Professional MTB Coach Certification - sharpening the knife

Mar 13, 2012 at 11:44
by Ryan Kuhn  

by Ryan Kuhn
photos by Logan Swayze

Last fall, Whistler-based Professional Mountain Bike Instructor (PMBI) owner/director Paul Howard brought together a team of highly respected professional racers and coaches to develop and refine a new Level 3 Coaches Certification course. Combining real world race experience with established and innovative professional coaching techniques, this new certification aims to provide the training and tools mountain bike coaches need to successfully prepare aspiring and accomplished athletes.

PMBI Level 3 Development Forum

Chris Kovarik and other professional coaches and racers gathered in Whistler last fall to help develop the Level 3 Coach Certification.


Chris Kovarik, a renowned World Cup Downhill competitor and certified PMBI Level 2 instructor, was one of the coach certification development session participants. Chris recently began instructing riders through Kovarik Racing with his wife and 2011 Canadian National Champion Claire Buchar.

bigquotesThere is a lot of information and resources that need to be developed into a program that can offer athletes successful development opportunities, technical skills are great, but without proper coaching, mentoring and mental/tactical development, an athlete can only go so far. - Chris Kovarik

Views: 5,763    Faves: 32    Comments: 5


Paul is building the Level 3 certification based on the principles of his Level 1 and 2 Instructor courses. The idea is that the first step to becoming a coach is to become an instructor first; learning about teaching the sport and gaining long-term experience as an instructor is a key training element when developing and training new coaches. The PMBI 1 and 2 courses train instructors how to teach recreational, non-competitive riders. As such, the goal of the new PMBI 3 course is to help provide the industry with a gap between the two teaching streams of instructing and coaching, and train coaches how to teach aspiring or active competitive mountain bikers.

These focus on fundamental skills of body positioning and balance, gears and braking, line selection, direction control, pressure control and timing and coordination. While beginner riders will focus on the first two skills (Level 1), intermediate to advanced riders (Level 2) focus on all aspects of these fundamental skills, advancing their abilities from bike operation and body position to pressure control, direction control and timing and coordination as it relates to all the fun aspects of mountain biking – cornering, drops and jumping.

The Level 3 certification takes this a big step forward, focusing on coaching technique and strategies to identify opportunities for skill improvement, helping the racer self-coach, and utilizing advanced coaching skills such as terrain selection, competition preparation, course evaluation and strategy, and the Performance Affecting Factors (technical, equipment, mental, physical and the environment).

PMBI Level 3 Development Forum pic Logan Swayze bikeparkphotos.com

Paul Howard, owner/director of PMBI, leads instructors during a Level 2 session last summer.


Ken Doraty, a participant in the coach certification session, is a Whistler Bike Park Coach and Staff Trainer and is certified as a Level 2 Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) coach and a Level 4 Canadian Ski Instructor Association Instructor (CSAI) instructor. Here’s his take on the PMBI Level 3 certification:

bigquotesWe all brought some real world experience and proven coaching experience to the table. We also found that no matter what the sport, coaching was coaching and our collective theories were our common ground to meet on and develop from. Having athletes Andy Bostock, Chris and Claire there to validate our concepts was exciting. I do believe this will be of extreme benefit to coaches wishing to develop athletes as part of a team or club. - Ken Doraty

PMBI Level 3 Development Forum

Ken Doraty practices leading the PMBI Level 3 development session participants through a coaching session.


Being able to ride and teach mountain biking is one thing, but training other instructors how to teach is a completely other skill set and so requires a different background of training and expertise, explains Paul. All the PMBI course instructors are a minimum of CASI/CSIA (Canadian Snowboard Instructors Association) Level 4 certified. To help put this into perspective, there are about 30,000 CASI snowboard instructors in the world and from this there are only about 50 CASI Level 4’s.

bigquotesCreating a unified platform, in line with coaching standards across multiple disciplines, will bring legitimacy to the sport, the athletes, and will raise the standard of coach/athlete interaction and ultimately the athlete's ability to produce when the moment comes, - John Shelly, a past World Cup Snowboard Athlete and Coach, PMBI Level 2 and CASI Instructor, and coach certification session participant

David Gagnon, a former World Cup cross-country athlete and one of only a handful of CASI Level 4 Examiners in the world, also participated. Coming from a cross-country background, David provided a unique perspective on training and coaching to the gravity disciplines.

bigquotesAll the skills we covered, the way we used the terrain and the different ways we developed each and every skill blew me away, I felt like I was a good guinea pig to all of the sessions we tried. I improved so much. I discovered how to handle my bike all over again! - David Gagnon

PMBI Level 3 Development Forum pic Logan Swayze bikeparkphotos.com

Sharpening the knife: Chris Kovarik cuts to the chase.


The PMBI Level 3 Coaches Certification will be delivered for the first time in the fall of 2012. Participants will have to have completed the Level 1 and 2 training. Following the Level 3 session, coaches will be required to implement and develop a “portfolio” of their coaching activities for the next year, followed by a one-day coaching evaluation before being fully certified.

