Do you want to know how the Tour de France winner Andy Schleck inspires his kids to enjoy sports? We talked to him about the topic of introducing kids to professional sports and what he has to say about the role of a parent in raising an aspiring cycling pro. He told us at what age should you introduce a coach, start competing, when to get a carbon bike, and much more.
“If we are talking about kids under the age of 10, I would be very careful. One day, they want to be an astronaut, then it’s a garbage man, doctor, policeman, pro soccer player and, sometimes, a pro cyclist too. I think it’s really important not to put too much pressure on your kids when they are at a very young age,” Andy starts when asked about helping a kid becoming a pro.
There’s not enough money in the world to make you win the Tour de France
“First, you have to realize that cycling is an extremely intense and tough sport. If you don’t have the inner motivation or you lose passion for the sport, you simply can’t succeed in it professionally. There’s not enough money in the world to pay someone to train hard enough to win the Tour. It’s simply too tough and too much of a whole-person commitment to do just for money. There needs to be passion,” said Andy to illustrate that putting too much pressure on a young mind and body is not a good recipe for a professional cycling success in the future.
Make it all about passion first
“Nobody wants to be a pro cyclist just to take part. Everyone who has the ambition to become a professional athlete wants to be the best. And doing that takes all you have. You only have a limited window of time, maybe 10 to 15 years, to take all of this pressure and pain to be really up there at the top. So, if you are young, it really needs to be about passion and fun only. Only at the age of about 16 to 18, you can start focusing on becoming a pro. If you wake up at 15, thinking, ‘I want to win the Tour de France because I will be able to make a million per year,’ I can guarantee you will not succeed with that motivation,” Andy explains why the passion for cycling should be at the core of your efforts when helping as a parent.
How did Andy get his kids excited about sport?
“I have two kids. So, how do I excite them to love cycling? I simply don’t. I think kids either like something or they don’t. Kids like to follow in their parent’s footsteps and I did that too. My dad was a pro cyclist. I lived cycling my whole life. I went with my parents to the Tour de France to watch it live when Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich were competing. But I don’t think it was my parents that got me excited. I got excited myself because I enjoyed the competition. My dad was never yelling at me from the roadside, he was always cheering and giving me positive feedback,” Andy answered.
“I think that if you want to do something as a parent, then you can explain, encourage, and try to show the beauty of the sport to your kids rather than focusing on making them race and win,” Andy summed it up.
Are Andy Schleck’s kids going to become pro cyclists?
“My kids are 3,5 years and 6,5 years old. So, the younger one is just running around the house the whole day,” Andy laughs. “My older kid plays soccer. He loves to do that because he is with his friends. He rides his bike with me too sometimes. We do like 25-30km loops and we stop for a picnic in between. We have fun. I think my older kid is exposed to a lot of people around me talking about my career and stuff. So, I don’t want to add more on top of that. I really hope he chooses his own way and, so far, I think he does,” Andy says.
“If I ask him, ‘what do you want to do?’, he says, ‘I want to play for Barcelona one day.’ If I ask him whether he wants to win the Champions League or the Tour de France, he says – no, no daddy, I want to win the Champions League,” Andy laughs.
“But I feel very lucky that he loves sports because I feel it’s really important that kids do sports. School is not everything. Physical activity was a big part of my education and I feel it should be a part of everyone’s too. It helps you stay healthy and you can learn a lot about yourself in sport,” Andy says.
Keeping it fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it seriously
Andy stresses that kids should be left to choose which sport they enjoy and parents are there to support them and make sure that the passion for the sport grows. But in his mind, you can both have fun and take the sport seriously.
When to get a coach and join a cycling club?
When asked when to get a cycling coach, for example, he answered: “You can have a coach at 12 years old if you want. A coach can give you tips and guide you. It can’t do any harm unless the coach is asking too much from your kid. But only at around 15 to 18 years old, it becomes important to have a good coach if you have aspirations to become a pro.”
Andy also recommended joining a cycling club: “The earlier you can join the better. You have teammates that can become friends, you can share your passion, and being a part of a club simply doubles the joy you get out of cycling.”
When to start racing?
“If you see a race and it seems fun, then sign up and do it. No matter what age your kid is. But don’t make it an obsession to win. It can be helpful to get experience from racing at a young age. You learn how to handle your bike and how to behave in a peloton. You learn how it feels to ride with a certain amount of pressure. And you know what it means to start and finish a race. You get the satisfaction from finishing a race well. But it only starts becoming important at around 15 or 16 years old. Even then, you have to be careful,” Andy warns.
“I have seen young cyclists winning every race at the Junior World Cup and by the time they are 20 years old, you don’t see them anymore. And that’s probably because they were under too much pressure too early. So, I think you should get serious between 15 and 16 years old but do it properly without too much pressure,” Andy advises.
How important is equipment?
“In my whole life, I haven’t heard of a single example of someone not succeeding in becoming a pro cyclist because the dad couldn’t afford carbon wheels,” Andy laughs. “Equipment is not even secondary. It’s far down the road in priorities. Giving mental and emotional support is the biggest tool you have as a parent. Talent can come later. I became a pro cyclist at 19 years old. Jens Voigt became a pro at 27 or 28. And I don’t believe that you are born with talent. I think talent grows out of passion and interest in something,” Andy continues.
“If you see that your kid truly loves cycling and is developing a passion for it, simply be a supporter. Try to provide some structure with a good coach if you can but the mental support is most important. Of course, the kid needs a bike. But it doesn’t need Di2 shifting. If your kid won’t succeed with a steel frame, having a carbon frame won’t help either. If your kid is good enough where high-level equipment would make a difference, you can be sure that sponsors will pay for it then,” Andy closes.