In the latest episode of Fast Talk Femmes, co-hosts Julie Young and Dede Barry chat with Julia Violich, who is the founder and director of the Bear National Team, the longest-standing, most successful development mountain bike team in the U.S.
Violich and the Bear development program has been instrumental in producing many top cyclists, particularly female mountain bike riders. In the show, Violich talks about the many tools and resources that athletes are provided with as part of the program (both physically and mentally/emotionally) in order to reach their athletic potential.
What’s perhaps most enlightening in this show—and from this team—is how much the program emphasizes the importance of gratitude, respect, and appreciation—entitlement is not tolerated—and how the team environment teaches skills that help these athletes develop into not just high-performance athletes, but high-performance humans.
We also chat with Colleen Wanty who was instrumental in starting the Northern Nevada NICA League. In a short time this league has boasted some of the highest percentages of female riders across the country. Wanty masterminded some creative and unique programs to attract, nurture, and retain young female riders in the program. We ask Wanty to share some of her secrets.
Julie Young 0:04
Hi, Welcome to Fast talk Femmes, hosted by Julie Young and DeDe Barry. Our guests for today’s episode are Julia Violich and Colleen Wanty. Julia Violich is the founder and director of the Bear National Team. Arguably the most successful long standing mountain bike development program in the country.
Among other things, we chat about NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. NICA throws a wide net during high school aged kids of all interests and abilities into the sport of mountain biking. Well NICA’s mission is simply to get more kids on bikes NICA has inadvertently become a valuable development tool for USA Cycling. The Bear National Team helps create a bridge for kids who are more serious about competing at the national level and helps to support them to reach their potential. But one thing we observe in mountain biking and many other sports is that it seems harder to attract and retain young females.
We also chat withColleen Wanty, who was instrumental in starting the Northern Nevada NICA League. In a short timeframe, this league boasted some of the highest percentages of female riders across the country. Colleen masterminded some creative and unique programs to attract, nurture and retain young female riders in the northern Nevada NICA program. We asked Colleen to share some of her secrets. Welcome, Julia and Colleen.
Brittney Coffey 1:30
Hi, listeners, we’re so excited that you’re here to check out Fast Talk Femme, a new podcast series, it’s all about the female endurance athlete. Here at Fast Talk Labs, we pride ourselves on being the pioneers of information and education in the endurance sports world for both athletes and coaches. If you like what you hear today, check out more at fasttalklabs.com.
Dede Barry 1:55
Julia, can you tell our listeners how you got involved in cycling,
Julia Violich 1:58
I originally got involved in cycling as a result of several knee surgeries. I was a soccer player, and at a very competitive level in college. And when after my third surgery, the rehab was sitting on a bicycle, stationary bicycle and I just loved it and decided that my career in soccer was likely going to be over. And why not take up this new, exciting pioneering sport?
Dede Barry 2:24
At what age did you get started?
Julia Violich 2:26
I was 28 Actually, or 28 Till I started getting competitive start kind of riding around town or on local trails when I was 26.
Dede Barry 2:35
So can you tell our listeners about the bear national team, why you founded the team and a little bit about its mission and where you’ve been where you’re headed with it.
Julia Violich 2:45
So originally, when I first started getting involved with coaching, I was pregnant with my first child, and a good friend of mine reached out to me to ask if I could coach the local high school team, of which I thought I could do nothing more fun. That just sounded like the amazing the most amazing opportunity when I was pregnant with my first. So I started coaching local high school team. It was the second year after we had formal races at the high school level. And that was with the first now Nika team, the Northern California League. I coach for two years and through my experience coaching, I ran into quite a few girls, majority of the people that I was interested in were women that were really good. And I thought wow, wouldn’t this be fun if I could take these girls to some of the races that I go to? And get them out of the high school situation and take them on a national kind of road trip and check it out, see what they think. So I started doing that with a small group of girls. And I had also been talking to another local coach that kind of wanted to do the same thing with a group of local boys. And we formed an organization called Whole athlete Dario Frederick was the owner of that was his kind of concept. And I was the voice coach and I was the girl’s coach. And that’s when I coached the notable, famous Kay Cordy back in the day when she was freshman in high school. And we literally did that we got in my land cruiser with five girls and five bikes on the back, and I just drove them around the United States. We had incredible success just from our little California crew, and the kids all really loved it. And so I stuck that out for I think, three or four years and around 2011 or 12 Dario and I just definitely had different philosophies on how to work with adolescents maybe because I had now become a mother and I had different ideas about what was inspiring to kids and what motivated them. Definitely different than his we broke up we broke up amicably but we broke up and that’s where bear was born. Most of the riders on whole athlete then moved over to bear so I kind of had a core group to start with, but it was still all California based. I would say it took one year and soon we had Colorado and Utah and then In the next year, we had Kentucky and Alabama and the next year we had Michigan and Massachusetts. So the team just started morphing and became what it is today, which is truly a national team with Well, this year, we have 15 Different states represented last year, we had 17 Different states represented. And we again, provide an opportunity outside of kind of the high school league to perform at the highest level of the sport, when you had asked about mission, our main mission is obviously to support riders. But it’s bigger than that. And I tell them this all the time, like the mission of bear is really to elevate the sport of cycling in the United States of America, cycling is so well received globally. And you know, especially in Europe, where it’s rampant, but in many other countries as well. It’s like soccer, and cycling. Those are the sports and the US, we have all these ball sports that take precedence to cycling. And I want to work really hard to provide opportunities going forward for young student athletes to compete at the highest level, and then potentially move on and become professionals at that sport, go to the Olympics for that sport, or the World Championships for that sport. Just want to make it more viable, more of a household name and, you know, continue the growth that we’re seeing at the high school League.
Dede Barry 6:13
It’s been really amazing to watch the progress in such a short time you’ve come a long way with a team, I want to have you explain or help our listeners understand the landscape and cycling development right now. Just what is NICA? What is USA Cycling? What are their roles? And how does your team actually integrate with their development pathways.
