Growing a Grassroots Junior Cycling Program


This is the first in a three-part series about the winners of USA Cycling’s 2016 spring new member recruitment contest. Is your club doing things like CCAP? Then apply for the 2016 Club of the Year award.
How Connecticut Built and Continues to Grow a Grassroots Statewide Junior Cycling League
by Mary Topping
Aidan Charles knew apathy couldn’t explain why, in 2012, less than a dozen Connecticut kids held USA Cycling racing licenses. Other factors were clearly at work.
David Hoyle, who would join Charles’s mission to uncover and grow junior cycling, describes options available to young cyclists at that time. “Parents could drop off their kid for a local Sunday morning ride with a group of masters racers, then keep their fingers crossed that the kid made it back from a 50, 60 or 70 mile ride.” Or, parents could consider one of three junior clubs miles away in Massachusetts or New York City.
Lack of a pathway into the sport was blocking something big, and Charles knew it.
“There is no shortage of demand or interest in cycling from today's youth and their families,” he says. “All they need is exposure and tangible access to the sport.” In 2013 the former professional cyclist set out to supply both. 
Charles founded the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It’s not a cycling club, but a resource center that supports the creation and on-going success of a league of youth clubs.
Today 490 kids ride and race bikes in 35 clubs across Connecticut. To feed that growth, the nonprofit has relied on dedicated staff, practices borrowed from other sports leagues, and a focus on fun.
Staff help build club bench strength
In addition to Hoyle who is Executive Director, CCAP maintains two full-time staff for programming, marketing and communications. It also employs part-time personnel.
“With our staff we can continually find people to lead programs and educate them, keep them on track, maintain a dialogue and continue to build the league,” Hoyle says.
Ongoing fundraising—which includes their annual Breakaway Benefit Ride, sponsorship and what Hoyle describes as a modest level of program fees and grants, sustains the staffing pattern. A launch party attended by 250 members of the cycling community raised seed money. A board of directors holds the nonprofit accountable.  
Once on its feet, CCAP encouraged youth cycling at a local level by tapping into a parent’s comfort zone.
School programs attract attention
“Parents can equate school-based cycling to other sports their kids participate in,” Hoyle says, “and they start to recognize it as a normal or more mainstream sport.”
Currently 22 of the 35 cycling clubs operate out of middle and high schools. The idea took off when the nonprofit’s staff spread word in the cycling community about available support to form school clubs. With a school’s blessing, CCAP supplies its administrative model for managing finances and other requirements. The club then stages an event during school hours, such as head-to-head one minute sprint competitions.
The kids who sign up typically attend one to three weekly after school practices guided by a coach.  With CCAP staff assistance, the coach arranges weekday races, much like a school would host a track meet.
CCAP also facilitates formation of clubs connected with bike shops, local parks and recreation departments, or committed individuals with a passion for junior cycling.
As CCAP grew, examples of how kids gain life skills from participating in organized cycling began to emerge. In East Hartford, a high school cyclist who also belongs to a non-school club notes what’s working well there and brings that back to school practices. A member of a team near the City of New Haven loved the pedaling experience so much, she convinced her father to help start a club at her middle school. Both young people have assumed leadership roles within their teams. 
Something about the CCAP way seems to generate outsized enthusiasm from the kids. An explanation may be found in a piece of advice Charles offers about growing youth cycling, based on his experience to date.
Fun sets the tone
“If you focus on ensuring the kids have fun and make them feel like they belong to a team, you'll have more interest and results than you can handle,” Charles notes. “What will guarantee failure is if team organizers are more focused on race results, sponsorships, or training techniques.”
With that in mind, coaching roles go to individuals adept at creating a fun learning environment for kids. It’s okay if their resumes run short on cycling; CCAP educates them, using multiple resources.
Coaches can consult a CCAP manual designed for them. The organization convenes three summits a year for these team leaders, coinciding with spring mountain biking, summer road and fall cyclo-cross seasons. Additionally, a part-time outreach associate periodically visits for a ride-along to suggest tips and demonstrate cycling exercises and drills.
Race results don’t drive its mission, but CCAP has taken steps to afford access to higher achievement for kids who yearn to seriously excel in cycling.
Planning for the future
For starters, juniors now have more opportunities to race. Increasing field sizes have encouraged promoters to add younger age categories to race schedules. CCAP itself puts on 27 events annually, from races to local training series and camps in mountain biking, road and cyclo-cross.
Male and female riders can aim for statewide championship titles for each season based on race results points. For the most ambitious riders, CCAP manages a statewide junior road travel team.
A cyclo-cross travel team is in the works for later next year, after the nonprofit hosts the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Hartford, Connecticut this coming January. Spectators can recognize Connecticut kids by the CCAP logo on team kits or the stock yellow and purple jersey.
Looking past nationals, Charles foresees a very different future from the one that 2012 license number would have predicted without his vision.
“CCAP will continue to grow at a benchmark-setting rate and I think that we'll see CCAP inspire other groups to change the way they operate or start their own youth cycling programs,” he says.  
“As a result, we'll see some incredible growth in the sport at a grassroots level on a regional and national scale.”

This Article Updated November 10, 2016 @ 05:09 PM For more information contact: