialization, I mean, basically they start participating in only one sport throughout the year at the exclusion of other sports. -So we’re not talking about are they a time trial is versus a crit rider, not that type of specialization. This is taking kids that are participating in many sports and saying no, you’re just one ,you’re just going to be a hockey player, you’re just going to be a cyclist

Chris Case 24:28
Hockey player? You said that because you’re Canadian, didn’t you?

Trevor Connor 24:31
Of course I did. And basically what the gist of the study was saying is you are now seeing these correlations of this early specialization and injury in youth, and also burnout in youth where they just end up hating the sport not wanting to do it anymore. And really the push of the study was saying we have to be careful about so much specialization at such a young age. So very interesting to hear you saying the same thing even though you’re running a program where you’re trying to hopefully develop our next Olympians.

Alec Pasqualina 25:03
Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it exists outside of cycling too. You know, oftentimes I get wrapped up into this cycling world of Don’t specialize in mountain biking, race the road you can learn things from the road, race cyclocross, you can learn things from cyclocross. But it definitely applies to other sports and I’m a huge believer in hand eye coordination from, a ball sport, or endurance from swimming, or running, pick your sport of choice, it will help you with cycling in the long game. It’s undeniable that the mental and physical longevity of not specializing too soon. You really have to emphasize that, I know you love cycling the most, especially with athletes in the ODA. But, please continue to play all the things. And, ultimately, young athletes are going to do what they want to do, right? Like, I take Tom Pidcock, for example, Tom Pidcock, had what sounds like some great mentorship and some great coaching, through the British cycling system. He had coaches apparently telling him to stop going to the dirt jumps on his days off, and to not spend too much time on the bike. But, ultimately, he probably did, he probably kept riding his bike, even when he was told not to. But it was all under his own motivation and his passion. And, that’s what it’s gonna take to propel an athlete to the next level, they will do what they love to do, right? The only thing that we can potentially do as coaches or mentors, or people in young athletes lives is, try to help them understand, maybe why specialization or over specialization, too soon is potentially harmful. But if they’re doing things for the fun of it, they’ll continue to do them.

Trevor Connor 27:19
Now, it’s interesting, this study actually brought up the example of the WTA, that same sort of thing, they saw athletes spending too much time, even if they were on the tennis court, even if they were enjoying it, and actually started putting limits on them how much they could compete by particular ages. And one of the results of these limitations was- so it says right here,- reducing premature sport dropout from 7%, to 1% in young professional women’s tennis players. And it goes on, but you really saw this actual improvement in the development of these young female tennis players by saying, No, you can’t be on the tennis court all the time, we’re actually going to put limits on you.

Alec Pasqualina 28:04
Yeah, it makes sense. You keep the fire burning a little bit.

Chris Case 28:09
Yeah, -I think from personal experience,- you don’t want whether from outside pressure, or honestly sometimes from inside, kids can get wrapped up and feel a pressure to continue to do one thing. You certainly don’t want to turn it into a chore, you don’t want them to start resenting that sport, you don’t want it to be a burden at all. You want to emphasize fun, you want to emphasize progress. You want to emphasize enjoyment over all other things, especially at that age. And I think that and excellence or performance or some of these other things actually go hand in hand. If you start to push somebody, or if a kid is has a natural inclination to push themselves to do something they’re not enjoying, then yeah, I think you’re going to see that performance erodes, progress erodes, they’re just going to do it and go through the motions but they’re not going to actually gain much from it. Versus if you pull them back or if you educate them to pull themselves back a bit. They’ll have that drive. Of course, I’m speaking in general terms but I feel like that is definitely the case and I’ve seen that in myself from the running background that I had and getting to a point where honestly I just said no more I’m doing something else and I stopped running for a decade, right? You don’t want that.

Alec Pasqualina 29:34
Exactly we’d rather these athletes not be competitive but still ride their bike for the rest of their lives then to be ultra-competitive for two years and then no longer ride ever again, that is that is not the goal. There’s too many athletes out there to burn athletes. It’s just yeah, absolutely not. The example I like to use his swimming, because I feel like swimming is one of those sports that really lends itself to specialization. But I mean, maybe this is because I’m a cyclist, you’re staring at lions at the bottom of the pool for however long, right? Like, I think swimming is this really fun, awesome sport. But if all I did for four hours every day was look at lines at the bottom of pool, I would go crazy.