Julia Violich 6:33
So cycling is because it’s so different than many other sports that are more mainstream. It doesn’t necessarily have a clear development path, which has been, I’m not going to point the finger at anybody. I’d love to say it’s USA cycling’s fault for not creating a pathway for cyclists. But because it’s such a huge, we’re such a huge country, and there aren’t small regional teams necessary to draw from and there hasn’t been for years, it’s much harder for USAC. To find kind of that needle in the haystack. I would say that with the advent of Nika, we now at least in the mountain bike, and actually also in the road, we now have kind of a growing group of kids that are expressing interest in cycling, that are wanting to explore it more, might not necessarily want to become a professional rider, but they want to engage in the sport. And Nike creates a very nurturing, welcoming, grassroots environment for these kids to thrive. You know, each T High School has a team, at least where I am, every single one of the high schools has a team. You have five or six races a season, you get together and you have pizza and hamburgers, and you train together anywhere matching kits. And it’s so fun. Just really naked is a wonderful job at creating joy around cycling. They’re also as a competitive side and they do have you know, the varsity categories, but the numbers are very, very thinned out like at the really competitive edge of Nikah is not very many writers. But that’s okay, because I think the most important thing at the kids this age is make sure they love it, and they have joy for it. And they’re not burnt out like this is something that they want to do potentially in college or for the rest of their life. So Nikes got a really it’s a really good breeding ground. USA Cycling has struggled in the mountain bike side with developments, I would say the majority of the reason why they’ve they’ve struggled is because there hasn’t been an integrated relationship with Nika and USA Cycling, although now we’ve just recently forged a relationship. But the other thing that they struggle with is financially just what development is and who do they spend money on. On the road side, it seems to me that there’s a lot more like Junior road programs and those programs would be the ones to kind of develop the rider and then USAC would go and kind of cherry pick from those teams, mountain biking until recently, until really recently has not had that same infrastructure. So I kind of created bear to be that arena for the USAC to then say, Okay, this rider showed promise for X number of years this, this rider shows metal being metal capable, and the next few years, this is a rider that we want to invest in and take them to the next level. Again, because of finances, they’re really only able to take riders to petition races, like Pan Am’s or World World Cups and World Championships. But I know that they’re working really hard right now at creating opportunities at development camps, and also looking at cross discipline camps where, you know, I’ll send an athlete to USAC track camp, because I know I’ve seen her on the line, I see how much power she has. Let’s just see if maybe track is a better discipline for her writing style. And we’re hoping that USAC does a lot more of that in the next couple of years because I think that’s a really good way to kind of cross pollinate and really hook kids into this Suppose that worked for them.
Dede Barry 10:01
That’s amazing. So, I mean, it sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job of potentially taking the more serious kids out of Nika who want to pursue cycling at a higher level. And your team is a bit of a bridge to World Championship opportunities, USA Cycling national team opportunities, I get the sense that that your team is doing a really good job of bridging that gap or allowing opportunities for kids to sort of like grow beyond Nikah. Yeah, it’s
Julia Violich 10:27
been a really cool phenomena. Just in the last five years, there’s a lot more regional teams popping up. I would say, even five years ago, there was summit at a Utah boulder Junior cyclists out of Boulder. And that was kind of it. There weren’t a lot of other regional programs. Because taking the leap from Nika to bear a is a huge leap. But be I can’t accommodate that many kids, I have to be really selective about who can be on teams, we just don’t have resources. So it’s been a really fantastic thing to have. All these other regional teams kind of pop up recently. They’re kind of the steps. You have Nika, and then these teams, these regional teams on the step up from Nika and then I actually am drawing more from these teams. I’m talking teams like there’s an Arizona there’s an Arizona debo team. There’s Excel cycling out of Utah, Reno divas that are Reno, Boulder Junior cyclists, which I mentioned before, Durango Devo is a great program where they literally get kids on bikes when they’re kindergarteners, that’s another team that I look at Texas Devo has emerged, dirt camp Devo out of Alabama and Georgia has emerged. And I should mention a bow about cycling and redevelopment have recently emerged too from the Colorado area. So it’s really been now there’s more of a I don’t know pyramid. So you can race bikes at Nike, you can raise them with your regional team that picks kids from the area from the different Nike leagues. And then you can come to bear and then move on, you can still move on without going to bear I don’t want to say that I am the funnel and the end all be all because I’m not and I work really hard with a lot of other directors that have talented kids that really, you know that maybe there’s not a good fit, or or we just have don’t have the resources, like I can honestly only take so many. But I work with a lot of these other directors to to help them provide opportunities for their very high performing athletes that show a lot of promise.
Dede Barry 12:24
And do most of these teams have both women’s and men’s programs?
Julia Violich 12:28
Yes, they do. In every case, there are more men than women. It is just the state of many sports in the United States. And cycling is not any different than that. But yes, I would say definitely more men than women. But you know, the women’s section is growing. It is definitely growing. It’s exciting to see.
Dede Barry 12:46
That’s really good to hear. Yeah, Julie, I’ll put it over to you. Because I know you wanted to pipe in with a few questions.
Julie Young 12:53
Yeah, I mean, I guess for me, what I think is neat is just to see how that landscape has changed. I mean, I think about like when Diddy and I first began racing, I won’t speak for DD, but speak for myself. Landing into cycling was total happenstance for me, and it’s, you know, just having been soccer player, alpine ski racer knee injury on the golf. And then, you know, just by happenstance, seeing a, like a human interest story on the McKinley brothers who lived in my town, and they were racers for the 711 team. And prior to that, I had no idea that bike racing was even a possibility or a thing. And now I feel like we’re in this this era where I see like Nike, as being such a big part of this is again, just creating so much more visibility, you know, really throwing that wide net. And, Julie, as you said, you know, maybe 1% continues on from that. But still, I think exposing kids at such a young age and again, you know, you never know if they come back to it. And I think it’s, it’s really neat and again, just more visibility for the sport in terms of helping it grow.
