10 Steps To Joining A Team PDF Print Write e-mail
Monday, 15 October 2012 13:01

Bicycling was meant to be shared with a team you love.  

I often get asked for advice on choosing a team to ride or race with.  I have this discussion with each rider I coach at some point and typically with riders who have raced for NashvilleCyclist or are considering joining us.  I give the same advice to everyone and want what is best for the rider.  My top ten points to consider when choosing a team can be applied whether you are joining your first team or changing uniforms for a second or third time.  You do not have to follow this process exactly, but it will hit the high points to help you through decision making process.

Before breaking this down I must cover a few things.  It is ok to be a little selfish through this process.  I have lost many a good rider to other teams because of the following, “what’s best for you will be best for us.”  None of us should take it personal when someone leaves and joins another team.  It is only bike racing after all.  Everyone should think not just about the upcoming season, but also what the implications will be for the next two to three years.  By looking ahead it will help alleviate hopping from team-to-team on an annual basis.  Your goal should be to make the relationship last long-term while ensuring yours and the team’s needs are being met. 

Rider transfers are not just for the professionals.  Even amateurs change teams on a regular basis, usually more often than pros.  If you are already on a team, then before agreeing to join another team the right thing to do is tell them you are talking to others.  Give them a fair shot at winning you back, if that is even possible.  You may not know about plans that are in the works that could change your decision.

First, determine your own personal goals.  What do you want to achieve?  Write these goals down on paper.  Each rider has a unique answer to this question.  If you are newer to racing then ask an experienced friend, or seek the counsel of a certified cycling coach.  Your goals do not have to be entirely results driven, and may include things such as acquiring experience with polished riders or enjoying the interpersonal relationship component.  Regardless of your goal outcomes, do not go to step two until you have completed step one.  I strongly believe you must first decide what you want to do.  Make sure that having fun is one of your goals!

Second, do your homework to determine what your actual team options are.  Visit usacycling.org to find a team within your local area or elsewhere if you are moving.  Another good resource would be the website of your local association representing USA Cycling; such as tbra.org for us here in Tennessee.  You will find there are many local, regional and national teams to choose from.  If you are just beginning to race then choosing a local team is probably best.  A good place to start is your local favorite independent bicycle shop to see if they have a team, but some teams are independent of a shop.  As you progress through the categories then it becomes more reasonable to possibly join a team in a different area code.

Third, investigate each team to find out about their team roster and their racing focus.  Some teams have riders of all abilities and leave the door open to join at any time.  Others may be invitation only and focused on a specific category such as Category/1/2 or Masters 40+ or women only.  You want to match your ability level to what the team actually has available or plans to develop.  If you know someone on the team then speak to them and express your interest in joining.  Every team has that one person who usually makes the final determination about who to add.  Another option is to email them and set up a phone call or meeting, and from there I recommend riding with the team to see if personalities fit.

Fourth, match your goals and interests with that of the team.  A lot of people get this part wrong.  A common denominator of discontent is that some or all are not on the same page with goals and expectations, which tears down relationships.  An honest discussion should happen.  Share your goals with the team and ask them specifically about their goals as well.  Does the team concentrate on criteriums or road races or another discipline?  You want to avoid being the only racer from your team in the field.  Are they chasing series points and awards or are the focused on development and fun?  You may be the missing link for the team to achieve their goals or vice-versa.  There must be a blend of one another’s goals or it has the potential to lead to great disappointment and frustration for all.

Fifth, getting along well and respecting one another is critical in all team environments.  Team building is a lot like organic chemistry.  The dynamics are different when you are under a pro contract because you have a job to do, but on amateur teams the ultimate goal is to have fun!  Everything is more fun when we experience it with people we like.  Make sure both sides share a healthy respect for one another and have agreeable personalities.  It is ok to acknowledge when this is not true, and if so try to avoid forcing relationships to happen.  None of us want to feel awkward around our teammates.  Your goals may fit but your personalities may not.  For most people it is probably more important to choose a team you get along with, but it is possible to enjoy a team without being everyone’s big buddy.  The ideal goal is to find a team who shares your values that you will enjoy being around.

A final point on number five – be patient, open minded, and allow your personal experience with someone determine your attitude towards them.  Understand that building relationships takes time, and that sometimes even friends have healthy disagreements.  In order to accept the back slapping highs you also have to be willing to endure some struggles.  Allow yourselves this freedom, but then turn the page and get back to being good teammates.  The best teammate relationships are those forged over years after having experienced the highs and lows together.  Too often bike racers are quick to give up on their teammates emotionally, so try to avoid this bad habit.  Instead concentrate on long-term development, emotional and psychological, which leads to stronger team bonds.

Sixth, get on the same page about expectations.  What will be your exact obligations if you join?  Are you required to buy specific team clothing, race a certain amount or specific events, and are there any sponsorship benefits?  Some teams may have their obligations spelled out more formally than others and require you to sign an agreement, so do not be intimidated if that happens.  Accountability is a good thing.  On the flip side, the team may be run a little more loosely.  Personally I have managed using both strategies depending upon the roster makeup and sponsorship agreement at that time.

Be realistic about the time commitment you can make.  Family life, demanding careers, and school may prohibit you from giving as much as you would like.  Be honest with yourself and avoid overcommitting if you know it is not possible.  I have agreed several times to bring a rider on board even though their commitment was low and less than ideal, but I did so because their limited contribution was worth it.  Also, communicate to the team leader when life derails your good plans.  Teammates are very understanding when they know what is going on, but less forgiving if they are not informed.

Seventh, look for the intangibles that can make the relationship more rewarding.  Does the team have regular team rides?  Are they actively involved in volunteering or event promotion?  What is their reputation and are you comfortable with the association?  A selling point for yourself is what you bring to the table for the team too!  The team may lack exactly what you are good at doing, and your presence may be what takes their team to the next level.  Think beyond the start/finish line and consider all off-the-bike contributions that can make an impact on your team and local cycling community.

Eight, take a few days to consider all of this information.  Talk it over with your family or close friends and get their opinion.  They may be able to point out something you had not considered.  You will feel better about your decision if those closest to you are supportive.  Ultimately, however, the decision lies on the shoulder of the rider.

Ninth, make the decision and commit to it with all your heart.  Stick to it and do not waver.  You want to enter this new relationship with enthusiastic energy and not half-heartedly.  Tell your former team first before broadcasting that you joined another squad.  You want them to hear it directly from you and not through social media or word of mouth.

Finally, number ten, be the best teammate ever!  This is the part where you do what you said you will do.  Become the one everyone says they are glad to have as a teammate, and make other teams wish they had you.  As time passes you will become indispensable, on and off the bike.  Obviously the relationship is a two-way street, but if everyone lives up to their commitments then it should be a rewarding experience.  After each season review the strength and weaknesses of the relationship, and then work towards improving both.  The most successful teams are the ones with riders that grow together through the ranks over a long period of time.  Therefore, give this relationship time to bond and thrive.

This is a lot to digest but I hope these ten points help you in your decision making process.  Even if you are not searching for a team then maybe these points will help you improve the strength of your current team.  Nothing is better than the joy of long training rides with teammates or swapping stories with them after a hard fought battle against the competition. My hope is every rider has the opportunity to join a team they love, and that it helps everyone reach their own personal greatness as a bicyclist.  Turn those dreams into a reality and join a team!