Trevor Connor 30:26
Well, so this is where I’m gonna be proudly Canadian. Canada developed this program called the long term athlete development program the LTAD that talks a lot about this, and it breaks youth development into nine stages. And if anybody’s interested, I’m not going to go into the details, there is a website for this with a really great write up of it. But the gist of this is they identify key points in a use development to develop particular assets. Like when you develop speed, when you develop strength, when you develop more of your anaerobic side, when you develop more of your aerobic side. And one of the big messages they have is you need to be doing multiple sports to develop these different strengths, these different aspects. That are going to benefit any sport that you do. And basically, they make the argument that if you specialize too much, you’re gonna develop some assets, you’re not going to develop other assets and that’s going to impact you for the rest of your life, you’re you’re going to be missing assets that are going to be hopefully beneficial to any sport that you participate in. So I really like their message of even if you are in love with one sport and focusing on it, you really need to be participating in multiple sports throughout your youth.

Alec Pasqualina 31:44
Yeah, the long term athlete development model is definitely quite impressive and is all encompassing, for sure.

How Do Youths Develop Skills At Such a Young Age?

Chris Case 31:55
Alec what about the other side of riding a bike? There’s the engine and then there’s the skills. How do kids youth, these age groups that we’re talking about, What do you do to develop their skills at these ages?

Alec Pasqualina 32:10
Yeah, absolutely. I think that younger athletes are so much better at responding to bike skills improvements, whether that be for the road, and riding in a group and being efficient, or, BMX learning how to, you know, do crazy tricks in the air for BMX freestyle. I think those younger ages are super susceptible to making massive improvements in the bike skills department, and we keep seeing that is a massive indicator of performance across most cycling disciplines. So That’s something we definitely want to emphasize. How that’s accomplished is, I feel like a hot topic. For me, I think there’s, lots of ways you could potentially help an athlete improve bike skills, but what it really comes down to is time. Making that a major emphasis of training for skills work. And, not every workout is going to be done to perfection – if you’re telling your mountain biker to go ride on the dirt every day to work on their skills,- but those long term improvements of those bike handling skills or you know, you don’t, want your road athlete, riding the group ride every day, because that’s a lot of intensity. But those skills from being able to sense things in the group and follow the right wheels and save energy, will ultimately pay off. So giving your athletes ample time to develop bike skills, -whether that’s on the track or on the road or wherever- is the key component to that providing instruction when necessary. Answering questions and educating the athlete is a big part of that. There’s many ways to do that, but really, for me, it comes down to emphasize that in training, give your athletes enough time to do that.

Trevor Connor 34:17
And I imagine that’s part of the reason honestly you see such a focus in junior athletes on training on the track because you build a lot of skills there you also build a lot of that neuro-muscular side that is so important to develop at a younger age.

Alec Pasqualina 34:34
Yeah, absolutely young athletes are like sponges to that type of stuff. They just absorb those skills and make massive improvements so fast. So it’s important to emphasize in my opinion.

Trevor Connor 34:48
I got on the track my first time when I was in my 30s and I just remember going so you want me to ride around this basically what looks like a cliff. Really fast on a bike where if I stopped pedaling, I’m gonna go over my handlebars. They’re like, yep, then I’m like, nope. I’ll be out in the road. Call me when you’re done. But for youth,, sure, no problem, Let’s do it.

Chris Case 35:18
Yeah, for the parents of five-year-olds, eight-year-olds out there, it can be a nerve-wracking time because they are sponges. And they see Danny MacAskill video, and they want to replicate that, or they see the BMX guys at the Olympics now, and they want to replicate that. And it’s good for them, too -I know I’m talking about little kids now. And that’s in some ways where it can start and you can- get them learning their limits, learning how they can corner, learning all those little nuances, even at a younger age. And then of course, when they get to 15-16, the jumps become bigger, the corners become faster, all that and hopefully, they have a baseline a background that they can apply there and that setting.

Alec Pasqualina 36:12
Yeah, and I would understand that the potential reservation or, hesitancy, you obviously don’t want your your kids to get injured. Cycling is potentially a very dangerous sport. But seeing kind of the other side of that, and seeing athletes in Europe and what they’re capable of at these young ages. A quick side story, we were course pre-riding in Dornbirn, Austria, just this summer at kind of a UCIC1. And it was open pre right, So everyone was on the course. And there was this like technical, super muddy, like mudslide section into two corners on a really steep pitch that ended on this wood drop into like a mud pit, where your tire would sink down three or four inches in the mud when you landed. Nothing super consequential or nothing super, super scary, but definitely like an eye-opener for our US athletes who don’t have that technicality of mountain bike courses in the US. And there’s this 11-year-old couldn’t be older than 11-year-old, Austrian young woman, just absolutely shredding this line, like so hard. And of course, she’s probably local, she probably rides it twice a week for the last five years. But to have that, to see that happen. And then potentially you’re a 20-year-old athlete from the US who’s over there, looking at this line, a little bit nervous, a little bit scared about racing it and then seeing the 11-year-old, just absolutely sending it. Bike skills are important. And, you know, we’re probably a little bit behind the curve on that type of stuff.

Why Is It Important To Provide Opportunity To More Cyclists?