Julia Violich 14:04
I think one of the interesting things about Nika is that their tagline is no get kids on bikes, which I completely appreciate. And I think that they have absolutely succeeded at that their mission. But one of the bears taglines is keep kids on bikes, you know, providing opportunities beyond their high school year as I know myself as a Nike coach, I still am and I could coach last year actually got the Legend Award from Nike because I’ve been in it for so long. I am the longest tenured coach in Nida. But beyond high school, that’s that’s where they end and they have no dreams of going on to college or beyond that, which I think is great stick with their core mission. But opportunities through some of these regional teams and through teams like Bear, keeps kids on bikes, keeps them engaged and keeps them understanding. Again, you know, the multi disciplines how far you can go on this for rubbing elbows with pros, which is It’s always inspiring and exciting. And it’s just kind of making sure that kids realize that there is a pathway. Because otherwise, if they just did Nika, they would stop riding their bike. I mean, they might commute in it, or maybe do triathlon or something like that. But I really don’t think that they would continue to compete at a high level.
Julie Young 15:19
I love what you’ve described in terms of that pyramid, and how it’s really filling in and to your point, like, Nike is awesome, it throws that wide net, but for the kids that are really motivated to give them opportunities to continue to grow in the sport.
Dede Barry 15:33
Julia, I want to take it back a little bit to what we were talking about earlier, just about the ratio of males to females I was thinking about this after is your team and even ratio of men and women, I know you’ve you’ve had a lot of demand a lot of kids wanting to join your program, do you try to keep the ratio pretty equal, or
Julia Violich 15:52
at the junior level, it is almost 100% equal, it might be 4852, or 4951. But I at the 1516 and 1718 levels, my invites go out to same number of men and women. And I would say the attrition is minimal, very rare, except in the case of maybe injury, which Julie and I dealt with this year, a massive concussion situation where we’ll lose a rider as a junior in the U 23. ranks, which is an area that I have only started really focusing on the last four years, because I had a lot of juniors that looked at me and said, Now what I can’t get on a protein like what am I going to do so it’s kind of the next tip, but I take my u 23. Teen, which is basically ages 19 to 22. It’s much harder for me to have an equal number of male and female participants, for whatever reason, and I, I have many ideas why but for many reasons, the female participation drops off. So where I’ll have 30, like, I’ll just take, for example, right now our application process, I have 30 Men vying for 10 spots on our youth 23 program. And honestly, 25 of them are very capable, and on the women’s side of God 10 vying for quote, unquote, 10 spots, but of those 10, only four of them are really viable. So a lot of very talented female athletes when they were juniors, you know, they go off to college, they have other influences, they want to step away from it. And they don’t continue to participate at that level. That doesn’t mean they won’t go back to the regional team. But they are not going to travel around the United States and sit on a bicycle for 20 hours a week, you know, at that age in their life. Do you think it
Dede Barry 17:43
has something to do with them not necessarily having a great pathway? Or maybe even being able to make a career out of it professionally?
Julia Violich 17:52
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’m seeing it actually, with the men right now. There aren’t as many opportunities on mountain as there are on the road. There used to be when I was racing. 25 years ago, there were so many Semi Pro and Pro mountain bike teams, like every single car manufacturer and bike manufacturer had a team together, it was so cool. That has kind of disappeared, and it is now beginning to happen again. But really there’s there’s a dearth of opportunity for men to and a lot of men have now moved over to the road. And we saw that in the last Tour de France, there were several of the US may actually more of us males than not were from the mountain landscape. When Simmons came from it Sept. CUSP came from it, Nielsen Palace came from it. Shawn Bennett came from all the mountain. So they’re now moving from the mountain to the road, because there’s opportunities for them there. Because there aren’t as many opportunities on the mountain. For the women. There are opportunities on the mountain side, and there really aren’t that many opportunities on the roadside either. So yeah, I think that has a lot to do with it. It’s like what do I do next? I think another reason why we see a drop off is because girls take education maybe a little bit more seriously. But I do see that a lot. I see very talented athletes, like Emma White is a great example. Amazing. Road cyclist track cyclist Olympian, she has her education, and she wants to start a career. And that seems to be I have a lot of girls that have aged out of the junior program that have done the program. They be through college a bit, but now they’re thinking, you know, again, maybe the there’s not as much opportunities, but I really want to use my brain and make a mark on this earth. So I do feel that I’m not criticizing the male population in any way. But I do see that more with the females in the cycling community.
Dede Barry 19:44
Yeah, I’ve seen that as well. The nice thing about cycling though with it being an endurance sport, I’ve seen so many women have a massive amount of success into their 30s and even 40s. So some of them do come back or they stick with it but maybe at a lesser level and then come back more pencils later. And it’s nice that yeah, that those opportunities are there and a sport like cycling.
Julia Violich 20:06
In fact, I tell a lot of the girls as well, like when they’re wavering between being on the team or not being on the team, I tell them step away, like you can come back when you’re 2526 27. And be just fine. You know, when you see people like Amber Neven, and Kristin Armstrong that have been doing it for so many years, and they are they were struggling to their late 30s and 40s. There’s no rush, I tell up to women all the time. I think physiologically, women, you know, have a really amazing ability to suffer, and we can carry on and be focused well into, you know, our 30s
Julie Young 20:40
Well, I do wonder, you know, Julia, you mentioned just the opportunity, and just the way things are changing at the World Tour for women, you know, and again, not to take people away from mountain biking. But just as you mentioned, the development that occurs for has occurred for male writers at mountain bike with mountain biking, and their translation over to the road, you now wonder with the more opportunity growing on the road for women with World Tour teams and the tour, more visibility in that respect. And I think it’s also really interesting what, what the two of you were just discussing in terms of the difference between male and female development. I mean, if you just look at the winners of the tour this year, stark contrast, like the male winner was young, like mid early 20s, I guess. And then atomique was 39. So like, that kind of shows the trajectory, and the difference in development? What do you think Juliet? Like in terms of like, what are the factors that positively contribute to the growth of young female participation in cycling, or that you’ve seen just recently?
Julia Violich 21:44
Well, I mean, I think it varies by age, I think the younger you are, it’s more about camaraderie, like women really like to be in a sport with other women that they like, they sit on the line, and they’re talking about what color the nails are, or you know, a new hairstyle, or a pair of jeans that they just got, or a cute, you know, temporary tattoo, it’s much, it’s much more about getting to know your competitors, and having fun with it. I think, as they get a little bit older 1718, it becomes more of a challenge where they want to kind of prove their social mores have already set in, and they’re trying to prove that they can be just as good as a boy. And I see that all the time. 1718 It’s just the Stark, you know, transition that I see where like, okay, like, I’m actually really good at this, and I’m going to be competitive. Now. I’m going to show the local guys in my town, how much faster I am than them, and how good I am at descending and how great I am at climbing. And I definitely see that around the 1718 age. And then when you get into the U 23. I mean, these girls, they they now have dreams that they want to realize it’s not just being competitive anymore, they don’t want to just be the best in their local high school team or their local region, they want to go to the Olympics, you know, they want to hit the highest milestones of the sport, just like their male contemporaries. And even though there might not be the same financial rewards at the end, I think that the equal pay for prize money is very enticing. And when my girls, I mean, on average, my girls make more money racing for on the UCI races with their prize money then my guys do because they usually rank higher. So I think that’s really exciting for them. It’s more of a kind of a career. And I’m going to get to that level where I’m equal to a man.
Julie Young 23:49
But I see Julia and I see this especially kind of in our area where Kate Courtney just, you know, she’s such a star. And I feel like she had such an incredible influence on the young girls like that. I coach and I think of course, like in your program. I think that’s a huge boost for female participation. And then I think the live race coverage is amazing, like Red Bull. It’s so good. And it just like it shows these young girls like they’re, they’re people that they can relate to.
Julia Violich 24:17
Yeah, well, there is again, this camaraderie. You see it when I take a bunch of my kids off to you know, a World Cup. I don’t want to have a lot of the top UCI world racers like coming by and hanging out at the tent. But I will have Evie state you know EB Richards I’ll have Yolanda come by. I’ll have Kate come by. I’ll have Haley that and stop by they’ll text the girls. I’ll tell them good luck. I mean, there is more of a community on the women’s side for sure. And it’s interesting you mentioned Red Bull because last year or two years ago, cross country views eclipsed gravity views so more people were watching his country and then two years ago Go right after we were coming out of COVID Women’s viewership of the women’s races eclipsed the men’s. So it was really exciting to see. It’s not going to happen next year. It’s being eaten up by a major network. But hopefully it’ll still be TV coverage that’s adequate and inspires people.
Julie Young 25:19
Yeah, the women’s racing is just, there’s so many possible winners. It’s so exciting.
Dede Barry 25:24
Yeah, it’s really good.
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Julie Young 26:14
Ahead of this episode, we had a chance to talk with Colleen Wanty, we asked her about a few of her initiatives to attract and retain girls in Nika.
Colleen Wanty 26:23
I think that when we started the league, there was actually a few things going on that I think helped. And I think that if you’re starting a league, or you’re trying to get your girls programs stronger that you could look to, one is that we had a youth feeder program that existed. And so there was a group of girls on that feeder program. And then we also had some female riders that were really aggressive and trying to recruit other girls into the program just to get them to try it. So I think that that feeder program was very helpful. I think that having because of where we’re at with Nevada, and Northern Nevada has a lot of mountain bikers, we had a group of women that were already riding. And they were they were, you know, we had a few of them that really went after girls in high school that were doing things like soccer. It was a great crossover sport. So they’d look at the soccer players and start talking to them and get them involved. So I think you can look at cross country runners and soccer players, because they’re great, you know, it’s a great crossover for them. So that was a couple things. But the other thing that we did as well, I think if you’re looking at your team, and you don’t have any women coaches anywhere on the team, it’s going to be a struggle to get girls to ride, you’ll get a few, you’ll get some tough ones. But I think that it really is a limiter if you don’t have some, you know, some women coaches that are role models. And they don’t all have to be super superstars. I think you need everything. So a lot of women what I what I noticed at first was the only women we got were women who are really strong writers, and you certainly need those. But I think it’s also good to have women who are really just good mentors, and are good writers. They may not be racers and superstars, but they’re solid writers. And so I think that was important as well as just having sort of, for those girls that needed maybe some more nurturing women that were on there that could we’re okay with writing quote at the back of the pack with some of the girls and making it okay for them to be there. If that was the case, the other thing that we figured out pretty quickly was that in racing was pretty intimidating for girls, a lot of the girls, and especially because you’re you’re writing and practicing with boys, there’s that dynamic and and you know, that’s how one of the nice things about Nika, but it can also be a bit of a challenge. So we decided to start a girls pre ride at the races where they could just come and do the pre ride. And we said you don’t even have to race just come ride with us. And I think it made it much less intimidating for girls to come out. Try the race course, the day before the race. And I can tell you, we definitely had signups from those pre rides that were the day before the race were girls that wasn’t so intimidating. They saw other girls. And the other thing is, is that if you had a girl on a team, where they didn’t have other girls on their team, this was a chance for them to connect with some other girls. So I think it also helped, you know, for those girls that were on a team, and there were a bunch of boys and they were like, Oh my gosh, there’s no other girls for me to ride with. And what happened is, as those girls got, you know, kind of grew up, they started to ride together over time as they kind of moved through the league and aged up a bit. So that was really, I think, really nice to see. And the other thing that those rides that I tried to do was, as you know, because you did one I liked to invite, you know, kind of a local pro racer that could come in And, and just be an icon for the girls to admire. And so we had obviously you come, we had Katarina come, I had a bunch of right there were some really strong female riders out of Truckee, that we brought in that were, you know, semi pro pro riders. And so that’s the other, I think, really important pieces, if you can get the support of the look, if you have some local women pros, and they can come and ride with the girls, I think that’s another element as well. So those, those were some of the things I think, that are really easy to implement. And one of the other things we did do a couple years in, was we actually had community clinics, recruitment clinics. So we had a group of girl ambassadors, and we put on a clinic. And we advertised it in the community in the coffee shops. And we just said, Hey, come try riding in mount, you know, not liking it wasn’t about racing, it was just about a girls mountain bike clinic. And I can remember this because I got a call from a female coach, who had all boys on her team. And we gave her like four girls or five girls on what was at the time a 10 person team. So she was pretty excited. And it came out of that clinic. So I think having an early season clinic like that was really helpful, you know, as well, and it was very much, you know, just try. So that was really helpful, as well.
