What Do Parents & Carers Do at BMX?

So your child/children have started racing BMX. As a parent what is your role in proceedings?

There are many who just sit on the sidelines, look after their kids (hopefully) and don’t really get involved in the running of things, but you’ll see a few who (a) look like they know what they are doing and (b) seem to be the ones doing something every time you turn up at BMX.

So what is it that they know, do and why, how, where did it all come about?

Volunteers

The sport is run by volunteers. From the club worker standing on the corner of the track with a flag in hand to the board members of BMX Australia, we are all volunteers with (a) jobs outside BMX, (b) kids in the sport (or used to have kids in the sport), (c) a love of the sport and kids in general and (d) – most importantly the wherewithal to get up and have a go.

Don’t get me wrong ... the welfare and safety of your child is your number one responsibility, and that should never be neglected because the parent is working in any particular role. I often find what I believe is a major misconception in this sport ... that by working you are disadvantaging your children. I believe the opposite is true. All roles, from Race Directing through to working in the canteen (and everything in between) help you as a parent learn more about the sport your children love. 

This in itself is an interesting point. Many of the parents (fathers especially) know all about football (of all kinds), car racing, motorbike racing etc, because that’s what they did when they were young. But when it comes to BMX they are complete novices. They generally did not participate in the sport when they were young, and are nowhere near as familiar with the rules or general running of BMX as they are of other sports.

So you end up with a situation where the child doesn’t know a great deal about the sport, the parent can’t really help advise or answer the questions all leading up to a fair bit of frustration, misinformation and general confusion. How do I know this? Because I’m generally the person on the end of those questions ☺

Now you might be thinking that I’m drawing a long bow by trying to insinuate that if you work in the sport you will learn about the sport and become an expert, or that you won’t learn anything about the sport if you don’t volunteer. In that point you would be correct. There is no guaranteed link between working and knowing, or between sitting on your butt and not knowing, but it is reasonably common-sense that if you get involved with the workings of the sport you will learn something about it.

You will also get quite a bit of enjoyment from whatever it is that you do. Surprisingly, even though I sound like I’m cranky most of the time, I really enjoy working at a BMX event, being involved with the kids and a great bunch of parents, and generally enjoying the companionship of a very large number of people all with a common interest.

So enough of the grand story… just what it is you can do?

There are three main areas of involvement in BMX administration/organisation.

Firstly there’s the administration side of things.

Administration:

All clubs need Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, Public Officers, Registrars etc. These are really administrative roles. So would you put your hand up to be President of a club in your child’s first year? Probably not (and wisely so, it’s a rotten job). But could you be Treasurer in your second year? Possibly.

Like all volunteer work, you should look to be involved in something you (a) enjoy and (b) already have some skills in. No-one ever asks me to get involved in balancing the books (I’m hopeless), but my skills lie in the areas of organisation and running things, so I focus on those things.

So if you dig dirt all week, know how to drive 13 different kinds of heavy machinery and can tell which end of a spirit-level is up, you probably shouldn’t put your hand up to be the club secretary, or registrar. Now this is a generalisation and I’m sure there is a heavy-equipment driver out there who knows how to program computers, but I think you get the gist of my thoughts here - volunteer in an area you will be comfortable in.

You don’t need to be a skilled Secretary, or have done it before etc, to be involved in administrative duties. You really just need to be a little bit organised, and willing to put some hours in during the week in your own time at night.

The second area you can get involved in is at a BMX meeting – setting up and track work.

Setup and Track Work :

At all BMX events you attend there is a fair bit of physical labour involved in getting the show up and running. A lot of gear needs to be carried out of sheds, installed in place etc. The canteen needs workers to set up and run the show, prepare the food, clean the building etc. The track will need sweeping and possibly some extra heavy-handed work, and there is always something to be carried from one place to another by someone ... and at the end of the day/night it all has to be put back away again.

This sort of work does not require a great deal of effort if many people chip in, but it’s damned hard work for one or two people. You don’t even need to know exactly what to do. I don’t think I’ve ever been turned from the door when I’ve walked up to someone who looks like they are in charge and asked “what can I do to help”. Pretty much you’ll always be given a role to do. Sometimes it’s not even necessary to ask. If you see someone on the track sweeping, and there is another broom in the store, just grab it and get out beside that person ... you will be welcomed with a very big thank you.

 At the end of the event everything has to be put away. This is not just a helter skelter chuck it in the bin affair as most clubs have very specialised and organised ways of handling and storing their gear, but if you ask to help you will be welcomed, and once you have learnt the ropes you won’t need to ask again.

 The third and equally important aspect of volunteering/working at BMX is becoming an official or worker on the day during a race meeting.

 Becoming an Official:

This is the one that parents find the most daunting ... being out there making decisions and working in front of everyone, possibly making mistakes and feeling somewhat pressured regarding your performance. Almost everyone thinks they don’t know what to do, and can’t possibly help in this regard.

Well guess what ... you don’t know what to do, and neither did any of us before we put our hand up and volunteered. You will never be asked to walk straight into a position without being shown what to do, and without being assisted, thanked, guided and generally regarded as a great person for “putting your hand up”.

Working on the day can be very rewarding. You will generally not be asked to for long hours ... short stints are the nature of the sport. You also don’t have to do something that is not within your comfort zone ... if you have trouble standing up for 20 minutes at a time due a back or leg problem then don’t volunteer and we won’t ask you to sweep the track.

There are three main areas you can get involved on the day in BMX ... one is track preparation. Fathers should know how to use a broom (some however have not been properly trained by their wives ☺) and there is always someone to work with to learn the ropes. That’s the hard physical work at the start of the race meeting and once out of the way everything from here on in is easier.

The areas of a race meeting where you can put your hand up to work without being the worlds most experienced professional official are staging, flagging and finish line. Staging is a case of calling out names loudly and working with the riders to get them organised into groups and gates ... it can actually be a lot of fun talking to the kids and parents as they millaround waiting for their race. No special skills required ... but a good voice helps a lot.

Flag marshals are simply yellow flags with a person attached. The starter may not be able to see all the track and so watches for a yellow flag raised. This tells him that there is a rider down on the track somewhere and he should not let the next race go. Flagging is not hard work, and you get to watch all the racing all the time.

Finish line is a little more daunting, but it shouldn’t be. The work around the finish line needs instruction, but its lots of good fun and you will meet a great bunch of people. There are quite a few positions involved in the finish line duties, one of which is scoring.

If you are good at using the computer then there’s always room for another person to help out with the paperwork/computerwork both at the start of the meeting and during the day at larger meetings.

In Conclusion:

There is a major upside to becoming a volunteer and learning about the sport your children have chosen to do. You will find a common language to communicate with your kids about the thing they love doing, and that’s a benefit not to be sneezed at.

You will gain knowledge of the sport and be able to help and advise your child.

You will also meet a great bunch of people and have a fantastic time while at the same time benefiting both your own child and all participants within the sport.

So think about getting involved ... it’s rewarding in more ways than you think.

Neil Cameron