Trevor Connor 37:55
Why don’t we jump to obviously, very few cyclists, very few athletes make it to the Olympics. You are a development program, But most of the people who are going through your program aren’t ever going to reach that level. So how do you identify who is who? And do you take a different approach? Because I know you’re also just trying to develop athletes to be lifetime athletes and also enjoy the sport. There’s two aspects of this. How do you identify them? And then what’s your approach with both?

Alec Pasqualina 38:30
I’m gonna not answer your question first, and then maybe try to answer it.

Trevor Connor 38:34
Okay. Now you got me intrigued.

Alec Pasqualina 38:37
So not answering first. I’d say that the national team is more or less in charge of talent ID, my head is not wrapped around tallent identification. I don’t prioritize it. And I don’t really think it’s my place. I don’t think I’m at the level at which we need to start being really choosy with athletes so to speak. So that’s not answering your question. Answering your question I think that identification is less important than providing opportunities. And maybe this is me living in a fairytale land. But I definitely think that athletes will identify themselves to a degree. They will perform. If given the right opportunities, they will progress and develop to the point where you need to pick them. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have an Olympic cycle with three spots and, potentially five or six really qualified athletes for those spots. Like that’s always going to happen and identification is always going to have to be something that happens somewhere down the line. But my perspective is a little bit of, let’s see if we can provide more people, more opportunities for longer and then not forced this identification early. Take the 15-16-year-old category, if you make too many assumptions about 15-16-year-olds that early, that is really problematic. Not just for a national governing body that is potentially only giving resources to certain picked athletes, quotes around the picked athletes. But there’s so many different factors, there’s so much life that an athlete needs to live that can potentially change all of that. So my perspective is let’s stop trying to pick the golden child, and instead try to offer opportunities to all of the children. And then eventually they’ll make our lives easier with easier decisions. Now that doesn’t mean that at the end of the day we need to pick all the athletes going to World Championships like that will happen every year, and athletes are going to be left out of that maybe should have gone or could have done well. But it doesn’t mean that they should be not allowed to have at least some opportunities, whether that’s an ODA trip or a different type of program so they don’t feel like just because they missed one race in Europe World Championships that they’re all of a sudden behind the curve and experience. They might be getting European experience at other races or World Championships level experience in a different type of race block. And therefore, now you keep the amount of athletes with those opportunities, you know, you keep that pool larger. And then ultimately that competition within itself will help you identify those athletes as it comes down. And that’s really where the ODA is wanting to exist is wanting to be is this place We’re in the business of trying to provide more opportunities and less picking athletes.

Trevor Connor 42:12
I’m really glad to hear you say that because I think opportunity is such an important thing. I mean, I started my coaching career working with developing athletes. And I always saw that as the biggest hurdle. I can’t tell you how many kids I saw that were phenomenally talented and went nowhere because they were just never given the opportunities. As a matter of fact, I just had this -I don’t want to call him a kid. But Chris and I were jokingly calling him my kid.- I had this Canadian who was staying with me because he was trying to get ready for Tour of the Gila and he wanted to get some altitude trainings. I’m like Sure, come stay in my basement. I got a bedroom, stayed with me for a month and we call him my kid because every day I came home from work, he’d be on the living room on the floor in my Normatecs on his phone, I would be like Oh so I have a kid. But this guy is phenomenally talented. When Tour of the Gila was canceled and he was devastated because that,- like so many other athletes- he’d been targeting that for months. He just went okay, I’m gonna go out and start hunting Strava segments. Which in Boulder is a real hard thing to do. And it was impressive how well he was doing and how high up on the Strava leaderboards. He was getting on some well known climbs where basically to crack the top 20 your in with World Tour athletes. But he just has never been given the opportunities. And it’s hard to see somebody that strong, that gifted, not already being at the World Tour level just because of lack of opportunity. So It’s great to hear that that’s what you’re focusing on. That you’re trying to take potential talent and say let’s take you to Europe, let’s take you to the races. Let’s see how you do.

Alec Pasqualina 43:58
Yeah, and I think that we have such a big potential talent pool to work with. The US is a massive country. And although Cycling isn’t at the top sport, I’m sure that if more athletes are given just one opportunity that more athletes will start thriving. And that you know, the rising tide lifts all boats. And that’s really what we’re after at this level.

Chris Case 44:25
What’s the capacity of the ODA? How many athletes can you serve right now? How many do you hope to serve?

Alec Pasqualina 44:34
I’d say the next three years we’re looking at up to 100 and then hundreds of athletes, ideally is our progression. But in the future, I could definitely see 1000s of athletes participating in ODA programs and that’s where we’re trying to get. That’s the pipeline that we’re trying to build but it’s going to Take a while.

Chris Case 45:01
I would assume that you’re interacting quite a lot with Nika leadership and Nika coaches. Is there a relationship forged there?