Julie Young 31:28
The one thing you did, or an idea that you had Colleen that I thought was brilliant and think COVID kind of interfered with this, but was to have a clinic for the moms. Yeah, because I think it’s really just kind of it’s not a criticism, it’s just a natural thing that most of the coaches in the program are dads. And that’s just because they’re the ones that right. And I thought it was so brilliant to have these clinics to really empower the moms to feel confident to get out there and be those role models. Yeah.
Colleen Wanty 31:57
Yeah, I mean, we didn’t get to implement it, we had planned it out. But the idea was, and I really think this would be helpful, I was standing at the Saturday pre ride day, because we raced on Sundays in Nevada. And I was watching all these moms who are running around, and they’re, you know, getting everybody else’s bikes ready in the food. And I’m like, I think these women would like to do a clinic and a lot of more athletes, because they have daughters who are athletes, and so they want their daughters to be athletes. And so we had planned to do a women’s clinic on the day of the pre ride, because they’re there anyway, and they’re often driving a kid and we’re like, hey, just bring a bike, and we’ll do a clinic. So I think that would be really helpful. Because I did, we did have a lot of moms who were kind of intimidated to start riding on a team, particularly if there was not a woman who invited them on. You know, so if you look at the strongest teams in Nevada, where they had the biggest girl, you know, girl ratio, all of them, Carson was a really strong team up here as well. And they had a group of women in there that so it’s just not going to happen unless you have you know, women on the team. It’s it’s pretty difficult. And it’s not a really a commentary on the male coaches. It’s just the way it is so or what I observed, as well.
Julie Young 33:17
Clean, what do you think about? You know, I think one of the challenges is, it’s the age when kids are going through major changes in terms of development and think for girls, it’s, it’s not necessarily performance enhancing changes, I think for the boys, it we can say it almost is performance enhancing, whereas the girls, it’s kind of the opposite with, you know, the change in body composition, for example. And, you know, if we think about the young 12 year old that comes to mountain biking and has these brilliant results, but then all of a sudden the body changes and then not getting those kind of that kind of positive feedback. Like, what was your experience with that?
Colleen Wanty 33:57
Yeah, I mean, I personally experienced that as a, you know, as a track runner in junior high. And I’ve also seen it with girls as you watch them develop. You know, you and I have talked about this for a couple years now. But for sure what I’ve seen as these young girls that come in, and they’ll be very strong in the 1112 13 range, and they’ll they’ll ride with boys and be very strong. But what I’ve also noticed is, you know, once they’ll hit a point where their body is going through that change, where you know, they’re starting to get hips and they’re starting to have more body fat, their body is preparing for a different thing at that time, and I definitely there for some of them. What happens is they get frustrated because their performance has gone downhill a little bit, not a lot, but they’re still strong writers, but they feel it. And a lot of times I’ve seen them quit in frustration or stop writing or, you know, for a year or two. And they really need at that time. I think some of that to say you know where they understand that it’s not forever, it’s just a point in their development. And that actually just asked them, you know, say, Well, how many 14 year olds are beating 23 year olds, in mountain biking, none of them, you look at the World Cup, you know, you have young riders 21 that come up and do really well, but they don’t dominate, they can do really well. So I think it’s a sensitive conversation. But I think that we just need to be aware of it as coaches. And when you see it happening, you know, you need to just give them that I think, Julie, you do at the best, because you’re, you know, you’re coach kids all the time, but it’s just, hey, this is a bit of a journey. And this is just one point in that journey. And you’re, you know, you still can be an amazing writer. So, I have seen girls who quit for a year and then come back, I’ve done I’ve seen that, and I think we should be okay with that. You know, they, they aren’t really losing anything. I think for some of them, they just need that time.
Julie Young 35:56
Yeah, I agree. And I think it’s, I think it’s just hoping that these kids are surrounded by people with good perspective. And that, you know, in that respect, and that, you know, these are big changes, and it’s just allowing, you know, being patient with it, allowing your, you know, to kind of grow into these changes, and also, the fact that women thrive so late in life in endurance sports, I mean, I think it’s interesting to look at the winner of the tour, men’s winter and women’s winner this year, you know, different age ranges. So, I think it’s just for me helping these these young girls understand, like, gosh, you know, you have a huge longevity in this particular sport, and just be patient through these changes.
Colleen Wanty 36:36
Yeah, yeah. And like I said, if if I were to query my friends who were athletes in high school and junior high, almost all of them have that experience, almost 100%, it was very few that got through that change, and then came back to their sport to perform at a high level, a lot of people drop out. And the paper we were discussing showed exactly that, that a lot of women just drop out, and they never come back, which is, you know, really unfortunate.
Julie Young 37:02
Yeah. And I will link it’s at Trent Stelling worth paper, and we’ll link that in our show notes. Yeah. And then so finally, Colleen, like, I know, you had mentioned this, and I thought it was a really, really great observation is that, you know, this idea that boys and girls may prefer to learn differently, may have different learning styles. Can you comment on that?