PMBI began in 2006 and for the past four years has doubled the number of certified instructors every year, and appears to be well on the way to doing the same in 2012. Courses are scheduled from May to September in Canada, USA, Australia and the UK. Last year, a number of professional racers (Kovarik, Anka Martin and Katie Holden to name a few) took the PMBI training as they either began their careers in coaching or were looking for the best information out there.

bigquotesPMBI benefits greatly from having such a high level of expertise in the instructors, coaches and racers across a multitude of sports that are involved in its development. PMBI is quite unique in this respect. Being able to compare our standards of training and certification courses, not just to other mountain bike courses, but also to ski and snowboard courses (which have been around for over 40 years) - is invaluable. This enables us to constantly strive for, and hopefully achieve, the best instructor programs not just in the mountain bike industry, but the instructor training industry as a whole. - Paul Howard

PMBI Level 2 Instructor Training Course

Paul soliciting feedback. The Level 3 development session was as much about learning from others as it was trying out innovative coaching techniques.


For more information, visit the PMBI website or contact Paul Howard at zep_techniques@mac.com.

Ryan Kuhn is a Pinkbike contributor and is the co-manager and coach for the PerformX Young Guns Downhill Team. He lives in Rossland, BC.
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25 Comments

  • + 25
 I couldn't imagine being a mountain bike coach , that would be my dream job Razz

Just get up , go outside and ride some bikes. Help people and have some fun. Sure beats anything else by far , for me at least
  • + 12
 Well that pretty much explains my day in a nut shell. but you forgot the coffee, then the coaching Smile
  • + 7
 I would love to be a dh coach in summer and snowboard instructor in the Winter. Dream life!
  • + 0
 na, teaching people means sitting about on the trails, riding slow so they can keep up, and spending your days with randoms who you have just met... rather be a gangsta and just chill till you stumble across heeps of cash and then use the money to ride with your friends and have a good time
  • + 5
 N-Wheelie , that sure sounds infinitely better when you compare it to an office job
  • - 1
 the only one in the UK is on the 31st march and im on holiday, fuck you family holidays!
  • + 1
 It says there is also one on April 6th
  • + 2
 oh right cheers, obviously just misread
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  • + 4
 Had Chris and Claire coach a small group of us at Australia Victorian State champs few weekends back, Safe to my general views on line choice and skills on a bike changed dramatically! This is what the sport needs more things like this to support and coach the up and coming riders!
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Very cool for sure. I really do hope that it does not go the way AASI/PSIA have with all the technical jargon and BS that in theory is the proper way to make a turn for example...but does not help kids learn how to snowboard/ski. My experience with AASI has been that the focus is on proving you know more about snowboarding and the dynamics of it than actual ability to get a kid to go from never seeing snow to ripping it.

That being said, a certification is a step in the right direction to ensure our sport grows in popularity and is accessible to more people.

Keep it up guys!
  • + 0
 "All the PMBI course instructors are a minimum of CASI/CSIA (Canadian Snowboard Instructors Association) Level 4 certified."

As a ski instructor, I feel like it is important that mountain biking has its own certification for teaching and coaching, but I'd like to see it develop a little more separately from whats already going on with snow sports. I think there is definitely a lot we can learn from other certification programs and we should use them as a resource. However, someone doesn't need to be good at teaching snow sports to legitimize them as mountain bike coaches. Plus, there is a lot PSIA and others could improve on. Creating our own certification programs separate from snow sports will allow us to bring in fresh thinking and ideas.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 This is absolutely amazing for the sport, coming from ski racing I can see how the sports are coming closer together and hopefully in the future mountain biking will gain the same legitimacy as ski racing and increase the level of competition and expansion of the sport. Mountain biking has really needed this.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 @plwaidner... thanks for your comment, and we totally agree! We're simply hoping to highlight the level of expertise behind the development and execution of the PMBI courses. We've been very careful with these courses, considering our backgrounds... even though we're also ski and snowboard instructors, for most of us (me in particular) mountain biking is actually our "first" sport. As such, we have been careful not to create a simple "carbon copy" of winter courses. I actually started developing the PMBI programs before I became a snowboard instructor.

That being said, if we want to create the best courses we can, learning from how they do things well in the winter (I agree, there are still ways they can improve) is a great way for us to assess, compare and ensure the quality of the PMBI Programs, while still keeping them 100% focused to being as relevant as possible for the mountain bike industry. We try to have as many of these "think tanks" to do exactly as you say... to bring in fresh ideas and thinking specifically from our biking, and teaching biking, backgrounds.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Just completed the first PMBI level 1 course in the UK and passed with Jo and Dave. great experience and training - can't wait to share my new skills. Paul is a true revelation - he teaches you to pass on your skills but not in a mechanical scripted way - just from your core knowledge.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Nice article I just recently got into mountain bike racing and am learning the fundamentals of downhill racing. I just got a new bike too take a look www.2wheelbikes.com/sx40-mountain-bike.html
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  • + 1
 Look for Chris Kovarik to be putting what he learned to practice at this summers Western Open BC Cup. Three spots are still open at CCNBIKES.com!
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  • + 1
 @ johnny-compton... we have two course dates this spring in Afan Wales, March 31st - April 2nd and April 6th - 8th
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  • + 1
 Talk into my good ear or speak up bro! Cool riding shots and I think I've seen that track before ;-)
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Chris and Claire are both coaching with us this summer. Great coaches and absolute rippers on the bike.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Thanks for this great story Ryan. Highly informative and interesting.
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  • + 1
 stoked for ya paul! world domination really does await!!!
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  • + 1
 Is this all filmed in Whistler bike park?
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  • + 1
 ahaha I seen a black bear
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