Alec Pasqualina 45:11
not yet actually. Hopefully, people listening to this podcast are interested enough or you know, have thoughts that they want to share, I’d be more than willing to hear them and connect with you. We aren’t necessarily connected to any programs I’m trying to elicit advice from people within the industry that have played large roles, you know, development programs, things like that. However, we’re really brand new and maybe this is a mess on my end. But hopefully we get to the point where top five varsity athletes in a Nika field, go to some sort of ODA programming in the future. That would be a great- and not just Nika, any Interscholastic cycling programs,- hopefully, development programs in the future see the ODA has a great place to send their athletes, after they’ve worked with them from potentially under-eights, or even younger. Up until the point in which they’re kind of performing at this level in which more opportunity is going to benefit them. European race opportunity, top level coaching and education. And then those programs are going to be willing and encouraging their athletes to go to an ODA program. But I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily there yet, for sure.

Trevor Connor 46:41
I do want to emphasize and so I’m actually going to bring up another study here, but emphasize the importance of having this opportunity that you’re giving these youths. So this is a study called training performance and physiological predictors of a successful elite senior career in junior competitive road cyclists. And the gist of it is they took 80 youths and looked at the differences between the ones that were on a world tour team, by the time they were 23. And then analyzed all their data and training, and racing from when they were 18, to see what potentially predicted them being on a world tour team. What didn’t predict was training. How they trained, how hard they trained, the intensity distribution, that was not a predictor. The only thing that was actually a predictor was the volume of racing that they did at 18. And also race performance. But the interesting thing about the race volume, was they said, when you looked at the ones who ended up being World Tour versus the ones who didn’t. They did about the same number of races at 18. What the difference in the volume was, the ones who ended up going World Tour, were doing longer races. Which is kind of code for they, were probably doing bigger, harder, higher-level Junior races over in Europe or other places that were much longer races. So basically, what this study is saying is race opportunity, is what was predicting a successful career.

Alec Pasqualina 48:16
Yeah, and that’s a tough sell. To be honest. I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s one of the core tenants of this program, the Olympic Development Academy, but it’s the hardest one to sell. Because why would you potentially pay for a spot on a team that’s just going to take you to races? Sure, you might not be able to go to all those races on your own, but you could get in a van and go or hop on a flight and go to a race by yourself. Why would you necessarily work with a team if they’re only giving you race opportunities? Which is kind of one of the core tenants of our product, what we’re trying to offer. It’s something I truly believe in, getting higher level race opportunities and even earlier, is potentially the difference maker and that’s what we’re trying to build the program on.

Trevor Connor 49:16
It’s interesting because when I talk with younger athletes and then they asked my advice that’s what I always tell him. I’m like, you just need to get on a team that’s going to take it to races. You know, I get that question all the time. Well, I can be on this local team and race just around my province or my state and they’re giving me bikes and all this stuff and there’s all this swag and that team looks great or there’s this other team I can go on there they’re traveling to Europe they’re traveling around the country, but you know, I have to fund some my own way, I am going to be on a crappy bike and I get no swag and I always go the ladder. The only thing that matters is the race opportunity get to the races.

Alec Pasqualina 49:52
It’s something that’s that’s hard to conceptualize. But if making it to the top level of your sport is truly your goal I think- and obviously, the ODA isn’t going to be the only program that offers that, there’s always going to be more opportunities there. -But finding a program for an athlete that emphasizes that. That is willing to take more than just their top three riders to all these quote unquote race opportunities is something really important that I hope more people are interested in going forward.

It Is Critical To Teach Young Athletes Balance

Trevor Connor 50:29
We all agreed that race opportunities are critical. But let’s hear a second part of my interview with Houshang where he makes the important point that racing should not overshadow training or preparation. Another point I think we all agree with.

Houshang Amiri 50:42
I get athletes in the past few years from one of the local clubs that are specialized in youth development. And when I get these athletes, I just shake my head, they have no idea about flexibility they have no idea about any component I have mentioned. Now they are age 17 and have not learned anything, because all these clubs, they are thinking about the roof speed, we have to be on the podium or beat the certain times. And this really worrying for me because we are losing a significant of good athletes, just because they are training wrong on those early ages.

Trevor Connor 51:40
Right, And so they end up giving up early on.

Houshang Amiri 51:43
Exactly, exactly.

Trevor Connor 51:47
No, that all makes sense. So give you a scenario, a parent comes to you they have a 12 year old who they want to get into cycling, they want their kid to be serious, and they’re coming to you and saying what do I need to do? What would your advice be for that 12 year old and to the parents?

