Learning to Lead

Learning to Lead

Posted by ​Julia Tellman on 11th Aug 2016

Julia Tellman is a long time member of the KRF production staff. When she's not making bars she spends her time riding bikes, talking about bikes, and thinking about bikes. Last month Grand Targhee Resort hosted the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League Leader's Summit. The league, a chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), was formed in 2014 and had its first high school and middle school race series last year. Julia found out that coaching sometimes teaches the coach, not just the kids.

I signed up as a volunteer coach for the Teton Region Composite Team's first year. I didn't have any clear motivation besides a vague desire to do something for the cycling community. Racing and riding are integral to my life and I wanted to help some kids experience that too. I watched the team go from a bunch of shy gangly bike riders to an inseparable crew of strong cyclists. This year the team has tripled in size, and its members have a wide range of skills, experience, and motivation. I attended the leader's summit because I needed to figure out how to be more to these hordes of children that just a person who rides bikes with them. I'm not great with kids; I try too hard to be cool, I cuss too much, and I don't articulate myself well. At the summit I better understood the purpose and goals of NICA, and how to present myself as a coach, confident in the knowledge that this team really is good for the kids.

We have plenty of personalities and riding styles on our team. One girl reminds me so much of myself at her age. (Except that she's a way more motivated student. And a ballsier rider. So maybe not so much.) One boy had never sat on a mountain bike before this season, but he absorbs all advice like a sponge and has undergone years' worth of improvement in three months. We have truly skilled young racers who have the potential to excel in any cycling discipline they choose, and we have kids who just want to goof around and ride bikes with their friends.

Practice isn't always fun and rewarding. The kids show up dull-eyed from the heat or antsy from class, and the coaches are sometimes a little short on stoke. But this is why we all ride bikes: it's a reprieve from daily baggage, a way to hit refresh. The races are a noisy, festive culmination of the season's hard work. Everyone is positive and supportive, the parents hang out and make it feel like a party, and the kids finish their races feeling completely drained but accomplished.

At the summit the head coach from Eagle High in Boise gave a talk about the importance of team culture, and I tried to puzzle over ours. We're a young team, not very competitive, not very structured or well-equipped or cohesive. But at last week's practice we rode at Horseshoe Canyon, which is challenging but accessible for all, and we splashed around in the creek afterward, and it felt like this was our team culture: a bunch of Teton kids loving where they live and riding bikes for the pure joy of it.

For volunteer opportunities please contact Amanda Carey at amanda.carey@mountainbiketetons.org