Getting #moregirlsonbikes in Arkansas!

As NICA grows nationwide – so does our work towards equal participation across genders. It’s often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see” and NICA is playing a role in changing what female student-athletes see by recruiting strong female coaches and leadership.

We recently caught up with our Arkansas League Director, Kyla, and three of her female coach-supporters, Kim, Ellen and Kelsey to see how these four strong women are making a difference in Arkansas and working to get #moregirlsonbikes!

Kyla Templeton – Arkansas League Director. Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

Kim Seay, Head Coach, Haas Hall Academy, Arkansas Coach Supporter. Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

Ellen Brune, Team Director, Bentonville High School, Arkansas Coach Supporter. Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

Kelsey Miller, Arkansas Coach Supporter. Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

Yay! #moregirlsonbikes — in a historically male-dominated space, how did you find your way to mountain biking?

Kelsey: I have always loved riding my bike, including through grass, off curbs, and anywhere that seemed a little bit scary. My town built a few poorly marked trails that a junior high friend (who is also a girl) and I stumbled upon, so naturally we took our bikes to try them out. I was immediately hooked and never looked back. Really all it took was some adventurous spirit and an opportunity.

Kim: I was first introduced to mountain biking in the early 90’s when I went for a mountain bike ride with my boyfriend along the trails near the Chattahoochee River. It was a thrill and I’ve carried this interest forward ever since.

Kyla: From a sports perspective I grew up a swimmer and then took up running in college. Biking was the third leg in triathlon, so I took it up a little bit at summer camp in college and then in earnest right after college. It was mostly road biking at first, but I started mountain biking when asked to help start the Arkansas NICA league. I love being in the woods and I love the challenge and the skill required. I studied engineering in college (as did Ellen!) so I’m used to being in a male-dominated industry.

Ellen: After moving to Bentonville, Stu [my husband] and I were looking for new ways to spend time together doing something active and healthy. With all of the new trails being built, mountain biking was kinda irresistible. We had both ridden road bikes, but after a couple close calls with vehicles, trails were looking really appealing. We both went and rented bikes and did our best to ride all of Slaughter Pen. It was amazing.

How did you get involved with NICA?

Ellen: Kyla! She was telling me about this awesome new program to get more kids (and girls!) on bikes. I was just learning myself how to mountain bike and it sounded like a great opportunity to give back to the community while continuing to build my own skills.

Kim: Having participated with Girls Bike Bentonville, an organization geared toward female riders and founded by Kyla, I saw a her Facebook post about it and was immediately attracted to the idea.

Kelsey: Kyla, roped me in as we got to know each other better through our local ladies road bike club. I hadn’t heard of NICA before, and she point blank asked me to be the Volunteer Coordinator. I immediately accepted.

Kim working on skills instruction for OTB 101 at the NICA National Conference this summer in Minnesota. Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

What made you want to take on the role of Coach Supporter?

Kim: Athletics and coaching has always been a part of my life. I was a competitive gymnast and collegiate cheerleader. My own athletic experiences have taught me the value of early cultivation of proper fundamentals by young athletes. The inculcation of early fundamentals in mind, body and character is at the heart of the NICA experience. After understanding NICA’s core principles and going through the OTB 101 clinic in the Spring, it was a natural step for me to take on the role of Coach Supporter.

Kelsey: I was a coach last season, and I do love working with kids, but I really love the thought of equipping other adults to be confident in their own skills, therefore ensuring that even more students can be reached. Kyla invited me to a couple of trainings and I was immediately hooked. Teaching coaches the mindset when approaching their students is important to me, more so than making sure they can all set up a slalom course.

Ellen: Kelsey is so right. While mountain biking is awesome, it’s more important to help the kids grow to be awesome people. It’s important to help educate the coaches that we are building, first, strong young men and women, and second, lifelong cyclist. It’s a totally different mentality than most school sports, which makes it such a great program for student riders of all different athletic abilities and backgrounds.

Ellen and Kelsey enjoying their local trails. Photo: Kelsey Miller

Do you have any tips or tricks for recruiting and retaining young women on NICA-teams?

Kim: If a student rider can see it, she can dream it. We have five female coaches on our team. Having women as role models is key to attracting more girls to mountain biking. Women are not limited to bike riders; the biking world also holds space for women biking instructors, mentors and mechanics. There are many teachable moments with mountain biking to introduce some science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Traditionally STEM related fields are male dominated, but if a female coach is speaking this language, it influences young women. By the way, Ellen is a awesome mechanic! She built her Yeti Beti mountain bike starting from the basic frame to full completion! And, as she has a deeply scientific mind, Ellen knows the physics that underlies biking – she is my inspiration and an inspiration to many young girls. So, the possibilities for student riders are endless and, as Ellen shows, females can be fantastic mechanics too.