Houshang Amiri 52:08
The first thing is just don’t drop any other things they are doing in life to just focus on cycling. Yes, the key idea is be cyclists. But if they are doing other sports don’t drop them, continue with that. And definitely education is very important parents have to understand the basic concept of LTD, how kids are growing. The most important part is peak height velocity, PHV, that each athlete’s can train or maximize the development of a certain age. And knowing those they can have an idea what training they need to do. I’ve been on -So I’m going to go a little bit off the line here. -I’ve been on some of the races for juniors that has had speaches come from elite athletes,- you know, some have different opinions and this is many years ago.- And when I listened to these people to speak their recommendation to young athletes. Keep racing, race as much as you can. I have issue with that. At age 13 you should not be racing as much as they can. They need more training they need more teaching and education. Racing is important, but not as much as training at those ages.

Trevor Connor 54:07
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Chris Case 54:59
Well, let’s shift gears a little bit, let’s talk about the balance that has to be struck in these youth athletes. There’s the travel, there’s the school, there’s other things in life besides sport at these ages. How does the ODA help facilitate that balance? I guess you could say.

Alec Pasqualina 55:24
Good question. This kind of ties back a little bit of what we were talking about with overspecialization or excessive training too soon. You want to emphasize to young athletes to do a lot of things. And those are proven to help athletes in the long run, which is what we’re after. But I’d also kind of bring a more complex understanding to that. And just kind of say that the bounce is all about perspective, we can sit here and talk about, oh, youth athletes should be spending time with their families, and they should be getting good grades in school. Our perspective of balances is probably pretty holistic, right? But that’s also a bias of ours, right? Because balanced to 15 year old, ultra-competitive, ultra-serious, track cycling star is going to be a little bit different than, you and I potentially. And so the key about balance, hopefully, within the Olympic Development Academy is you’re helping to educate these athletes about the potential shortcomings and the dangers of overtraining, but you’re ultimately allowing them to come up with their own balance system. Because if they love cycling, they’re going to ride their bikes a lot, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do as a coach or an influential person, in the young athletes life, to keep them off of their bike, the athletes determine their own balance, not your perspective of balance. So, you know, as long as the athlete isn’t forced to do anything, you know, I’m going to be a little bit hands-off in a way of- like, okay, you know you have your school to get done, you know, you have this to get done. And, you know, you love to do this thing called cycling. -here are some things I might be able to say to help you but it’s ultimately your decision on how to balance those things. And it’s really your perspective, on how much balance is necessary. And maybe, that’s a little bit in the unsafe realm for an athlete, but I’d much rather an athlete have their own perspective on balance and their own agency and decision making, then having a really strict schedule that you’re forcing an athlete to do. Because once you start forcing stuff with young athletes, that’s when you get into trouble, in my experience.

Trevor Connor 58:10
Well add to that, I think balance is a skill and it’s a skill that you have to lear. Especially as you become an adult, I’ve seen a lot of cyclists with potential, athletes with potential, who never really learned how to keep balance, and that ultimately ends their career. Because you hit a certain point where suddenly the sport is the only thing you have in your life, there is nothing else. And I’ve seen very few people go, Oh, that’s great. I love that. Right? The response I tend to see is that this doesn’t feel fulfilling when there’s nothing else and they end up leaving. So the argument I would make for your hot take on not forcing balance is more,- if you force it on them, they don’t learn it, it’s just imposed.- So probably one of the skills they have to learn at that young age is how to keep balanced themselves.

Chris Case 59:10
And I would think- you guys correct me if I’m wrong,- but every youth athlete is a bit different. And some actually might need a little bit of more assistance, if you will, or discipline I guess you could call it in their life and others, you could be completely hands free, and they would quote figure it out on their own. I have to believe that the coach, the influential person in a person’s life,- sometimes that’s a parent and I think we’re going to get to parents here in a minute. -But they have to use their own judgment to figure out how much to push how much to sit back on a case by case basis. Do I have that right? Or can you just one rule fits all type situation here.

Alec Pasqualina 1:00:04
Yeah, definitely, I think that there’s always going to be differences in each athlete. But But I guess, where I stand a little bit on the issue is that, even if you’re trying to tell an athlete, or instruct an athlete, what balance is. It’s always going to be your perspective of balance, right? You could try to bring it up ambiguously. But really, it’s going to be your opinions on what balance looks like. And, yes, balance is a good thing we’ve gone over that with 100% agreement, but I’m a little bit apprehensive to try to impart what I perceive as balance on to an athlete, and more so more so dedicated to helping the athlete find what balance looks like to them.

Chris Case 1:00:57
Yeah.

Alec Pasqualina 1:00:58
And giving them the tools and the knowledge to help them be careful about that. But every athlete is going to have a different perspective of how much they need to do something or you know how much they need to do other things. And hopefully we can we can help guide the athlete to find that for themselves. For sure.

How Should You Deal With Overbearing Parents?

Chris Case 1:01:17
I think we need to jump into another thorny subject. Maybe? is it thorny? parents.

Alec Pasqualina 1:01:25
Absolutely.

