How To Develop Your Mountain Bike Skills & Confidence With Joanna Yates

Whether you’re new to mountain biking or just haven’t progressed as far as you would like, it’s likely one of two things (maybe both) that are holding you back: your skills or your confidence.

In this episode, I chat with Joanna Yates about how to develop both. Joanna is a mountain bike skills coach and guide in Sedona, Arizona. She’s also a mountain bike instructor mentor, helping new mountain bike coaches get started.

We touch on a bunch of topics in this interview including how to choose a mountain bike coach, the importance of regular skills practice, and changing the stories we tell ourselves.

joanna yates

Listen To The Interview

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Stuff We Discuss In This Episode

  • How Joanna got started with mountain bike coaching and her background living in W. Virginia.
  • The importance of women coaches and mentors in her life (while also acknowledging the value of male support).
  • The importance of finding a coach who can provide individualized attention and homework after lessons.
  • How (and when) to ger your mountain bike coaching certification.
  • Books that are helpful for developing a healthy mindset.
  • Why you should start a skills practice and what it should look like,

Connect With Joanna

👉 Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/joannajyates/
👉 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joanna.yates.14/
👉YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-pJ0H4qfLmvmN8LoYGTKNQ/
👉 Website: https://sedonamtbcoaching.com/

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About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @kristenlbonkoski

Full Interview Transcript

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

Kristen: Joanna Yates, thank you so much for being here today. Before we dive in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself for those who don’t already know who you are, how you got into mountain biking, and how you became a mountain bike coach?

Joanna: Kristin, thank you so much for having me on. I’m stoked to be here and excited to share with your community. I feel honored to be on your podcast. I am Joanna Yates, a professional mountain bike coach and guide. I live in Sedona, Arizona, originally from West Virginia. I moved to Sedona about six years ago to ride my bike full time. Before moving, I coached and guided in West Virginia at Snowshoe and surrounding areas, like the little town of Slaty Fork, which has a lot of backcountry riding. That’s where I first started riding, in West Virginia, with my husband, Phil, who I often coach and guide with in Sedona now. We started mountain biking together. It was challenging at first, with all the shifting and body positioning, and I didn’t have any coaching. I remember having so many bruises from those early days.

The game-changer for me was about two years into riding when I took a clinic with Sue Haywood. She’s an incredible biker, someone you should definitely have on this show. Sue was my first introduction to coaching. I attended a women’s weekend in Slaty Fork, West Virginia, where I learned so much. It was a pivotal moment in my riding career, realizing that other women were facing similar struggles and that perseverance would lead to improvement. Sue was patient and emphasized the importance of not apologizing on the trail. She taught us that we shouldn’t be sorry for improving, learning, or making mistakes. That mindset shift was significant for me. From there, I started coaching and guiding at Snowshoe Mountain, which was an invaluable experience that taught me so much.

Kristen: One topic that’s come up a lot on the podcast is imposter syndrome. Many women struggle, especially when first getting into coaching, with feelings like “Who am I to coach?” Did you ever experience this as you transitioned into coaching as your career?

Joanna: Absolutely, I still do to this day. That feeling doesn’t go away because we’re always stepping into another version of who we want to be, always developing and growing, both on and off the bike. Especially when I first started, I volunteered and shadowed coaches for two to three years. I looked up to many coaches, like Hillary, Kelly, Angie Willaston, and Lindsey Richter. They took me under their wing. When I got my level one certification, it felt like a natural progression, and they were very supportive.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing process. There are always new levels and challenges, but we can own our power as females in this space. Women have a unique way of connecting with people and teaching, which is a superpower. I’ve been teaching for over ten years now, and some of the most impactful coaches I’ve had are women. The women in my life have been game changers, paving the way for me to be in this industry and encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone.

Kristen: You mentioned that being coached by women can be different than being coached by men. Do you find there’s a difference in coaching women versus men?

Joanna: I’m a huge supporter of more women mountain biking coaches, but I also have amazing men in my life, like my husband, Jeremiah Stone, Jake Quigley, and Sean’s March, who have been supportive. I’ve never felt hesitant to coach men. If someone is willing to learn and open-minded enough to come to me for coaching, that’s a great start. Regardless of gender, as long as the client is willing to learn and comes with a growth mindset, it’s a win. It’s about helping people, breaking barriers, and building trust. You belong there as a coach if you’re helping someone overcome their fears or achieve their goals. So, it’s about showing up, no matter what, because if somebody is willing to learn, you’re there to teach and help them.

Kristen: What should we be looking for when trying to choose a skills coach?