Colleen Wanty 37:26
Yeah, I definitely picked up on that. And I think it takes a really savvy coach, I think we coach girls, I think we really coach kids exactly the same way. And the reality is, especially and I think I noticed it more with the girls. And I hate to like stereotype too much. There’s just a different learning style. And I’ve even seen boys that learn this way. But there are some girls. And I was one of these, I was okay with crashing my bike and picking myself up and going back out there. And I was okay that, you know, I got really, you know, dusty and had to, you know, had a few injuries along the way, like that was my personal, I would just push through that. But there are some girls that I’ve seen this where they’re super talented aerobic ly, like they can climb to the top of the hill with the boys. And then what they tried to do is descend with the boys and their skills aren’t quite there yet. Or maybe their body strength isn’t quite there, because it’s mountain bikers, as mountain bikers, you know that it takes a lot of upper body and core strength to move the bike around on the trail to avoid rocks and stumps and jumps. So they’ll climb really well, because they’re aerobic ly, you know, gifted or, you know, a great athlete. But then when it comes to the descend, they’ll try and chase the boys, and I have a few bad crashes, really bad crashes, like, and I see girls get then they have this sort of permanent mindset and fear on descending because they keep crashing. And I just, I think that there are certain girls that are in that situation where it’d be much better if you held them back a little bit, and said, Hey, let’s really just work on your descending skills. And let’s start with the basics. And I see these girls, it’s more with a really talented robotically talented girls because they can climb with some of the top riders, but they’re just not ready to hit the dissents at speed. And so they have some bad crashes really takes their confidence. And so there’s just a group of them where they need instruction they want and crave, like, give me the steps I need to do X tell me the body position, they’ll listen, you know, they really want progression, like some girls are okay without progression. But I find that a lot of times in cycling that progression, even a few years ago, you’d go to a bike park and everything would be really kind of scary and hard. I think you’re seeing an evolution in bike parks where they now have much more progression built into the bike into the park system. And I think we need to do the same thing in our coaching which is to taking people through a progression. And you know, I just see it again and again, where I think kids, it’s to get that confidence back after a few bad crashes is like, and when I say back crashes, I’m talking concussion, broken limbs, big ones. And that really shakes your confidence. And it’s so much harder to rebuild them back after that, to get the confidence again, it’s just a lot more work. So what I tried to do, I think is, you know, we started to have days where we would assess kids, and we try to figure out what type of learner they were, and get them into the right group. So that if, if they were maybe aerobic ly, you know, they could ride with some of the best riders, but maybe their skills weren’t there, we would just say, hey, let’s, let’s really work on skills with this person. And so there’s definitely a learning style. And, you know, it’s hard, you have to have enough coaches to be able to do that. So that’s always the challenge.
Julie Young 40:58
And I think, you know, your race prix rides, and the success you had in those in terms of girls than trying racing, I think that speaks to that learning style of like, they want to just test it out and show me how to, you know, take me around the course and break it down and show me how to ride through those rocks. And, you know, I think that really speaks to that learning style.
Colleen Wanty 41:18
Yeah, for sure. I think I think the other thing I see too, that, you know, and I know, it’s it’s not a cheap sport, but the other piece is the equipment. I think that, you know, if you have a really little girl or even a small boy, sometimes I see them get put on big 29 or bikes. And I’m like, you know, and you see this little kid on a big 29 or bike because people want to win. And, you know, so they, they know the big wheel has an advantage. But what I also see is they lose like I went through, I learned that in 26. And then I tried to 27 five, and then i i right at 29, or now and I’m only five, three, so I am not a big person. But I do think if you can afford it, or you can have a trading system, where it’s okay for kids to start on a smaller wheel bike and then progress through. So we were trying to build out an inventory of bikes where they could so we had some 20 sixes, we had some 27 fives so that kids wouldn’t jump right onto a 29 inch wheel. I think that is just a better if you can afford it, or there’s a trade in program, I think huge would be a huge help to just having kids progress versus jump on the big bike right away?
Julie Young 42:32
Well, I think to at the end of the day, you want to really facilitate and support that positive experience. And so like having them on a bike they feel like they can handle and then you know, grow grow with that is super important. Yeah.
Colleen Wanty 42:46
The other one, one last point. It’s really funny. As you know, I’ve I wrote a lot a few years ago, and I haven’t been writing as much in the last couple years. And I just have noticed now that I’m not as fit as I was, it’s really hard when you’re very fit rider to remember how hard it is to roll through some of the stuff that we do. And it’s really been kind of enlightening for me to go back and ride these trails. And so I think that’s the other thing, I think Nike does a pretty good job of like trying to make people understand that dynamic. But I’ve gone back and written up some of the stuff that we thought were quote unquote, easy, you know, starter rides. And, you know, as I’ve gone up, I’m like, wow, these are, these are a little harder than I thought because of the elevation gain, I gotta move around a lot of rocks, you know. So that’s the other thing I can’t emphasize enough is you need to really look for very flat, elevate. If you’re going to have a lot of rocks and things, it’s better to do that at first on flat elevation. But if you add both into the mix, it’s a lot for a brand new kid to do that. So I think that’s something you should look for as well as you’ve got to, at least at the start of the season, we found that place where it was relatively flat, which is hard here, because we have a lot of uphill riding. But I think that’s another piece as well. You just really have to look for and it’s hard to judge that, oh, that’s only a, you know, 2% change, but boy throwing some rocks on that. And that sort of leads me to my last thing, which I think a lot of people really underestimate with girls. And this is an all girls, for sure our body strength isn’t naturally in our arms, and maybe even core maybe a girl has a strong core. But for me the thing that really took my writing to a new level in both confidence and I think skill was strength training. And for me, I think it was probably one of the you know, and I’ve been writing for years until I started a strength program. But that was the thing and the confidence that you get from having the strength in your arms to deal with your you know, wheel hitting a rock all of a sudden or gosh, there’s a jump that I have to do. When I look now at the World Cup girls racing. I know you and I’ve talked about this. You Can tell those girls are incredibly strong in their upper arms in their core, not just the legs. And I think that we forget that, especially when coaching kids, we think, well, they’re young, they’re athletes, and they’re strong. But I see a lot of girls that just aren’t strong enough. And even boys, that, you know, they just lacked the upper body strength to really move that bike around, like it needs to be on a on a somewhat technical trail.
Julie Young 45:27
That’s a great point. And I mean, I think, you know, like, just, I’m a huge advocate of off bike work. And I think it’s makes us better, well rounded whole athletes and much more functional on the bike. So yeah, I appreciate you bringing up that point. And I think just to kind of end this, we know how important it is just to keep it fun and social. Like that’s those are kind of two key components to kids staying with it. So and I know you did that.
