Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, Dr Hayley McEwan talks about listening to young people, growing up rurally and the psychology of cycling.
Somebody at the parent council mentioned something about cycling and I was all ears. I really love anything to do with bikes, anything to do with cycling.
So there was one teacher who was one of my students.. She's now a primary school teacher and she was doing the training and we recognized each other. It's really interesting hearing other people's stories of why they're doing it. It's [also] good to see how people deliver. I'm interested in how other people deliver this, because you take little bits into your own delivery as well.
Level 1 and level 2 are completely different experiences. So Level 1 being in the playground. Having some fun with them, getting used to what they need to check on their bike. [In] Level 2 there is much more awareness about traffic and safety and other things going on. Everybody's game went up a level when you do Level 2.
The main thing with young people is to listen to them. I think adults often take the "I'm telling you" [approach]. But with young people, it's actually much more useful to listen to them and be guided and be led by them as much as you can. They're there to do something that they enjoy. So kids enjoy riding bikes. It's inherently enjoyable. So just let them ride their bikes and facilitate round about them with what you're doing. Just like students who come and study with us, they've picked a subject probably because they enjoy it naturally anyway. So you're just trying to guide them, facilitate them, point them in the right direction to learn a little bit more.
I mean, for me, living in the country, you have to be able to ride a bike. So I grew up in the Highlands. You have to be able to ride a bike to get about. So most of the kids in Bikeability could ride their bikes already. [They] were really competent and sometimes it was about reining that in a little bit. So Bikeability is about trying to teach some good practice. Sometimes when you're really used to riding your bike. I think kids in the country are especially because they need to get about. They can be really competent and so they can bypass some of those things. "I don't need to know that, or "I can brake with my feet, watch how I can skid and tear the leather off my shoes". And you're like, "yeah, that's good, but we're trying to get you to use your brakes at the same time".
Kids need to know that they've had the support to be able to cycle on the road. And maybe want to be able to go home and say to their parents, "I'm ready now to cycle on the road". So I think it does equip them. They're still really cautious and still quite scared. If a car was approaching, sometimes they would slow down and pull in, whereas there was three of us stationed at a junction and we'd be like, "It's okay, keep going. You've got right of way, keep going towards me". But I think over the weeks, we managed to build that confidence, to know that they had as much right to be on the road and what to do.
My ultimate aim would be to set up a cycling club within the school. We've got a community area. It's got allotments and paths all around it. It's been funded by a wind farm, and I think that would be a really safe place for kids to go and cycle. But I don't know enough about being a cycling coach yet, so Bikeability for me is a step in that direction.
So my specialism is in psychology. Part of that is about understanding and creating environments where people can learn. What types of goals do people need to set to feel that they're progressing? What's their motivation? So all of that relates. Whether you're working with an eight-year-old or a ten-year-old on their bike. It's thinking about why do you want to ride your bike?
I'm working with a track cyclist, an elite level track cyclist at the moment [with] sports psychology support. Why does she ride her bike? Those motivations will be pretty similar. And sometimes when you work with elite level athletes, it's getting them to remember, why did you start doing the thing that you're doing? Being in touch with young people and understanding young people's motivations for being there, it's not that dissimilar to working with people who are doing that as a profession or to medal or to qualify for major championships.
That broad understanding of psychology that I use in my day job, it plays out in everything. There might be one young person who's struggling to focus or is like, "we've got an hour out of the classroom. Let's just have a rammy. Let's just ride about on our bikes". The focusing techniques that you might talk to an athlete about or might talk to students about, might be really similar to a ten-year-old who's struggling to focus in a Bikeability session. So it might be thinking about what's the job you want them to focus on now. How can you get them to tune into the moment? How can you give them a bit of one-to-one attention, so they are not distracting the rest of the group? So setting really micro goals with a child on Bikeability is similar to what I would be doing with a track cyclist when they're gearing up to sprint on the last straight in the velodrome.
There are two other parents who are really experienced in it, so I am literally their assistant. I think it really helps where you've got two people who have delivered on Bikeability quite a lot. They know what works, they know what's possible. They also know in terms of the risk assessment round about the school. They know how to keep the kids safe and what works. I'm very new to this but working with people who are more experienced at delivering Bikeability, I think that can be really helpful in doing it.
Hayley is a Bikeability Scotland volunteer in South Lanarkshire.
Interested in becoming a Bikeability Scotland volunteer?
Would you like to be involved in helping to teach children to ride confidently and safely?
The first step is to contact your Bikeability Scotland Coordinator to find out if your local area needs volunteers.