Joanna: Look for a coach whose riding style you admire and from whom you want to learn. Many clients come to me because they’ve followed my work on social media or researched my coaching style. They seek specific skills that I offer. It’s crucial to decide whether you want group coaching or private coaching, as they offer different experiences. With private coaching, you get individualized attention to improve specific areas. A good coach should provide feedback and homework after lessons. Remember, coaching is just the first step; practice is where the magic happens. It’s about taking action to become a better rider.

Kristen: What are the signs that indicate it’s time to get coaching?

Joanna: If you’re riding the same trail the same way and not seeing improvement, it might be time for coaching. If you’re stuck at a certain skill level, like an intermediate rider wanting to learn bigger drops or improve cornering, coaching can be beneficial. For beginners, getting coaching early in your journey can be incredibly impactful, as it was for me when I attended a clinic with Sue Haywood. Beginners can make significant gains in their first year, building confidence. Advanced riders also benefit, especially when tackling specific features or overcoming mental blocks. For example, I recently guided a client on the Highline trail in Sedona, showing him lines he wouldn’t have attempted otherwise. Coaching can help when you feel stuck in your riding or when you’re not progressing. It’s about finding mentors and coaches who can keep you accountable and help you improve.

Kristen: Many women are apprehensive about riding technical terrain. How much of that do you think is related to skill acquisition versus a mental barrier?

Joanna: It’s definitely both. When I first moved to Sedona, the terrain was so different from the East Coast, and I struggled with technical climbing on trails like Slim Shady. I realized I had to regress to progress, revisiting skills I thought I had mastered. Skills like track stands, corner punches, and timing coordination are crucial for technical riding to avoid pedal strikes and maintain good body position. But it’s not just about skills; it’s also about the mental aspect. You need to believe in your capability to ride those trails. Riding more technical trails and working on specific skills is essential, but so is building resilience and the belief that you can handle these challenges. It’s a mix of improving skills and mental preparation.

Kristen: Sedona riding can be quite intimidating. My first time on the Hangover trail, I was overwhelmed by the perceived risks.

Joanna: Sedona’s trails, like Hangover, can indeed be daunting. I remember taking friends there, and what I considered a ‘chill’ section was actually quite steep. My experience has made steep and technical trails feel normal to me. It’s about seeking out those challenging trails and understanding the skills required to navigate them. If you continuously expose yourself to these conditions, it becomes a part of your skill set, and you start to approach these trails with more confidence.

Kristen: Many women in Boise, where our trails are smoother, feel intimidated by the thought of riding in Sedona. They often say they couldn’t handle the technical trails.

Joanna: Sedona does have a reputation for challenging terrain, but it also offers a variety of trails that are fun and not as intimidating. I encourage those who doubt their abilities to come and experience the less daunting trails. Not everything here is about high-consequence moves. It’s a beautiful place to ride and create a business.

Kristen: And you offer guided rides as well?

Joanna: Yes, I offer guided rides through Trail Lovers, which my husband Phil and I manage. I also provide coaching through my own platform, Joanna Yeates. I have some exciting clinics lined up for the spring, and also instructor trainer programs for those interested in becoming a mountain bike coach or pursuing a guiding career.

Kristen: Can you tell us more about your upcoming clinics and instructor training?

Joanna: I have several clinics planned, including beginner fundamentals, which are beneficial for riders of all levels. It’s important to think of these as building a strong foundation. I also have drop clinics and technical descending clinics coming up in Sedona. Details will be on my website soon. The instructor training is through BICP, and it’s a three-day intensive course. It’s about learning and teaching skills progressions for riders from beginners to intermediates. The certification process involves learning how to use your voice as an instructor and becoming a leader in the mountain biking community. Getting my first certification was nerve-wracking, but the process is supportive, and you’re not expected to be perfect right away. BICP provides great support throughout the process.

Kristen: What level of rider do you need to be to do this certification?

Joanna: They suggest about three years of riding experience. I rode for four years and volunteered a lot at women’s clinics at Snowshoe Mountain before getting certified. I volunteered for Sue Haywood’s and Angie Weston’s camps among others. You don’t need to have everything perfectly lined up. If you’ve been riding for a while and feel ready to step into this role, and see a place in your community where you can help, whether it’s teaching skills, guiding, or leading group rides, that’s a great way to start.

Kristen: Lindsay Rector mentioned on the podcast that doing her certification actually helped her become the rider she is today. She improved her riding while learning to teach.

Joanna: Absolutely, learning to teach really refines your own riding. It makes you think about your techniques, like foot placement and body position, things you might take for granted otherwise. Your certification is a guidebook, but the real magic happens when you blend your experiences as a rider and human into your teaching. Find your own teaching style, because that’s where you can really step into your power as an instructor, coach, or guide. No one does it like you, with your unique experiences and storytelling. That’s incredibly valuable.

