Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I decided  to take the IMBA Instructors Certification Program in Delaware the other weekend, hosted by the Trail Spinners.    I've been teaching mountain biking for a while now, but I am constantly hungry for more knowledge about good technique and sound ways to teach these techniques. And the idea of a certification has a certain appeal.
Its official

Personally, I've taken clinics from Gene Hamilton, Harlan Price, Lindsey Voreis, and Angi Weston.  I learned so much from these professionals. Those lessons are all since I retired from professional mountain bike racing.  I never took a single lesson when I was getting paid to ride a bike!  And I'm not alone in thinking "what if" I had exposure to really great teaching at the beginning of my career.

It is a big chunk of money to take this course, especially right now in my life. I was able to test out of Level I by paying $100, having adequate experience guiding and teaching and by taking and passing the test.   Normally, the Level I course is 3 days and $350.  I don't recommend testing out.  It's just too much important information to lightly touch on.  In the end, its over $1000 for a three day course including your dues, memberships, first aid and insurance. You have to take the course in person again every four years and keep your memberships and first aid up to date.

We lucked out getting Shaums March and Gale Dalagher as our instructors.  These two are ,of course, amazing riders  who give the best demonstrations of techniques.  But I was so impressed with their professionalism, knowledge, respect for students and their patience.   They really came prepared and were fun to learn from.
Gale and Shuams worked hard to teach us well

Shaums can lean a bike! Photo credit

The weather was very cold and windy the first day, cold and sunny the second day and downright miserable and rainy the last day.  Those were not ideal learning conditions or teaching conditions!  The days were long, starting by 9 am and finishing at 7 pm.  They were intense too!...  Lots of information, lots of demonstrations, lots of practice and lots of looking at the other students practice. One thing I wasn't expecting was the homework!  I had to read and study the material and then really study for the test and to be able to teach a skill. 

A highlight for me was the conciseness of the material and teaching process.  I like the idea of saying less!  Say what you need to say and say it well.  Don't crowd a student's brain with unnecessary wording and analogies. 

Another great thing that I took away was the ability to make corrections to a student's riding instead of just identifying mistakes.  This takes a lot of practice and I need to work on developing my system for doing that.  There are basically 10 fundamentals that come in to play mountain biking in order for the rider to be in control and balance in different situations and hopefully increase their fun, too!
We were graded on our teaching. Photo credit

It was very difficult assessing students errors in mere seconds in under 15 yards in a parking lot, while giving compliments and corrections.   The instructors would tell the students to make mistakes and we got points off if we didn't identify the mistake, make the correction and give a compliment.  Its funny because I usually give my students lots of compliments, but at this class, I was too overwhelmed to give my usual, "Nice!" "Great!"  And I was so fixated on mistakes, that I didn't even realize when someone was doing something right.
I was overwhelmed at times. Photo credit

Something that could be improved is less time listening to students teach a skill.  None of us students were good at teaching, including me, sorry!  It doesn't help anything to listen to 5 other people make a bunch of mistakes while learning to teach.  Of course, we all had to get up in front of a crowd and practice, but I'm not paying this much money to be a test pilot for others.  And purposely doing things wrong for the benefit of the other students is very counterproductive.  I was actually getting a little bit confused when I had to do things wrong.  Practicing things correctly is the only way to go.  And I get more out of listening to Shaums and Gale teach well than a fellow student teach mediocre.
Always Assessing. Photo credit

I did enjoy meeting and learning with others, though.  It was a great group of people who are all going to make great teachers for their clubs.
A great group of people

Everyone must use flat pedals for this certification.  Yes, that was challenging for me having used clipless pedals for over 20 years.  I absolutely agree that it should be done on flats, though.  I learned a ton because of it and actually really enjoyed it! If you can do it with flats, you really have mastered that skill more soundly.
Kurt Kuhn doing a level lift

So, I did pass.  I scored really good on the written test, but not on my skills or my teaching. I think nerves and the newness of the lingo and different structure of a lesson made it weak. The fact that I managed and spoke well to the group was my strong point.  Sure, I'm a good rider, but obviously there is room for improvement with my demos especially with flat pedals.  I need to make sure that I'm clearly hitting the teaching points for each skill. 

This course is a good call for people who want to learn to teach mountain biking better.  This is not a personal skills improvement course.  I think it will continue to evolve and get better and better too!
Racer girl Cheryl working on her level lift

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