Kids & Racing: Start 'Em Right!
By James Holter
Kids don't have to race to have fun on motorcycles, but if they're mentally and physically tuned for racing, competition can be an immensely rewarding experience.
As a parent, you need to honestly assess your child's desire and ability before they line up at the starting gate.
It's a big deal to start racing—for both your kid (emotionally, physically) and you (time and money investment). To help you get started, we caught up with a man who's an expert when it comes to kids and racing: Philip Rispoli, who runs the Coolskunk dirt-track racing program that introduces kids to the fun world of dirt-track racing.
"They need the right combination of parental support and the right rider attitude," he says. "The parents must be committed to supporting the rider, and the rider needs that twinkle in the eye."
Rispoli stresses that parents must be on the right page: "If you end up with a world champion, great, but that's not what this is about. We want to build a winner both on and off the track."
If you decide that racing is in the cards for your kids, there is a range of events to consider—from low-impact, participatory events to serious racing. Among those, your kid might qualify for one or more classes that vary by age and/or skill level. He or she will also need to be an AMA member, and possibly a member of your particular AMA district, to be eligible to compete.
On this page, you can see a description of the different kinds of competition sanctioned by the AMA. Read on to see what you need to know as the parent of a fledgling racer at some of the most common events.
Many clubs offer for-fun-only, semi-competitive trail rides in addition to full-bore races. Often, to take the competitiveness of the event down a notch, the organizers introduce some fun, random elements into the competition.
One such club is Variety Riders in Ottawa, Illinois. Variety Riders organizes about six "egg hunt" trail rides each year, with wooden pegs instead of real eggs.
"The riders run two 15-minute heats around a set loop. At some point in the loop, they stop and pick up a colored peg," explains Mark Fleming, vice president of Variety Riders. "They drop that peg in a scoring bucket and at the end of the second heat, we randomly assign points to each peg color and add up each kid's points. We stress safety and fun. We run it as a family day, just people with a common hobby getting together and having a good time."
Most kids get started racing in motocross.
A motocross race usually includes a practice session and two "motos." The combined score of the two motos determines the winner.
You will pay a gate fee to get into the track and then an entry fee at sign-up for each class your child enters. The entry forms are straight-forward and basically cover liability and class selection.
There are a number of beginning-level classes for kids.
AMA Classes 3 and 4 accommodate less-experienced kids from 4-8 years old, riding less-powerful 50cc motorcycles. The AMA Racing Amateur Rulebook includes the specific rules. Often, these classes are run on a smaller track. At some races, parents of kids in Classes 3 and 4 will have access to the track to help their kids if they fall.
Classes 1 and 2 generally include more experienced kids riding racier two-strokes with more advanced suspension. Class 1 is for kids ages 4-6. Class 2 is for kids ages 7-8. These classes, particularly Class 2, can be quite aggressive and aren't a good choice for your kid's first race.
Most tracks also offer beginning classes for older kids. If not, rest assured that there will be a wide range of skill level in any class they do run.
Hare scrambles are like a motocross race in the woods. Because there is no second moto involved, as there is with motocross, race days are generally shorter.
While the top kids are just as determined at a hare scramble as at a motocross, the general perception is the woods races are a less-intimidating environment. Much of that has to do with the longer course that leads to less tight racing.
Harescramble racers, particularly new ones, race against the course as much as they race the other participants.
8 Simple Rules For Parents
It may not look like it on the track, but racing is a team sport. And for amateur racers, the “home team” usually means just that—Mom, Dad and other family members who support their racing efforts.
That puts extra responsibility on parents, who often need to fill the roles of coach, tuner and sponsor, in addition to their normal duties.
How do you juggle those complex roles? Sports psychologist Patrick Cohn offers eight guidelines for parents of amateur racers:
Racing should be fun. Treat it that way. With all the money in professional sports today, it is hard for parents to understand that it’s just good fun to young racers. The primary goal should be to have fun and enjoy the healthy competition.
Young racers compete in sports for many reasons. They enjoy the competition, like the social aspect, and enjoy the challenge of setting goals. You might have a different agenda, but you need to recognize that racing is your child’s sport, not yours.
Focus on the process of racing, instead of results. Winning comes from working the process and enjoying the ride.
You are a role model for your child athlete. Your child will see how you react to a close race or questionable behavior by a competitor. Stay calm, composed and in control at the track, so your child can mimic those positive behaviors.
Refrain from race-day coaching. Once at the track, athletes need to trust in their training and “just do it.” Save the coaching for practice and focus on encouragement at the track.
Help your athlete detach self-esteem from achievement. Too many athletes attach self-worth to their level of performance. Help your child understand that he or she is a person first, who happens to race, instead of a racer who happens to be a person.
Ask your child athlete the right questions. This tells your child what you think is important in sports. If you ask, “Did you win?” your child will think winning is important. If you ask, “Did you have fun?” he or she will assume having fun is important.
Pledge to follow the Parent’s Code of Ethics developed by the Parents Association for Youth Sports (www.NAYS.org; (800) 729-2057). PAYS provides a parental handbook and code of ethics for adults to sign before each competitive season. This is a great tool to guide parents in their interaction with young athletes.
Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D., is the founder of Peak Performance Sports in Orlando, Florida. He is a nationally recognized mental game coach who works with motorcycle and auto racers. For more information, visit www.peaksports.com or call (888) 742-7225.