Chris Case 1:01:26
Yeah. You want to jump in there Alec? Yeah, It can be thorny, for sure. At least that’s the impression people have of this. And again, I’m sure it’s completely individual. Some parents are perfect, some parents are not so perfect. Let’s get into that. How do you deal with that? What’s your perspective on that?

Trevor Connor 1:01:47
So way before we dive into this, I need to ask the important questions. Since I had a kid for a month. Am I now in this?

Chris Case 1:01:53
I don’t know that was going from zero to a what? How old Was he? A 25 year old kid?

Trevor Connor 1:02:00
He’s like 23.

Chris Case 1:02:01
23 Okay,

Trevor Connor 1:02:02
okay, so I’m safe here.

Chris Case 1:02:03
Yeah you’re safe.

Trevor Connor 1:02:04
Okay.

Alec Pasqualina 1:02:06
Hey, you’re less safe than me, right? I’m 25. I don’t have kids. And I’m not qualified to answer either.

Trevor Connor 1:02:15
Okay, with that? Yeah, with the one parent in the room being Chris, let’s go into this.

Chris Case 1:02:22
How do you deal with this? as the director of ODA how do you work with parents?

Alec Pasqualina 1:02:30
I do. And, one thing that I’ve learned, I’d say over the last year or so, -and something I kind of was in tune to maybe before but really had to improve upon is -communication with parents. I think that parents are, like the missing piece of the puzzle, most of the time. They can be the difference-maker for their young athlete, I mean, they are the difference-maker for their own young athletes. And if you keep them engaged, and able to participate, and you keep them up to speed with the amount of communication and the right involvement, then you’re looking at really great things and a great support system for athletes. But if you miscommunication or you’re not on top of it, as much as you could be, that’s potentially when it feels like you might be competing with a parent in a way or not able to create the most healthy support system for each athlete. And so obviously, I’m not a parent, and I’m not qualified to say anything, but if I could say something to parents, very broadly, I would just say let your kids find their way. Do all the great things that you do out of care and love for your children, like teach them about your passions, and give them opportunities and support them all the great things that parents do constantly. But at the end of the day, I personally believe it’s really important to let your kids decide what they like to do after that exposure, and let them guide you to where they want to go. And then hopefully, be supportive of that.

Chris Case 1:04:29
Do you agree with that Trevor?

Trevor Connor 1:04:30
I do. The other thing that I would add to this, if you have a child who’s looking at a potential sports career, and you are supporting that, I think parent support is critical. It’s very hard especially for a young athlete to be successful without that parent support. But the thing that I will add because I have seen this go the wrong way too many times is also as the parent you have to do the hardest thing in the world and recognize you are not the coach and let the coach who is the expert be the coach. And often they are going to do things that you’re either not going to understand or not agree with. And that’s where you have to take the step back and say, you know, here’s somebody, hopefully it’s a coach, who has worked with a lot of juniors and had a lot of success. And you have to say, maybe they know something I don’t know, and I need to trust them.

Chris Case 1:05:28
Yeah, I think, we recorded a previous podcast quite a while back now. I think it was a Q&A episode with Daniel Matheny, who has coached a lot of junior athletes. Ryan was on the program, he’s coached a lot of junior athletes and you. I believe the simplification of the instructions you would give to parents are, basically get out of the way. Let the experts do what they’re going to do let the kids ,like Alec is saying, make their own decisions. And you sit back be supportive, be there if you can, but kind of get out of the way a little bit. Am I hearing that correctly? Again, from you, Alec?

Alec Pasqualina 1:06:11
Yeah, see, I definitely agree that there is a fine line between, not letting a coach or not trusting a coach and being too involved. But I also think it’s important for most young athletes to see their parents active and involved in the things that they’re interested in. Because that’s almost a sense of support in itself, right? They’re up on the team communications, they’re aware of the athlete’s results, right? They’re involved to an extent, it’s not completely like hands-on. I mean, and especially to, you could never ask a parent to be completely uninvolved in your athlete’s athletic endeavors. And, you know, a coach can’t be there every morning, when an athlete wakes up at five, needs to go out and train before school or whatever. And it’s a parent’s job to help the athlete discern those skills of how to potentially navigate stuff like that. But there’s a fine line of going too far for sure. So I’d say I don’t have the right recipe of the amount of support versus the right amount of hands-off. I don’t profess to know I don’t know if I ever will. But, as long as you’re bringing the right intention, and care, and support to your children. And you have an eye open to potentially learn the right balance, because, you know, we’re only human, and we’re never going to get it right every time, then, that’s the best way to approach it. And you might miss some things, or you might nail some things and that’s the best part.

Chris Case 1:08:03
I want to stir the pot just a little bit more if I can. What are the worst things that a parent can do?

