by Lucia D
Why: The Importance of Getting Involved
The sustainability, progression and growth of our sport requires new and diverse voices.
There are a lot of layers in the organizational chart that comprises our sport. In the US, we have USA Cycling as the national governing body, and underneath that Local Associations (LAs) for each state or region, which are then often broken down further into even more local regional representatives. Each region then has race series and individual race promoters, officials, clubs and teams, volunteers, coaches, vendors, etc. Some of the people in these roles have been there for a very long time and without challenge. As well meaning as they may be, some may be unaware of the need for, or resistant to, new ideas and change.
Pretty much anywhere along the org. structure, there is opportunity to get involved in shaping the sport in your area. It's all interconnected, and the more diversity and fresh perspectives we can inject into each link of the chain, the more likely that the issues that concern each of us will be understood and addressed.
Who: Me? Yes You!
Impostor syndrome happens to the best of us, but if you've raced a bike, then you are qualified to get involved and to have your voice heard. The beginner or novice experience, I would argue, is one of the most important POVs that is missing from the leadership ranks of our sport.
Diversity also matters. We need fresh ideas, and your enthusiasm, and even your questions, are important parts of the continual discussions that should be happening at every level of our sport. You will bring your unique skill set to the table and you will likely challenge the "way things have always been done" in a constructive way. You might be surprised how willing - desperate even - various organizations are to take on new volunteers and leadership! If you aren't sure if an existing role suits your interests and skill set, pitch the idea of a new role.
Our local road racing Club in NYC, the Century Road Club Association (CRCA), regularly elects members to the Board who have only been racing a year or two. You learn very quickly on the job. Also, I'm proud to say that in three of the last four years, CRCA has been led by a woman as President, and I am running for President for 2019.
How: Big & Small Ways to Get Involved
- Communicate, Ask Questions & Offer Feedback
Talking to fellow racers, I hear great ideas for how to better market a race to a wider audience, how to make race/prize formats more fair, or ways to improve racer and spectator experience. Simply communicating those ideas to the promoter before the race, or in post-race feedback will go a long way in making them happen. Send a message via social medial channels or via a the website of promoter, club or team. Bikereg.com will often provide contact info for race promoters, officials and staff. USACycling also has a database of Local Association and Club contacts.
- Volunteer/Work at an Event
Another low commitment way to give back to the sport, gain experience and make connections is to work or volunteer at an event. Races always need marshals and other staff and you can often get compensated for your time in the form of race entry reimbursement, swag or even cash. Marshaling is one of the best ways to spectate at a race, so long as you're careful to also pay attention to your assigned duties! Ask a promoter or race staff/volunteers how to get involved in a future event.
- Join or Start a Club or Team
While it can seem daunting at first, it's quite rewarding to form your own Club or Team. There's no better way to attract new and returning racers than creating a space for a group of individuals to train and race together, support each other, and share knowledge among one another. I truly believe grassroots Clubs and Teams are what's saving our sport at the moment. It's the best form of evangelism for bike racing. Check out this earlier post on how to go about it.
- Run for a Leadership Role in a Club, Race Series or Local Association
Year end is often when organizations are recruiting new leaders. Inquire with your Local Association, race organizations and clubs to see what positions are open and where they may need help. These organizations all have a board of directors or some other governing body, and may have other roles or committees with smaller discrete tasks. They often have regular elections and vacancies. CRCA is currently still looking for a Director of Open Racing, and New York State Bicycle Racing Association is looking for an Officials Coordinator and potentially another Women's Rep. Every organization is structured differently and each role varies in terms of time commitment, often being what you make of it. If existing roles are filled, press to see if a new one can be created. This can be a great way to get involved at a lower commitment level while you are learning how the organization works.
- Become an Official
We already have a shortage of officials in many regions. This affects the scheduling of races in your area, and if race promoters have to pay more to bring an official in from far away, that is a slice of the budget that could be allocated toward making the race a better experience for everyone. Becoming an official is a fairly straightforward process. The cost of getting your official's license may be partially reimbursed by your LA, you get paid to officiate races, and you only sign up for races you're able to commit to. Officiating is a good way to learn the rules of bike racing and is a great prerequisite for any of the other leadership positions mentioned here, especially higher up the organizational ladder.
If you're still not sure if you're ready to jump in, just keep on racing and getting to know people in your community. Don't hold back on your curiosity about who does what, how, and why. You'll soon be able to discern where gaps might be, and decide if it's something you might be able to help fill, or make a connection to someone who would be a good fit.
The only way those in charge know what needs to change, and become motivated to act, is if they hear enough voices asking for it. And, becoming a leader yourself is a sure way to see to it that your voice, and those of the people you represent, are being heard. The fact is that we really need new leaders in our sport to ensure it can thrive.