Regardless of the forum – a USA Cycling (USAC) Race Director’s meeting or a Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC) Club Council Meeting or just standing on the side of a race with a group of interested parties – the conversation frequently turns to how do we recruit new members to the sport of cycling, especially juniors and most especially, females. There are no easy answers but one question that could be asked is does an action encourage or discourage participation? And if it discourages participation then we need to step back and take a hard look at what happened and how we can quickly change it.
In just the past couple of weeks I can think of three incidences that were discouraging but that didn’t have to be. How could circumstances have been changed to be more encouraging?
At the Rocky Mountain Jr. Cycling Challenge (RMJCC) , a multiday race just for juniors, the time trial podiums were about to take place. There was a huge crowd waiting for the presentation. Not only were the youth excited about the Time Trial results but it was a Colorado Jr. Time Trial State Championships. We began with the Jr. Women 9-10. There was just 1 contender. She had traveled almost 4 hours for her race coming from Colorado Spring. This quiet, lovely young girl ticked off many of the boxes of what we are trying to recruit: a female, a junior, from an area that no longer has a strong race community and a Latina, an ethnic group that does not have a large presence in cycling. How awesome to get her involved and how thrilling to see her on the top podium. She was presented with the RMJCC 1st place medal and then she was presented with the Colorado State Jr. State TT Championship for her age group.
In the telling of this story, it is important to remember she was the ONLY JW 9-10. There was definite confusion about her USAC membership and the father has contacted me about it. As Silt, CO has limited wifi and it was hard to find a quiet moment to do the research, we opted that we would go with the old adage “that customer is always right” mentality. I had already told the Chief Referee my intentions and I presented the young girl the State Championship jersey and medal. Her family was beaming and she was just thrilled. It could be the start of a long and promising career of bike racing but one of the officials ran down to the bottom saying she couldn’t get the jersey. In front of everyone. We went from an amazingly encouraging moment to an unbelievably discouraging moment. And it was because BRAC as an organization has decided that you can’t get a jersey if you are not a BRAC member.
As my grandmother would say: penny wise and pound foolish. One can only assume that BRAC wanted to reward their paying members and that is not a terrible thing, but their mission is to encourage bicycle racing in the state of Colorado. Because someone paid them $5 for 1 day instead of $15 for an annual license they were willing to discourage not only this young lady but her sister, her family and potentially those watching in the audience. Think of the difference by welcoming them, presenting the jersey and then sitting down and talking about next steps and the benefits of being part of BRAC and USAC, and what they need to do continue racing. These small actions of encouragement and discouragement make a difference the next time a person is making the decision to participate.
Please note that this is not by any means an attack on BRAC because they are making decisions for their full membership, it merely an example of both how perhaps it could be handled differently in the future for juniors and how we need to step back and think through different scenarios.
The 2nd situation, also at the RMJCC, was involving the Junior Gear Restriction. A 17 year old went to the junior rollout for the Road Race and was told he couldn’t ride with the gearing. In further discussions with a very irate set of parents, it was learned that the officials that had done the junior rollout at other events had let it slide including the RMJCC time trial the day before. Here was a young man from Summit County new to racing being told no you can’t race when previously they had let him slide by and no one every provided any guidance on what needed to be done to rectify the situation. We held the race a few minutes and found a wheel from another racer that resolved the issue for the road race but how did it get that far in the first place? He had raced over 4 times on the Front Range and no one helped him. There are no racing teams in his area, he just worked hard to buy a bike and started racing.
The official was 100% right in not allowing him to race as it would have given him an advantage over the other juniors but the failure came when he was allowed to slip by every other time and no one ever providing guidance on a solution. A quick search of Jr. Gearing provides many articles on the rules, an occasional article that assumes a lot of technical knowledge but really not much that lays it out in simple terms what should be done. It takes a lot of clicks and searching but eventually a reasonable article can be found on the WickWerx site but it took some work to find it. To be encouraging instead of just telling some they can’t race there should be an effort made to resolve it and then to follow-up with clear information about the racers next step. Then it is their burden but the assumption is clearly that everyone just knows and will figure it out and that is very discouraging to many trying to enter the sport. Make information easier to find; making it understandable and guide rookies instead of letting them slide by.
The 3rd situation that was very discouraging was the BRAC’s “Presidential Blog.” It is usually not something that is read for a variety of reasons but recently when searching for results on the BRAC site, you opened the site and boom, the blog was covering the screen. It was all about the weekend of the RMJCC, because there was so much happening that weekend – the Littleton Crit, the RMJCC, Masters Time Trial State Championships and the Olympics. He went into detail about everything including the Olympics but neglected even the slightest mention of the RMJCC – the only all junior multi day race in the Rocky Mountain Region and almost in the US.
Other than the officials (and they either donated or discounted their time) everyone that worked on RMJCC donated their time and contributed their funds. Other local race promoters donated supplies and every parent took a street corner as a course marshal. And the racing was second to none! There were tremendous team tactics and strategies and some real surprises on the podium. But not a mention. The BRAC staff passed the buck to the writer but it is just another example of being discouraging rather than encouraging. Perhaps it was just forgotten (although you can easily check the web calendar to ensure everyone gets covered) but there needs to be a stronger effort to ensure Jr. Cycling is never ever forgotten. The juniors are the next Olympians and the future of the sport.
Not being mentioned in an a BRAC blog is definitely inconsequential in the scheme of things but if there is a commitment to recruiting new people, new juniors, new women to the sport of bicycling racing than it is every little action that is important. There will be no one BIG program that will magically recruit people but rather a series of smaller actions that happen every day, every race and every interaction with a potential racer. We have to do better in looking at each decision and how it will impact a rookie. And we have to always remember to highlight and welcome the younger and the newer because that is encouraging!
We have to do better at being encouraging and not discouraging.