When Grant joined the team mid-season last year I had such a great time, and met so many great people. It gave me the opportunity to share my love of cycling with Grant in a positive and inclusive atmosphere. This year it was an honor to be asked to be an assistant coach for the Bulldogs and I did not hesitate to accept the challenge. As a first year coach I wondered where I would fit in and what I could possibly offer the team that was not already available. There was already a wealth of knowledge provided by the veteran coaches, Chad, Wendy, Darren and Charles, but I knew as a lifelong athlete myself, I had a unique perspective to add to this already well tuned program. With experience ranging from competitive swimming to triathlon and even ultra-marathon running I couldn’t wait and was excited to pass on some of the knowledge I had gained over the years. Any fears I had about making an impact on the team were quickly forgotten when one day after a practice one of our varsity riders found me and thanked me for a speech I gave about having patience with yourself, and not being too hard on yourself at the beginning of a season. He said it was exactly what he needed to hear at exactly the right time since he was returning from an injury and was frustrated with his results. Or the day one of the parents of a first year rider told me the story of how they were out riding bikes as a family when one of them got a flat tire. Instead of letting the parent change the flat this athlete said, “I got this mom, Coach Mike showed me how to do it”, and proceeded to change the tire.
One thing that I think is unique about the sport of mountain biking is that we as parents and coaches are participants as well. Football players don’t suit up with their parents and take the field. It is one thing to stand on the sidelines and bark out orders on how, when and what type of workout to be doing, but it is much more impactful when we as the coaches and parents are in the saddle, riding the trails and having just as much fun. Most of the coaches are just big kids anyway and this just makes us more relatable to the athletes. These young athletes look to us for inspiration and motivation and seeing us ride alongside them, and even racing is what is going to instill that lifelong love of sport. It is the ultimate in leading by example. We are modeling to these athletes that sport is about having fun. In my opinion starting wherever you are and always seeking to improve can be a greater win than standing on the podium.
The moments that made me the proudest this year and make me excited to coach again were seeing the kids improve, seeing them push through barriers, be them mental or physical. You can see the confidence build as they face adversity and keep coming back for more. We had athletes that at the beginning of the year had never ridden over a mile at a time on their bikes and by the end of the year were doing ten miles or more. However far they take mountain biking those life lessons will be some of the most valuable moments in their development into adults and I am glad to be a part of it.