Kristen: Your personality really shines through on your Instagram account, and it seems like you put a lot of effort into sharing your authentic self.

Joanna: Thank you. There’s a lot of backend work involved in that. It’s about self-trust and constantly working on myself to show up authentically and give 100% in this space.

Kristen: Can you share some insights about mindset work? Are there any books or coaches that have helped you?

Joanna: Definitely. I recommend following Judy Haller. Her book, “Fear is My Homeboy,” has been instrumental for me in dealing with impostor syndrome. She has an improv background and is an incredible speaker. Another resource I love is the Lifted Method, based in Richmond, Virginia. They offer a soft talk challenge and focus on mindset, story work, and the power of words. I emphasize to my clients the importance of the stories we tell ourselves. You are your best coach, so it’s crucial to be your own hype girl and support yourself.

Kristen: What are some positive stories we should be telling ourselves while riding?

Joanna: First, visualize success when approaching a new trail section. Use deep breaths to stay calm and focused. It’s about trusting yourself and clearing out fight or flight responses. Focus on success and look ahead to where you want to go. Much of the mindset work actually happens off the bike. It’s about journaling and reinforcing positive self-talk. Even if you decide not to ride a feature one day, that’s okay. The feature will still be there when you’re ready. Pay attention to the words you use before dropping into a feature. Eliminate soft talk like ‘maybe’ and ‘should.’ Be decisive in your actions. If you’re not fully committed to a feature after a few tries, it’s better to save it for another day. This is about being honest with your skill level and doing the necessary work to improve.

Kristen: It’s great to remember that it’s okay to come back to a feature later. Persistence is key, right?

Joanna: Absolutely. If you’re not hitting a feature after a few tries, it’s a sign to address any missing skills or to return another day. Honesty with your skill level and commitment to improvement are essential. A regular skills practice is vital for progress. Put in the hours and the effort, and it will pay off. Start a skills practice, even if it’s just twice a week.

Kristen: For those wanting to start skills practice, what do you recommend? How long should each session be?

Joanna: I recommend my skills challenge, which I run twice a year, in spring and fall. It’s a 30 or 31-day challenge tailored to individual schedules. Many of my clients are busy moms who can’t always make time for formal coaching. The key is to schedule skills practice like a gym session, committing to what’s realistic for you, whether that’s once a week or more. Even practicing once a week for a month can lead to improvement. I provide focused practices with instructional videos. It’s about keeping it simple: put on a helmet, grab your bike, and practice in your driveway. This dedicated practice is a crucial component of skill development often overlooked.

Kristen: Is there anything else you’d like to share with women that we haven’t covered yet?

Joanna: The most important thing is to just start. You never know who you might inspire. You don’t need to be an expert rider or have high-level certifications to start coaching or connecting with your community. Start where you are with what you have, and begin building that community of riders. You don’t need fancy equipment; you just need to actively practice. Taking action and practicing consistently is key to improving your skills on the bike.

Kristen: Before we wrap up, where can people connect with you?

Joanna: You can find me on social media under Joanna Yates on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. For tours in Sedona, you can book through Sedona Mountain Bike Guides. For lessons, connect with me directly through my website. I’d love to ride with anyone interested!

Kristen: What bike or bikes are you currently riding?

Joanna: I recently sold my Evil Insurgent and am planning to get a downhill bike next year. My main bike is an Ibis Ripley, which is perfect for everything here in Sedona. I’m also about to get a Juliana Furtado with a mixed wheel set. I have a Transition PBJ dirt jumper for bike park practice. And I own a vintage ’92 Stumpjumper, rigid frame, in pink, which I adore.

Kristen: Where’s your favorite place to ride?

Joanna: Durango, Colorado is fantastic, especially the purgatory bike park and the backcountry. I also love West Virginia, with incredible riding at Snowshoe Mountain and Slaty Fork. And of course, Sedona, where the year-round riding is amazing.

Kristen: Finally, what do you love most about riding your bike?

Joanna: I love that mountain biking is a way for me to connect with myself and build confidence. Riding is like meditation for me. I cherish personal rides where I’m not pushing for speed but reconnecting with why I started riding. It’s been a transformative experience in my life.

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A podcast for women who love bicycles! We we celebrate all forms of riding and all forms of women, so whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or bike commuter, you’ll find your community here. Each week we’ll week bring you interviews from inspiring women, and offer tips and tricks to help you thrive on the bike.

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