NICA Staffer, Chris Spencer, has been to Minnesota three times this past year. He was able to catch up with two Minnesota coaches just finishing their first seasons: Dale Sedgwick of Minnetonka High School and Mike Binkowski of Prior Lake High School.
Chris- Did you play any sports when you were in high school? Any adult mentors stand out in your memory?
Dale- I started out as a soccer player, but quit soccer for cycling and Nordic skiing. I was a U.S. Cycling Federation racer who luckily met an older racer named Marco. Marco became a mentor to another junior racer and me. He took us out training and took us to the races. I would not have made it as far as I did in cycling without him!
Mike- I played football and track (pole vault) in high school. After college I got into biking and running. I also started racing. I’m probably most influenced by my high-school football coaches. They really emphasized hard work, discipline, and team work.
Chris- How did you find out about the Minnesota High School Cycling League?
Dale- As a racer and a high-school Nordic ski coach, I was aware of high-school racing in California and heard that it was coming to Minnesota. I heard that Gary Sjoquist was the director and I was at the initial information meeting at QBP.
Mike- I heard about the high school league from posts on the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) website/forum. Initially, I planned to get my two boys onto a composite team with a few neighboring schools (Burnsville/Lakeville), but my boys asked a few of their friends from Prior Lake High School if they would be interested in mountain biking. We quickly had a list of about eight kids from Prior Lake interested in a team. I contacted the Prior Lake Athletic Director and Gary Sjoquist, the MN League Director, and decided to form our own Prior Lake High School team. In about two months, after a few informational meetings and emails to friends and Prior teammates from other sports, we ended up with fifteen racers at the start of the season.
Chris- What was your impression at the first race?
Dale- The race was extremely well organized and provided a significant distance for students. Nordic ski races are not nearly as well run, and are much shorter. I like that mountain biking pushes the endurance of the racers.
Mike- It was really fun to see all of the excitement from all of the kids–kicking off the first race of the first season in Minnesota was a special experience. There were a lot of nerves and excitement, from both kids and coaches, but in the end it was great to see everybody having fun, cheering for each other and learning why this is such a fun sport to be involved in.
Chris- What has been most gratifying about starting a high-school team?
Dale- Watching students get into cycling! I’ve watched many of my students go from occasional riders to real cyclists who are educated on their sport. A few parents have been inspired to buy bikes and hit the roads and trails as well! Cycling is such a great family sport.
Mike- As someone who has been biking and racing for 20+ years, mountain biking is something that I’ve always been passionate about and it’s very gratifying to be able to pass that on to the next generation and see young kids becoming just as passionate and excited about the sport. On a more personal level, I’ve also found that the experience of coaching my two teenage boys, one a high school junior and the other a freshman, has really brought us closer together and given us an activity that I can see us sharing well beyond their high school years.
Chris- What was most challenging about starting a high school team?
Dale- Luckily, I had the support of the Minnetonka Community Education division of Minnetonka Public Schools. While they were able to provide organization, I was able to concentrate on coaching students.
Mike- Actually, I was really pleasantly surprised and impressed with all the great planning and organization that NICA provides to new coaches…covering everything from coaching clinics, safety, and risk management, to dealing with sponsors, parents, and co-ed team dynamics. I felt like everything was already spelled out for me and I just needed to execute the plan. The most challenging issue I had initially was getting commitment and assistance from other adults to help coach and lead rides, but once we got going, we were able to get help from parents, other experienced mountain bikers and even our local bike shop. The other challenge was just getting some of the start-up items like jerseys, a team tent, etc. in place in a fairly short time frame, given the fact that the team was pulled together only a month or two before the season.
Chris- Dale, I’m not familiar with Community Education Departments. What do they do?
Dale- Community Education programs are part of every school district in Minnesota. Community Education provides lifelong learning opportunities and community building activities to meet community needs. We offer enrichment, education, social and recreation programs for everyone from birth through adulthood. Community Education is a way for people to enhance their lives and communities through learning and collaboration. Community Education provides opportunities for athletic and recreational programs that aren’t Minnesota high school league sports. Also, being part of a district program gives the students involved that sense of school pride.
Chris- Mike, what sort of support besides yourself does your team receive?
Dale- Parents provide transportation, food, lodging for out of town races, and race-day support for students.
Mike- I’ve had great support from my assistant coaches, Bill Dietrich and Gary Smith. They both have a lot of mountain biking/racing experience as well. Bill has completed multiple endurance mountain bike events including Leadville 100 and Gary has been racing in the MN Mountain Bike Series and other local races along with me for many years. In addition, the parents have been very supportive. Finally, we are fortunate to have great sponsor support both at the League and team level. The League sponsors, Erik’s Bike Shops and Penn Cycle, have both donated about 20 bikes to the League for kids to use during the season so that isn’t a barrier to participation. Our team sponsor, Michael’s Cycles in Prior Lake was also a great support, providing in-store maintenance clinics, team discounts on service and merchandise, mechanical support at all of our races, and even helping out as ride leaders at our practices.
Chris- Do you have any tips for new high school mountain bike coaches?
Dale- Get to know the goals of your students. Do they want to race in the Olympics one day, or do they want to gain some life fitness skills? Keep these diverse goals in mind while running your rides. Make sure that your students feel like a team!
Mike- I would say the top three things to focus on are:
- Don’t be too focused on race results/places…the important thing is to make sure kids are learning, improving, and having fun.
- Remember to start with and focus on the fundamentals, especially early in the season, as many kids may have little to no mountain biking experience and need to build their confidence.
- Enlist help from other coaches, parents and community as much as you can.
Chris- Do you have any tips for high school cyclists across the country?
Dale- Promote your sport at your high school! Get your friends involved. They will discover a lifelong sport.
- Practice! The more you ride and race the more you will improve.
- Listen to coaches and experienced riders…proper technique makes a big difference
- Don’t get discouraged or intimidated when starting out
- Have fun!
Chris- What do you do when you’re not coaching high school mountain bikers?
Dale- I’m a Program Manager for Accenture and keep busy with my family: my wife Shawn, and four kids (Erik, 16; Jake, 14; Marin, 13; and Megha, 6). I also try to race in as many area mountain bike races during the year as I can and try to ride my fat bike and ski during the winter.
Mike- I am a French teacher at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis. Outside of work, I have a wife and two daughters: Charlotte and Beatrice who are 3 years and 6 months old. I work, ride, and spend time with my family, and that is all! I hope to see my daughters racing in a decade or so!