Colleen Wanty 45:54
Yeah, we, I think one of the funnest things and you know, the girls, I had a group of ambassadors and that’s that’s actually was a really good program as well. And the girls came up with we had a hot day for a clinic, it just hit 100 like that, that day. And I have to say, those girls, we decided to do a squirt gun fight. And we still had a bunch of girls show up. And I think they made it super fun and just relaxed. And so you know, my my last piece of advice is, you know, if you can build out an ambassador program of your girls, have them be a range of ages. And let them go wild because they are they have some great ideas. I actually had a 17 year old Jr, who ran the program for me, we just worked together and I thought it was a great opportunity for her from, you know, just a life experience. And she did a great job. So, again, back to that fun piece. I think they have some great ideas as well.
Julie Young 46:53
Awesome. Well, Colleen, thanks so much for your time today. And welcome.
Trevor Connor 47:00
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Dede Barry 47:22
So if there’s parents listening to this podcast who might have girls interested in giving Mountain Biking a try? How would you suggest that they get involved?
Julia Violich 47:31
I think the easiest thing to do if there is not a Nike league in your area is to try and get your kids into some camps. They now have overnight camps and local regional camps all over the United States. So it doesn’t take much to just Google mountain bike camps. There are several of them in our in our area, which has been a great training ground for a lot of athletes to get beyond kind of their parent coaching which is basically what happens at the Nikah level, and really push their skills and meet new kids. If there is a like Nika league or something similar, a high school League, I definitely recommend that I think it’s very as I was saying, safe, nurturing environment for kids to try out riding their bike. One of our mottos at our local high school team is first or 50th, it doesn’t matter. And that’s really a comforting space really enjoy, you know, get to know cycling. And the other thing I would say is just try and get your kids to a couple local races like let them check it out. They don’t even need to compete, which is going to some of these races, the energy is so intense, even taking your kids like I’ve taken middle schoolers to our local Nika races and the middle schoolers eyes are popping out of their head. They cannot believe how cool it is and how fun it is. And watching so many young kids and nationals the last couple years because they’ve got all different ages competing, watching these older kids like race and do their drop offs and watching the camaraderie and you know, high fiving and the smiles it’s, you know, if you if you have a child that wants to get into it, that’s a really good way to kind of look from the outside in but have a first row seat.
Dede Barry 49:10
Yeah, that energy around the races is definitely infectious. It’s pretty inspiring. Julia, what I’ve seen in cycling since I’ve been involved on the development side is that there’s a few really critical barriers that kids are facing and parents are facing. And one of them is definitely the the growing expense to the sport. entry fees have gone up travel expenses are high, especially now with inflation. And one of the biggest expenses is equipment costs. You know, generally my my husband Michael and I have been involved locally in Toronto, with a number of development athletes and we really want to encourage them to be multi sport because we feel like that’s very good for their for their development. So we want them to try cyclocross and mountain bike and track and road but you know, in all All of those sports, there’s always the risk of crashing, each one requires a specialized bike once you get to a certain level. And I’m curious as to how your team is dealing with helping kids have the resources they need to be able to compete, and potentially how the other teams in the United States are dealing with that.
Julia Violich 50:20
So you bring up a really good point, Diddy, and it’s one of the things that was a driving mission in the very beginning of putting the team together, is I wanted to minimize the barriers to entry. Unlike a lot of sports, like soccer cleats, and you need, you know, your soccer balls, if you’re a swimmer, you basically need your suit, your cap and your goggles. I mean, there’s so many sports that do not have these huge equipment barriers or travel barriers, to compete at a high level. So we went out and we first approached track, that was one of my leadout statement, because a whole athlete was a specialized team. And I said, you know, I honestly have kids, whose families cannot afford to buy them a bicycle, or a helmet, or shoes, or a kit, or anything really, like they just cannot. But these are very talented, amazing kids that I know have a lot of potential on the bicycle. But I also know a lot of potential off the bicycle, and track enthusiastically embraced that request. And what they did with us is created kind of a line of credit situation where the kids can order a race bike, and have it for the entire season, 12 months. And then after the 12 months, they’re responsible for selling the bike and paying back the line of credit. And it’s just been an amazing game changer, because all of a sudden, kids don’t have this unbelievable expense. Some of these race bikes are $12,000, you know, they’re more than people’s cars are. So that has been an amazing partnership that Trek has facilitated. And they also are really good about supplying a lot of our soft cup product, like parks, helmets, shoes, we work with Stelly on our kits. And christeli, obviously is our sponsor, so provides kits to us free of charge, but they also provide kits to different high school teams throughout the country. And I think you can get a jersey a bib and a vest for $150. It’s just insanely generous of them to do. So there’s different bike sponsors and bike oriented companies out there that are really trying to make cycling more affordable for kids. So that’s what we’ve done. And I think that a lot of the regional teams also have a relationships, I don’t know what exactly they are. But with other bike manufacturer and bike teams and or bike companies, that really helps out a lot. I just, whenever I’m talking to a sponsor, I know that we don’t bring them fame and fortune because our kids aren’t televised often. And they’re not in print magazine. But I appeal to their, you know, their goodwill part of it, because it’s so important to make it a sport that people can afford. The other really good thing about these regional teams, and specifically the bear team, is I get kids to travel together. So instead of one parent, bringing their child so to airplane tickets, a hotel room, a rental car, all the other various and sundry things you need, I get the kids, you know, parents don’t have to come. In fact, they don’t, they shouldn’t. I’d rather have the kids on their own course if they want to come watch. I never dissuade them from coming and bringing me coffee. But I want that kid one plane ticket. They’re in a hotel room or an Airbnb with a bunch of other kids. So instead of spending $199, on a hotel room, all of a sudden they’re spending $25 on a hotel, you know, on a bed in a room, we cook meals together. So we don’t go out to dinner, we do a lot of things together. It’s kind of a family. And there’s economies of scale and scope, right when you’re doing things like that. So it takes a very, you know, financially intensive sport and just brings it way down. And that’s been one of the reasons why we’ve been successful as as a true national team is I’ve got kids from Kentucky and Alabama, and you know, parts of Michigan that they don’t have the financial resources that they can be an active person on this team without anybody knowing anything else. Like there’s no difference, everyone’s equal. So that’s one of the reasons why think these regional teams and a national team like ourselves, really helps encourage participation from all walks. It also said economic arenas of the US.
