Things are changing in the heady world of UK mountain bike leadership… With new qualifications, new remit limitations and acronyms breeding like rabbits; anyone could be forgiven for wondering what exactly it all means, and whether ‘TTPP’ is a cream used to treat embarrassing rashes. If that sounds familiar (the questions, not the rash), then read on for a brief explanation of the current choice of qualifications and their uses, and my own experience of the training and assessment process for the newly introduced British Cycling mountain bike leader Level 3 award. For quite a few years, the award scheme operated by the Scottish Mountain Bike Leadership Association has been the go-to qualification for mountain bike leaders operating in the UK. Starting with the Trail Cycle Leader award, you complete two days of training, followed by a minimum of 30 days consolidating that new knowledge, followed by a 1-day assessment. The remit of a TCL is limited to a specific altitude, level of technicality and time needed to walk for help. Having completed the TCL, you can then progress on to the Mountain Bike Leader award. The process is the same – two days of training and a one-day assessment, but the MBL remit is effectively unrestricted in terms of remoteness, technicality and altitude. Both awards require a logbook to record and show your experience of personal riding in different areas, and both require you to demonstrate an ability to navigate, do trailside bike fixes, and manage a group, as well as performing and coaching certain mountain bike techniques. All good so far!
Enter British Cycling though. Their new system of leadership awards are labelled Levels 1, 2 and 3, and do away with the coaching element that the older awards have, i.e. they are leadership specific awards. Folks wanting to deliver coaching courses and skills sessions will need to go through the well-established British Cycling coaching qualifications, which are also labelled level 1,2,3… Other than that, they are largely similar; consider them an evolution of the SMBLA model rather than something completely different. The Level 1 leadership award is wholly new, and is designed to be an in-house, site-specific award. The Level 2 roughly equates to the TCL, with similar requirements and remits. Likewise, the new Level 3 is very similar to the MBL. So what’s the difference, and why should you pay attention to this new award scheme? Firstly, it’s hoped that the bigger clout of British Cycling as a governing body will help the new award to be recognised overseas, particularly in France, where MBL holders have faced a grey area over award recognition and the possibility of prosecution in recent years. It would be fantastic if that were to happen, but the convoluted French bureaucratic system might delay it for a while yet. International implications aside, I went through one of the pilot training courses for the Level 3 in November 2013, and while it wasn’t a million miles away from the MBL training I had gone through, there were some differences: – Bunny hops are out! For some folks this is a big change from previous awards. Bunny hops were one of the skills that had to be demonstrated at MBL level, but now the emphasis is on ‘riding to the terrain’. You might be popping sweet bunny hops all over the place, in which case good for you. However, as long as you’re riding Level 3 appropriate trails with flow and some style, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re off the ground or not, which is good news for down-to-earth riders! – More tools! No, not more heavy bits of metal to carry around, but a bigger toolbox of techniques to make sure that you and your group get the most out of their day. I really noticed the extra time that went into talking about how to manage groups, and especially how the relationships between group members might change over the course of the day. Long story short, it felt like the new training course covers the things that in the past you only learned by getting out there and guiding, which should hopefully set up new guides to be more confident and prepared than before. – Mock clients. The biggest change to the assessment process is the mock clients that join you on your journey on the second day of assessment. Rather than making it scarier or adding pressure, the fact that we were guiding real people made the entire process make more sense, and it was a lot easier just to be ourselves and get on with doing what we do. On the second day of my assessment we were blessed with a great forecast – blue skies and very little wind. Our four mock clients were members of Glenmore Lodge’s Instructor Development Scheme, and our plan was bold! After a chilly start we climbed from the Lodge up to the ski centre, and off towards the Chalamain Gap. Across some lingering snow, through the Gap and down into the Lairig Ghru. From there it was ace singletrack all the way out to the Spey at Inverdruie. The challenging route had us really thinking about how we would work with our group, although the extra day (MBL and TCL assessments are only 1 day) made things less stressful if anything, as there was plenty of time to cover what we needed to.
At the end of it all there was a positive outcome (hurray!) and although it was an assessment there were still new things learned. Speaking for myself, I think the new scheme is a real improvement rather than a load of untested new stuff. Potential trainees might want to bear in mind though that is a guiding-specific award, so if you want to be able to run skills courses then you need to look here too: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/coaching