Aside from the fact many of the top Americans weren't even in Belgium this weekend (Pat Coo, for example), here's some truth:
I find the bashing of @USABMX going on right now to be quite comical to be honest. A riders success or failure does not solely depend on the tracks they did or did not get to ride before going to the World Championships. Just like success has many causes, failure too can be attributed to a variety of factors, and sometimes the way we see the problem IS the problem.
For starters - I have seen a ton of riders making excuses and pointing blame at everyone…. but themselves. There are many people mouthing off with their emotions instead of their head. Even though there were a few riders who simply had things entirely out of their control knock their race days off course (Literally and/or figuratively. Racing is racing, stuff sometimes happen), the majority of US riders honestly just looked unprepared technically, physically, and/or mentally out there for whatever reasons. Many were struggling to execute basic fundamentals around the track. Taking a knock on the chin and keeping your spirits up is never easy to do, but if a rider wants to improve he/she needs to hold themselves accountable and realize what it is he/she needs to improve. Improvement begins with I, not with “I got 5th in my 1/8th final because USABMX tracks suck!!!!!” The track was the same track for everybody who lined up in the gate this weekend. Riders are responsible for taking the necessary steps and actions to prepare themselves, and failing to properly prepare is usually preparing to fail. That’s not meant to single any particular rider out, as Im sure the majority of riders worked very hard going into this race, but hard work is at times not smart work in the world of sports performance.
It’s also baffling to see the amount of riders who act as if they’re entitled to success. They know they’re good, they have talent, they have power…. they have all the intangibles needed to win at the highest level but some don’t have the necessary mindset or approach. Iv seen and even personally worked with many riders who love to talk and dream about winning - they know they can because they’re capable so confidence is not an issue - but they don’t love to dream about the process it takes in order to get and more importantly keep those results. If we’re being real - this is sport, it’s competition at the highest level, and nobody is entitled to a damn thing. For those who aren’t quite there yet but want to be one day - focus on the process. On a ten-point scale if a rider is at a level 5 and they desire to perform at level 10, they must go through the sequential stages of growth and development and take the first step toward level 6 and then 7-8-9. There are no shortcuts or quick-fixes. People may find band-aids that work for a short amount of time that will temporarily eliminate the acute problems, but the underlying chronic problems remain and eventually new acute problems will appear. That goes for everything in life, not just BMX.
The sport is evolving at a rapid pace internationally, but the overall mentality at almost every level in the US is not and the majority of tracks are taking steps backwards. The rest of the world has been taking steps forward in all stages of development - adapting to the sports demands by building better tracks, creating new developmental programs, providing riders with more resources, and for the most part creating a system that has the end-game of manufacturing success at the highest levels in mind. USABMX is the premier racing sanction in the world, they are the best at what they do (running big, efficient races quickly and professionally) and that’s not debatable, and I feel the fact that they HAVE also taken steps to help their expert/elite level riders by assisting in building multiple training facilities such as the OTC, Rockhill, Arizona, Oldsmar, and Colorado, etc is going entirely overlooked. The resources are there, USABMX did and is doing their part, but it’s up to the riders to decide whether they want to utilize them or not. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, or in BMX/Baseball-lingo - USABMX built it, but not many of the riders came. If USABMX builds a few international standard level tracks and the majority of riders don’t use them, is that USABMX’s fault or the riders fault for not finding a way to utilize the resources provided for them?
USABMX is also a business, and is the only country who operates under a novice/intermediate/expert/pro structure at it’s premier races (nationals) so when building national tracks they have to be mindful of all ages and skill-levels. Build an easy, flat, RC looking track and the experts/pros complain. Build a big, technical track and all of the parents of little kids complain. International races don’t have this structure and the result is more challenging tracks at the premier races. What’s your solution here, expert/pro only nationals? The system from a business perspective is working well, but it could stand to improve from a developmental standpoint. In terms of the style of tracks, you could say USABMX=Nascar and UCI/International races=Formula 1. Both styles of tracks are challenging in their own right and the same basic skill-sets apply - you come out of the gate, pedal fast, jump/manual/roll over jumps, corner, and eventually cross a finish line - but but certain skill-sets need to be further developed to handle the technicality of the more difficult tracks. It's American muscle vs import. The best riders have managed to combine the power of a Nascar with the handling of an F1 car, but the majority of tracks in America simply don't provide an opportunity to develop the necessary skills needed to compete on all types of tracks.
Track operators at the local level deal with the same problems, and the majority of them don’t usually have the experience to figure out how to satisfy both sides nor the support from those who do to fix the problems. To make matters worse, the riders are quick to offer up complaints, but they’re usually short on solutions. Separate the people from the problem so nobody feels personally threatened or attacked and attack the problem (your track) without blaming the operator running your track. Be specific, focus on the interests not positions, and invent options for mutual gain. The majority of riders/operators end up arguing to identify a cause, not a purpose, and that goes nowhere. You will satisfy both of your interests if you look forward and talk about where you both want to go. This takes effort from both sides though, and many track operators go on power trips with the “I’m the man/woman behind the desk and I know what’s best!” approach when the reality is many of them have only been around the sport for a few years, don’t ride, and really have no clue how things operate outside of their local area so even when the more experienced riders and parents offer up solutions they don’t listen. They need to check their egos at the door.
Overall, the mindset of most track ops is to build tracks that are for kids (either because they themselves have kids out there riding or they don’t realize you can build good tracks for all skill-levels) or they themselves ride for fun so they build tracks that suit their skill-levels. A lot of these ops are just oblivious to the fact that you can actually build tracks that perfectly suit all skill-levels by either building more decision makers (pro sections or just a split straight that has one challenging side and one easier side), or shaping jumps differently. A lot of people get technical and sketchy mixed up. Technical tracks that are well built don’t have to be dangerous. Sketchy tracks are. You can say “we want a triple here” but that triple can be built a hundred different ways, and it takes experience to know which ones best fit the track. Many track builders also just flat out build terrible tracks with jumps and transitions that don’t fit the flow of the track (this tends to happen when you get builders who don’t ride much or at all doing the build, the track goes cheap on the hiring process (you get what you pay for, don’t complain about not getting a Lamborghini level track when you paid for a used Kia). Or when you get a builder who comes in and rushes through a job to collect his paycheck and leave. Or you get too many chefs in the track design kitchen and none of the ideas come together in the end). Experienced rider input needs to be listened to more often at every level. Iv been fortunate enough to have already traveled to 52 different countries in only 25 years and that is in my opinion one of the biggest differences between tracks in the US and tracks overseas. Too many tracks in the US have the wrong people making decisions on the track itself.
In summation, BMX Racing in the US at every level would benefit greatly from people simply offering up more ideas and solutions instead of excuses and complaints. Identify what you think the chronic underlying problems are and then focus on figuring out what the solutions are? To the riders who took a beating and rolled with the punches this week, what are you going to do to improve and be the one handing them out next year?
-Joey Bradford (@AnalyticBMX)