Dede Barry 54:41
That’s amazing. That program you’re able to track sounds excellent. Were you the first team to do that? Or?
Julia Violich 54:48
Yes, I believe I mean, I don’t think there was anyone else before us. And I mentioned we were we were specialized before the whole athlete and they did give us a discount. But this lineup Credit is it’s just been a game changer. It’s truly a game changer. And there are some kids on the team whose parents have the wherewithal to just buy their bike and they say, Hey, we don’t want to use the line of credit, we’d rather so and so be able to get a second bike on the line of credit. So I see a lot of that as well. Which has been fantastic. Yeah. You know, when we don’t have a lot of financial sponsors, I don’t I’m pretty sure a lot of the regional programs don’t have a lot of financial sponsors. So when we can get equipment, you know, kind of on loan or at a great discount, it really means a lot.
Dede Barry 55:34
Julia, if you were to give an aspiring female mountain biker one piece of advice, what would it be?
Julia Violich 55:40
Actually DD, I’d probably give them two pieces of advice. The first one would be, make sure you’re having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re definitely going to plateau. But my second and important piece of advice is for those that really are aspiring to be the next world champions and race at the highest level the sport, use resources, reach out beyond your Nikah League, reach out to USA Cycling, reach out to coaches that you know, are familiar with the landscape, reach out and make sure you tap into the amazing amount of resources that we do have available for junior cyclists.
Julie Young 56:15
All right. Well, thanks so much, Julia, for joining us today, super fun to have, have you on and hear all that you’re doing in the realm of mountain biking development? How about we go round, and we each provide takeaways on, you know, how we feel development programs can improve participation among young females in their programs, and also retain that participation? Julio, you want to start us off?
Julia Violich 56:41
Sure. I mean, one of the things, I think it’s important as a takeaway, again, is for anyone that’s participating in the sport, and in the sport, in particular, since it is an outlier, is that it’s bigger than us, I tell it to my kids all the time. But you’re gonna get what you give. And you really are an ambassador of the sport and every situation, it’s not about you getting across the line. It’s about you creating an amazing community and being part of an amazing community so that it continues to grow and be successful. I think that’s really important, male or female, that everyone needs to participate in. I would also say that taking time to, for any athlete to take time to really reflect on who they are, and what makes them maybe what their weaknesses are, what their strengths are. But really focusing in on those mental aspects are truly the keys to being a successful cyclist, certainly, but also successful in your world, in your life, in your career, and your mothering and your relationships and everything that you do, I believe that it’s a it’s a fortunate sport, and that there are a lot of reflections you can think about, we just don’t do enough of it, I really want to highly encourage athletes to take the time to do that. And then lastly, one of the things that I preach to all the kids is, you know, get stoked as our head hashtag. But have fun, like, at the end of the day, never not be having a great time. I mean, you need to be on your bike because you love your bike, and you love your community and you love your friends and you love, you know, taking GAAP jumps and you love climbing to the top of the hill as fast as you can. And you love suffering. I mean, whatever it is, but have fun and love what you’re doing. Because the minute you don’t love it, you’re you know, it’s downhill spiral from there, like keep the love alive and do whatever you need to do. Even if that’s taking a year off, or spicing up and having more fun with racing. Just make sure you’re, you’re enjoying yourself. I
Julie Young 58:49
totally agree with that. And I think just along the lines of what you said, Julia, it’s like really tapping into your why I think that’s super important for anybody at any age, but I think the kids are, you know, kind of quiet all the noise and just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, I think is an important starting point. I think for me, just having been involved in some Nike teams is the ones that I’ve seen that have been really successful in terms of large, young female participation. They have a bunch of women role models, like whether they bring in like guest coaches or a lot of the Nikah coaches are actually moms, I think that has been huge and like actually having clinics for moms that are interested in doing it, but they’re just they don’t have the confidence on the mountain bike. And I think that’s been really neat. Just getting more moms as coaches and Nika programs. I think it’s also just anecdotally, just in the programs I’ve been involved with the girls might prefer to learn differently than the boys, you know, they might have a more analytical approach might have like, they’d like the explanation of how to do it rather than just trial by error. And I think some of the boys like the trial by error method better do You think to just, you know, Julie, I know I’ve heard you say this at races to the team and the riders just like maintain that perspective that, you know, one race is never going to be a make or break. And this is, you know, I loved your quote, it’s a piece of sand and the beach. And that’s all it is, and, and then just really just that patience during those physical changes, due to adolescence that, of course, no one can control. It’s just something that happens, but help help the girls understand that, you know, you just are patient through that and you grow into it. And then as you said, jeulia just keeping it fun and positive. I think that’s at the end of the day, the most important. DD, what do you think?
Dede Barry 1:00:38
I agree, and I don’t know, for me, it’s all about building and fostering a positive community and doing your part in that also, doing your best to lower the barriers of entry so that the sport is more inclusive, and keeping it fun and realizing that no matter what, like you learn something from every race, whether the race went, well, it went poorly, you crashed you, you won, there’s something positive to take away from every experience. When I look back on my career, I think I learned the most from my failures. And it’s important to go out there and take some risks and just enjoy yourself.
Julie Young 1:01:14
Awesome. Well, Julia, thanks again for joining us today. Really enjoyed our conversation.
Dede Barry 1:01:19
Yeah, thanks for taking the time.
Julia Violich 1:01:21
Yeah, so fun. You guys. Thank you.
Dede Barry 1:01:25
That was another episode of Fast Talk Femme. Subscribe to Fast Talk Femme wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk Femme are those of the individual. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback. Get in touch via social. You can find Fast Talk Labs on Twitter and Instagram at Fast Talk Labs, where you’ll also find all of our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at fasttalklabs.com. For Julia Violich, Colleen Wanty, and Julie Young. I’m Dede Barry. Thanks for listening!