COVID has brought lasting changes to the cycling coaching industry

With the COVID-19 pandemic making a serious landfall in British Columbia on the eve of cycling season in early 2020, Katrina Strand appears to have been uniquely positioned to adapt.

The former professional mountain biker, who runs mountain bike and performance training under the Strand Training umbrella, had recently had her first child and was preparing to re-enter the industry when the pandemic hit.

“Everything was at a standstill and, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to rebuild in the first place,” she said. “We were all in the unknown, not just people in my sector.”

With gyms closed, performance training was out of place for the first few months. Strand was keeping fit for the reopening but then broke her femur in July 2020 which sidelined her for six weeks and allowed her to fully focus on how she was doing come back.

“Having that extra time and having to sit on my couch gave me the space and the time to really dot all the i’s and hit all the t’s,” she said, noting that she had completed tasks such as completing her tenure application and fine-tuning the online booking system on her website. “I definitely felt a lot more organized. I’m an organized person to start with, but I really felt like I had all my ducks in a row in 2021.”

This preparation has allowed Strand to reap the rewards of training those who have embraced mountain biking as a safe activity in 2020, as the business has rebounded well in 2021 even without a significant boost from tourism.

“It picked up quickly because a lot of people got into mountain biking during the pandemic as something to do,” she said, noting that business hasn’t increased significantly this summer with an increased tourist market.

BECOME VIRTUAL

Strand wasn’t the only team to undergo a pandemic-related change.

TaG Cycling co-founder Lesley Tomlinson, a two-time Olympian in road cycling and mountain biking, noted that the company was approaching its 10th anniversary when COVID hit.

Closing before the provincial ordinance took effect, TaG turned to shooting free online videos and quickly established how to stream live lessons, which became a key part of the business. while its indoor studios closed for 20 of the 24 months following the arrival of COVID.

Tomlinson said many customers discovered TaG through YouTube, with a significant portion of them having no connection to the region. Many attended from virtually all over North America and as far away as Europe.

Additionally, the live classes respect the fact that individuals have discovered new ways to stay fit at home.

“A lot of habits have changed. A lot of people’s workout rituals have changed,” Tomlinson said. .

“Either they found us online and they’re somewhere in the east or they’re somewhere in the south and they like to train with us. We still provide this (live streaming service) so we can reach These persons. “

Tomlinson, however, expressed some frustration with how the shutdowns were carried out in subsequent waves of the pandemic. TaG studios were open in a physically distant manner heading into the 2020-21 winter season, but in December 2020 facilities deemed to offer high-intensity training were forced to close while other centers of fitness could remain open.

“We had people doing our workouts in their gym, whatever gym they were allowed to go to, that had different rules than ours,” she said. “It was a confusing directive in many ways.”

LOCAL ORIENTATION

While outdoor programs weren’t significantly limited by health orders in the sense that they could operate, tourism-dependent operations had to adapt or risk wilting.

Paul Howard, owner of ZEP Mountain Bike Camps, said his initial COVID-related thoughts were about the health and safety aspect of the global health crisis, but when reviewing the business, the uncertainty was troubling.

“You’re thinking about the coming summer, what are we going to do?” he called back. “The obvious question is (of) what can remain and what will disappear. At the time, a lot of our coaching products were a bit more focused on destination runners.

When it became clear that the Whistler Mountain Bike Park would not open and the borders would remain locked, ZEP shifted from weekend and weeklong camps for travelers to focusing on its offerings for inhabitants.

“We have always been able, through our coaches and backgrounds, to offer a variety of programs. We have stuff for kids, for adults, for expert riders,” he said. “Local programs and children’s programs, we had already started. We have just highlighted these programs and developed them further.

Increasing service to the local market had been on ZEP’s radar for some time, and the COVID disruption made that desire a necessity, according to Howard.

“It was great because it was something we had always wanted to do,” he said. “The response has been tremendous, because as the schedules filled up and the bike park closed, the opportunity was also there for people to monitor our lineup.”

Even with the return of the destination market to the city, the focus on local programming remained, with visiting riders being offered private training or the opportunity to fit into an existing program.

Although Howard’s business focused on the interior, he retained a broad personal orientation. As Technical Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association (PMBIA), he helped draft the policy used by outfits in Canada, the United States and Australia, seeing these actions as important to help and protect the industry .

“The ski industry just shut down, so we couldn’t even turn to them and think, ‘Well, how did they do that?'” he recalls. “If we all come through this stronger, then the whole industry will be better.”

Howard noted that operators in places like Australia faced more restrictive policies and couldn’t hold classes despite being outdoors, which created problems for creating general policies.

“COVID was more difficult for PMBIA because not only were the COVID policies different in different places, which ultimately meant there were a lot of places we couldn’t operate, but the policies kept changing, so it seemed to be endless planning, rescheduling and postponing. of course,” Howard wrote in a follow-up email. “The PMBIA office staff have done an amazing job trying to stay on top of everything and without that hard work PMBIA would not have been able to offer the number of courses they have delivered during COVID.”

Travel restrictions have also delayed the PMBIA in holding course leader courses, although a new online training portal is helping to fill the backlog.

THE PATH TO FOLLOW

While there was a general feeling of a return to normalcy, Tomlinson said things still haven’t fully settled down. Still, with co-founders and fellow Olympians Chrissy de Vall and Gina Grain on board, there’s a common mindset moving forward.

“It’s still unclear where we’re all going to end up,” she said. “A lot of us come from a high level in cycling and a few of us come from a high level in other sports, and we are trained to persevere and to cope.

For its part, TaG has changed its operations to Whistler, moving in with Treeline Aerial at Function Junction.

“It’s cool to be around people who are doing very different things, but with the same kind of business motive and the same ability to make it work,” she said.

Strand, meanwhile, is still feeling the impact of the effects on strength and conditioning, especially in the face of a recession. With services like athletic training typically not covered by insurance, they often fall victim to tight budgets.

“People are increasingly paying more attention to their income and what they choose to spend,” she said.

While ZEP has moved on to its adaptations necessitated by COVID, Howard has been in the industry long enough to know that there will be another disruption in the years to come that will require an adaptation that will make the company stronger in the future. other side. The hope is that it comes in the form of something much less gloomy, like the need for a new website or moving up within the industry.

“There will be another challenge in three or four years and either you adapt and keep going or you let it slow you down,” he said.

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