Alec Pasqualina 1:08:14
Force your children to do anything. Yeah, I mean, maybe it isn’t the worst thing. But to me, that’s the most problematic from my perspective in my role. I don’t want an athlete who feels forced to do anything because that only leads to a distaste or a lack of enthusiasm for what they’re doing.

Trevor Connor 1:08:40
I’ll give you an extreme example of how far this can go. I remember I was running a program for youth athletes to help develop them and there was a dad who brought his daughter in and he was hell band on his daughter was going to be an Olympic athlete. And he was hedging his bets, so he had her doing both speed skating and cycling. And he was kind of complaining to me that he had tried to work with some coaches, but they were all saying that he was pushing her too hard and making them do too many races and training are too hard. And he was getting frustrated with his coaches because they just didn’t understand and he pulled her out of school to homeschoolers so she could train more. And I rarely ever had a chance to talk with her because he was such a helicopter parent, he just kept that barrier between and the one chance I had to talk with her without him there I tried to get at Do you want to do this? And her response was kinda meh, and a bunch of us tried to warn him and he was just not hearing it and basically say no, the coaches all got it wrong. And she ultimately ended up having a complete breakdown and as I understand it, now she doesn’t do any of these sports.

Chris Case 1:09:57
Yeah, I mean, that was almost predicted.

Trevor Connor 1:10:00
Yeah, right.

Chris Case 1:10:01
Or it was predictable.

Trevor Connor 1:10:03
So that’s the extreme. But that’s what I get at with do listen to the coaches. And I think also what you’re saying which is the most important thing is to listen to your child. Not sure he ever asked his daughter, do you want to do this?

Chris Case 1:10:19
Yeah,- he was maybe perhaps speculation on my part, -but trying to live vicariously through her and pushing her, applying what he wanted to her life, and not even caring what she thought. So, and that is definitely an extreme case.

Alec Pasqualina 1:10:39
Good, great story. Thanks for sharing that it’s definitely a sad one.

Trevor Connor 1:10:43
It’s not what you want to see.

Alec Pasqualina 1:10:45
Yes, definitely not what you want to see. And I can draw parallels to kind of, the programming of the ODA in the last year. I think for some people in the program, it was a little bit like, wait, why aren’t you more serious? Why aren’t you expecting results? You know, we kind of want to be held to this higher standard. And that’s great, that’s a great insight and something I plan to incorporate more so in future programming. But at the same time we’re still at the level, in my opinion, where this is fun. And this is self motivated, this is entirely driven by athletes and what they want to do. We’re not at the level where we are demanding and expecting results. We’re more so at the level of, here’s some awesome opportunities. let’s see what you can do.

Rebecaa’s Perspective On Balance

Trevor Connor 1:11:51
Let’s hear from Rebecca Gross, an elite cyclist and coach who specializes in sports psychology, she has a lot of experience working with Youths. And in this interview, she addresses parents, balance, and how to avoid burnout.

Rebecca Gross 1:12:04
I think the number one thing to address with younger athletes is their capacity and maturity level and ability to handle the extra training load or the extra load of adding training into schoolwork and family time and potential relationships and travel. That’s really a case-by-case basis. So it would depend on the athlete themselves, depending on their age if you can have a talk with them about how they’re feeling if you get straightforward answers back. And then involving the parents and the parents have a better understanding of the athlete and what their capacity is. So my favorite answer to everything is, it depends. But definitely, something to be really observant with. Because burnout in younger athletes leads to no performance later on. So I personally would prefer to keep that athlete in love with the sport first and foremost. So if the travel is becoming overwhelming, and the priority is still schoolwork, then we need to reevaluate if the athlete should maybe stay more local and focus on a smaller season. If the athlete is world-class, and they’re going to World Championships, and that means missing the first two weeks of school, which seems to be the case quite often, then, it’s really, working with the teachers and the family to make sure that everything is balanced, I think balances most important to having a world-class performance. So if there’s stress in any one area, it’s going to relate to a decrease in performance. So definitely working as a team, with coaches, with the athlete, with the family with the school, to make sure that this is a load of training and education that can be balanced.

Chris Case 1:14:14
If I could throw in my perspective on why people might think that the words Olympic development Academy might make it seem like your job is to develop the next Olympians for the United States. So I don’t know if that name is a bit of a poor branding thing or whatever you want to call it. But you know, you put those words together and the expectation is we are creating the next Olympians there will need to be results. They need to be serious, they need to be focused, they need to be in the gym every day, etc. And that sends the wrong message.

Alec Pasqualina 1:14:59
Well for everything we just talked about maybe the best way to develop the next group of Olympians may be the healthiest way to develop the next group of Olympians is to give great opportunity to more athletes at a healthy and sustainable level, where 80% of them don’t progress in their sport. But they still are lifelong cyclists. They are still lifelong lovers of the sport, but maybe, just because we’ve offered 1000s of more opportunities. Now we have a pool of 20% of those 1000s and those are Olympians.