Ellen and Kim enjoying time on their mountain bikes! Photo: Ellen Brune

Kelsey: Women coaches and a culture that makes every girl, whether she’s on the podium every race, or just shows up to cheer on her teammates, feel like she belongs. You can’t force this culture. It has to be grown by the girls themselves and then passed on to the younger riders as they come along.

Kyla: And cute clothes. 🙂

Ellen: All my female riders want their race kit to be identical to the guys 🙂 But the biggest thing I’ve noticed has helped has actually come from the male riders. They make sure the girls feel 110% welcome at every practice. I can tell the ladies every practice that I’m glad to see them and they are getting better, but when they hear it from their male teammates, it seems to resonate a bit more.

What are the biggest challenges you see facing young women in mountain biking? And how do you plan to support NICA student-athletes in facing those challenges?

Kyla: I think one of the main challenges girls have is how different our approach to learning mountain biking is from the boys that are around us. We [women] have a different mindset about how we approach risks and the unknown, and how we build our confidence over time. Building skill and confidence takes time, but we live in a culture that is all about instant gratification and it’s hard to have the patience to invest in the skills so we don’t get antsy and ride above our level. But then we get to the point where we have the skill but it’s still hard to actually go do it. We have to figure out how to use our minds to help move us forward instead of talking ourselves out of things. One of our priorities in Arkansas is to have women coaches on all the team – so that the girls on the team have someone that thinks a little more like them and can help use that knowledge to help the girls meet their personal goals.

Kelsey isn’t intimidated by a little mud! Photo: TMBImages/Todd Bauer

Kelsey: The main challenge is the intimidation factor. Mountain biking, from the outside looking in, looks crazy scary and intense. All most people know about the sport it youtube videos of professionals doing insane things, and that in itself does not lend itself to new converts to the sport. The fact that girls are showing up and putting themselves out there in itself is a success. It’s important to reanalyze how NICA’s success with girls is measured. Is it how many showed up to the race? How many podiumed? How many points they earned for their team? Or is it how many more girls are riding bikes now that the season is over? How many girls put themselves out there and risked looking like a fool doing a sport where failure is overall unavoidable?

Kim: Building on Kyla’s and Kelsey’s thoughts, it seems to me that debunking the image of mountain biking as a male only sport is vital to expanding mountain biking’s attraction to females. Women, after all, can be just as adventurous as men if opportunities are made available to them. I want my participation to inspire young girls and people of color to the joy and adventure of mountain biking.

What is the best part about coaching young women on NICA teams?

Ellen: I love showing young women that strength means lots of different things. Sometimes being strong is trying something you were scared of. Sometimes, strength is encouraging a teammate that is struggling, or working hard to study for a test when you’re tired from racing on Sunday morning.

Kelsey: Helping the girls realize that they can do hard and scary things. Mountain biking is special because success is personal, and it is easily measured. You don’t shave a couple of seconds off of your time, you don’t shoot a winning basket by chance, but you make it over and obstacle that you couldn’t last week. You make it through a rock garden that you were too scared to try last time. You get to see yourself grow in really tangible ways that isn’t always as clear as in other sports, and especially for girls, it’s amazingly necessary to be able to see that improvement. It’s also important to see people who look like you do hard things. Being an example for girls in all manners of life is one of the major goals of my life.

Kim: I agree with Kelsey and Ellen. Coaching is wonderfully rewarding – when a young rider accomplishes a new skill set or surmounts a challenging obstacle, it is especially and deeply gratifying as a coach to notice the deep joy and confidence in the face of the young rider.

Coach Kim and fellow coaches and riders from Haas Hall Academy at a training practice. Photo: Haas Hall Academy Mountain Bike Team

Where would you like to see NICA’s women’s programming going in the future?

Kim: I would like to see a greater participation of girls and women in the sport of mountain biking. And speaking more broadly and personally for a moment, I, as an African American woman, hope to encourage the participation in mountain biking by people of color and others who may not enjoy historical exposure to mountain biking.

Kelsey: I would like for it to be less about the competition, to be more about the culture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being competitive, it’s actually something to be admired. However, in most sports, if you are not competitive, if you are only playing or riding because you enjoy it, it’s really hard to find your place in a sport that is so race-centric. I would love to see the girls community grow, not out of a love for competition and success, but through acceptance and encouragement to do hard things and build confidence.

Kyla: I agree with Kelsey. We want to have a culture of girls that support each other and build each other up to do what they didn’t think possible for themselves!

Ellen: Absolutely Kelsey!! I want to build strong women. While some may be strong cyclist, it’s more important that they recognize strong is not just physical, it’s also intelligence and strength of character.

Thanks Kyla, Kim, Ellen and Kelsey! Best of luck in the upcoming season! We’re excited to see more Arkansas girls on bikes!

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