Progression Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

My blog title could very well describe the work that I do.


More on that idea another day. Let’s talk bikes! My title is really a direct quote from Angi Weston’s new website. And look, ya’ll, see where her incredible photographer caught me in a pure moment of learning on her website?

In the photo, Angi is describing body position into a turn. A corner. Good golly I struggle with cornering. As she’s talking, my hands are on my handle bars–you can see in the photo. I’m thinking hard standing next to two of my bike teammates who inspire me.

One lesson, with Angi, changed my riding. After 20 years of making the same mistake.

Let me say that again really slow-like.



Corrected 20 years of mistakes. Prior to that day, I would have described myself as an okay rider. This one change–that I could not figure out on my own has made me wonder about how often we get trapped by our routines. How we get so comfortable with our own abilities. How we get so confident about our own limitations. How we learn.

In my last post I wrote about pursuing training to become a mountain bike coach, and I’m pleased to report that I completed Step 1 when I finished my CPR/First Aid training today. Because my jobby job is, uh, a bit time-consuming and I have a lot going on right now with my bike team, I’m going to start with the Bike Instructor Certification Program ride leader course. And now that I’m all legit to do CPR and basic first aid again, I can be a leader of people who want to ride bikes in the woods. Woot! I’m really inspired by Angi; it’s awesome to see a woman take on her own business in a male-dominated field, and Angi’s an amazing teacher–I really wish her all the success.

Thanks to the generosity of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, I earned the certification with 16 other people on a cold, crisp blue-sky day near Lake Padden a few weeks ago. I learned a lot, and I’m really grateful for the experience. Bellingham now has 13 mountain bike clubs for kids in middle school. How rad is that? How different the experience of riding bikes will be for so many young girls.

Here’s a bit of embarrassing and hard truth.

Here’s the thing.

I kind of sucked at coaching.

I mean, I really really really sucked at it. I thought I’d be able to transfer all of my teacherly and trainerly experience with new material, and I’d be good to go. I’m a pretty okay teacher. I’m a pretty okay trainer. I love bikes. I’ll be great at this, I thought. Easy.


Turns out, I’m not a naturally gifted coach and I have a really long way to go. In fact, I’m not really sure it’s for me, and here’s why.

You aren’t supposed to talk while teaching techniques. You have to be silent.

I’m going to pause right now for you to make fun of me in your mind if you know me.

If you don’t know me, then let me tell you. I LOVE TO TALK. Love it. LOVE IT.

Words are my business, yo.

I love to tell stories. I love to talk about teaching. Bikes. Movies. TV shows. Bike racing. Vacations. Maps. Hiking. Camping. Cooking. Beer. Wine. Booze. Knitting. Books. Teaching. Learning. Open. The Education. The Technology. All of it.

You name it, I prolly love to talk about it.

Oh, and then there’s what I do for a living which also involves words. A lot of words. Click here. Link this. Try that. Curate these things. Read this. Do these five things. Read this. Here’s some advice for your zombie-themed OER course. Let me connect with my team to see if I can solve that problem for you. Let me use all my damn words to make your life easier. Need to drop some F-Bombs about your learning management system? Drop away. I’ll listen and I’ll add a few myself if it will make you laugh. Feel frustrated by your stubborn department/institution/system when it comes to teaching with OER? Give me all your words. I got a few to add too. Let’s talk about what you want to learn today.

Don’t know what to do? I do, and let me tell how to do it.

I’m either typing on my laptop or talking to it. All day.

I talk for a living.

I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t volunteering my time for my awesome bike community, I would have failed the exam during the ride leader class. Seriously. I would have failed me. I sucked. I was terrible.

Let me explain.

Checking helmets, bike fit, tire pressure, brakes, quick releases, handle bars–all super easy breezy. I can spot what’s wrong with your helmet and your bike fit no problem. I can look at you thirty feet away and assess whether you’re wearing your helmet correctly. Whether you need to lower or raise your seat. Whether you are okay with spending several months worth of mortgages on a bike. I can talk Leave No Trace, staying with pack, Safety First–all that. No problem.

Because it involves talking.

My major point of sucktasticness was in the demonstration. The Demo.

In my work world, I can demo all the damn day. Demo means talk, right? No! This type of demo was really hard because I was to Show not Talk. Their pedagogical theory is that if you talk, people won’t pay attention to your body position. They won’t pay attention to what you are doing. You talk, then you show how it’s done.

Where your feet are on the pedals. Where your fingers are on the brakes. Where your hips are. Where your arms are. Where your eyes are looking.

Students, they claim, will look at your face. Not your body. Because you are talking.

After doing my demo portion of the class as part of the exam, the teacher gave me the zip-your-lip motion, like a kindergarten teacher. So what did I do? I cracked a joke making fun of myself. She made that sign again. What did I do? I made excuses all by talking. She then openly told me not to talk. What did I do? I shared how I was starving and that low-blood sugar set me up for the worst demo. She offered me a bar to eat. Everyone stared at me. I started back–totally hating every moment of this spotlight.

Thank goodness this teacher was kind because I’m pretty sure I would have lost my patience with me. I’m going to cut myself some slack here–I just took my first coaching lesson this past year, so I haven’t been able to observe what bike coaches do a whole lot. I learn best by observing what other teachers do. So this year, I’ll be watching. I will get better.

And then I’m going to use my words to tell y’all about it!

It was such a good experience for me to completely and utterly fail at something that I really wanted to do. I rode my bike home feeling a little defeated and completely exhausted. I mean, I got the certification, I’m going to roll out on my first ride in the next two weeks, and I hope I’ll get better. I just wasn’t good at it from the get-go. I failed at the first try. Humbling for me. So great for me to experience as a learner. I have to forgive myself and move on to the next step. Maybe coaching isn’t for me.

What gave me a bit of hope is that I was pretty good at identifying flaws in other riders and coaching them to improve. For instance, we covered what they call the three essentials of mountain bike riding. 1] Looking where you want to go. Eyes forward. 2] One finger on the brakes. And 3] keeping level pedals in an either neutral or ready position.

The most fun of the course was trying to diagnose the flaws of my students to help them improve. That part was really fun, and encouraged me to continue with this endeavor. And when I was told I could give advice on how others could improve, I asked if I had to show or if I could talk. You can do both! So I was like BA-RING IT CUZ I GET TO TALK again! Yay!

One-by-one my students rolled through the orange cones we had set up as our course. Eyes up! One finger on the brakes, not two. Chest up! Eyes up! It’s not bar hump Wednesday, Eric, get behind the saddle, I sassed. Level pedals. Don’t point your toes. Be sure to feather your brakes. And so on. It was a blend of being able to cheer people on while identifying what they were doing wrong and how they can improve.

That one-on-one-talking-through-steps-to-improving part of coaching, I know I’m going to love. Eventually. That progression won’t be painful, it will be pure joy.

“Much of our life,” writes Bjergegaard and Popa, “is spent of on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151). Yes. Sometimes we just have to track-stand. Right. There. Quietly.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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