Chris Case 1:15:34
Yeah.

Alec Pasqualina 1:15:35
So while, I certainly hear your perspective on our title, our name and you do bring up a great point. This is kind of getting into coaching philosophy in the sense of like, sure, but I’m still more or less convinced that this is the way to produce athletes of that caliber, especially for the age groups that we’re targeting.

Chris Case 1:16:00
Yeah, my criticism was more about people’s interpretation of what the name means, rather than the name itself. Because you’re right, your method might be the exact way that you develop the best athletes and Olympic athletes. But there’s going to have to be some education to the population to that method versus the traditional view that you have to be serious from the age of three, to get to the Olympics, right? Or the message that NBC Sports sends out every year when they do these dramatic pieces on the stories of struggle that it takes to get to the Olympics.

Trevor Connor 1:16:40
To me, that’s part of the point. Cycling, like many of endurance sports, takes huge amount of time. It’s hard, it’s painful, takes a ton of sacrifice. If you’re not enjoying it, yeah, I don’t care how much somebody is pushing you. You’re never going to do what needs to be done to get to that Olympic level. So I agree with you completely. There has to be fun. Even in the Olympians, even at the people at the highest level, this needs to be fun. And if it stops being fun, I don’t think you’d ever make it to the Olympics.

Alec Pasqualina 1:17:17
Absolutely. And you know what, we’re probably oversimplifying it, and idealizing it a bit, right? It’s not gonna be fun all the time. And we try to not be completely amiss to that perspective. But it’s kind of the foundation at which we’re trying to build a program. So hopefully it works out.

Take-Home Message

Trevor Connor 1:17:39
Very good. I think we’re at the take-home point.

Chris Case 1:17:42
Yeah. So Alec, we like to close every episode with our most pertinent, most important, take-home messages. Would you like to start us off? Give us from the conversation today, what you think is the most important thing to leave people with?

Alec Pasqualina 1:18:03
Yeah, I think it was written into most lines of the entire episode really. Cycling is fun, sport is fun, don’t specialize too soon and keep it fun. I think that’s always my takeaway. Maybe to add to that, too, the Olympic Development Academy is in the business of trying to create more opportunities for cyclists. We’re not going to be perfect, but that’s ultimately our goal. And that’s where we’re trying to go. And hopefully, those opportunities end up being fun for most of the athletes that do them.

Chris Case 1:18:39
Very good Trevor.

Trevor Connor 1:18:42
Not sure what my take-home is for this I’m going to lean in two directions. But I think

Chris Case 1:18:46
Give us both.

Trevor Connor 1:18:48
And you just gave both. So I’m just going to add a little bit to each, one is that issue of specialization. I think if you have a youth that you want them to be a lifetime athlete, or even if they’re trying to hit the highest levels trying to hit the Olympic levels. What you see in the movies have been specializing in the one sport from the time you’re three years old, really from everything I’ve read, that’s just not the way to get there. You need to participate in multiple sports you need to keep that fun side. You need all the skills you develop from other sports so keep the variety. The other direction I was thinking of going with my take home, which you also touched on is that importance of opportunity. And as somebody who started his coaching career in development athletes, that’s what I saw was the biggest make or break in any career was not the talent, the strength it was whether the athlete got that opportunity or not. I love that you are creating a program that is focusing on just giving athletes the opportunity and then it’s up to them to make the most of that opportunity. Chris?

Chris Case 1:20:05
Focusing on a single sport from a really young age, in my case, I think it was maybe eight or 10 running was the thing. I put the blinders on to most everything else and by the time I was done with high school or junior year of high school, I was done with that sport, essentially for forever as a competitor, so you don’t want that. I also think that undoubtedly, if you are doing a variety of other sports, particularly other ball sports, skill sports, things like that, you will become a better athlete, a stronger athlete, more durable athlete, more agile athlete. And it might not seem like that helps you when you’re just pedaling in circles all day long on a bike but I guarantee it does in the long term. Thank you, Alec. It was a pleasure having you on Fast Talk great conversation today. Thank you.

Alec Pasqualina 1:21:02
Thank you both. I really appreciate the opportunity to come speak to you and share some perspectives and hopefully talk a little bit about the ODA.

Trevor Connor 1:21:12
We appreciated it and best of luck, you have a great program there.

Chris Case 1:21:17
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts and be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode and become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community for Alec Pasqualina, Hooushang Amiri, Rebecca Gross, Adam Wisseman, and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Case thanks for listening.

Ryan Kohler 1:21:56
Fast Talk Laboratories is pleased to announce pathways. Pathways are a new way to explore sport science concepts, Master new skills, and solve training challenges. Discover your next path forward in your training. See our new pathways at fasttalklabs.com

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