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Bellas on Mountain Bikes Building Relationships and Confidence

“For too long there have been low numbers for females in the sport, so, it’s great to see kids getting out and fit with their friends with Bellas on Mountain Bikes.”
Anton Cooper, New Zealand XCO representative.

• October 9th 2020

Bellas is the brainchild of Bernadette Mark, a long time mountain biker, a mum, and cycling enthusiast. Investment secured through the Kiwi Sport fund helped the Bellas on Mountain Bikes program come to life, and further funding recently secured through the Auckland Transport Community Bike Fund for 2020-2021 enables these opportunities to continue.


“The program provides an opportunity for young female riders in Auckland of intermediate age, 11 to 13, to be part of a unique, female led program for girls, and to inspire them to get out on the trails,” Bernadette says.

“This ensures the safety and protection of the riders, coaches, and other volunteers while providing the perfect environment for the development of female riders in a safe, fun, positive, encouraging, and social learning environment.”

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Developing confidence, resilience, skills, and fitness are at the heart of this, as well as providing an opportunity for female coaches to develop their knowledge.


 

“Every so often I’ll have a proud mama moment,” Bernadette continues. “After seeing a couple of girls really struggle one weekend I took them off with me the next week, including one who I actually didn't think would come back."

“We talked about riding, and what they liked and didn't like about it, and then we worked on a few things before I promised we’d ride a really fun trail, but first, we had to hike up a bit of a hill.”

The group rejoined the Bellas train.

“I could hear them all yelling out lots of encouragement and support. I was really proud of them and this is the environment I want these girls to learn in. To see that they have each other’s backs.

So, we did the trail. The girl who was really struggling loved it and wanted to do it again. She went from only riding a kilometer and hating it to almost six kilometers, in a week. She was really proud of herself, too, and asked me to tell her dad.

“So, being worried that she’d pull out to seeing her smiling face tells me we're doing the right thing.”

“Any program like this, that encourages kids to have fun on bikes is gold,” says Chris Foggin, Education Manager at Cycling New Zealand. “Most research tells us that kids want to spend time with their peers and family and enjoy sport. We have a responsibility, as coaches, to facilitate that and encourage them to stay in the sport and recreation game. Bellas does that and it’s great to see how the group has developed. It’s awesome.”

Sport Waitākere Community Coach Advisor, Mick Coultard, says there are several barriers to trying out mountain biking as a sport, particularly for young girls. “Mountain biking isn’t the easiest sport to get into, and not all parents are able to show their kids the beauty of riding a bike in the forest. Programs like Bellas on Mountain Bikes provide an opportunity for young women to take part, and we’re glad to see many who have decided to continue on with the sport,” says Mick. “The program has empowered the girls to take ownership of their rides and draw inspiration from the amazing women role model coaches. All this contributes to building their confidence in the sport and forming strong friendships.”


The outcomes that weren’t fully anticipated included inspiring parents to follow in their daughters’ footsteps and take up riding. This included getting more adult females (the mothers) riding, bringing families together to ride local trails, and competing in mountain bike events. As a result of this project, the girls and their families are continuing to ride, including meeting monthly to ride at various mountain biking locations around Auckland.

Support is coming from event organizers.

“We’re really happy to help Bellas with discount entry to our short-course events,” says Tim Farmer from Emerson’s Whaka 100 in Rotorua. “Bernadette’s objective, to encourage more people into mountain biking, dovetails really well with those of my wife, Belinda, and mine.”

The bike industry is also a generous backer of the Bellas project.

A final word from Anton: “It’s great to see a pathway for more young girls on bikes and, hopefully, other regions can start a similar initiative in the future.”

 

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Bellas Approach
This is based on the Jafakids Mountain Bike Academy coaching methodology, health and safety, and child protection philosophy - Safety, Fun, Learning, and Social.
(jafakids.com)

Safety
Mountain biking is inherently a risky sport where eliminating all risk is impossible, however, risk reduction and mitigation is possible and essential. Jafakids coaches continuously assess and manage any risks appropriately to deliver a safe, challenging, and positive learning experience.

Fun
The essential ingredient for creating life-time mountain bikers is ensuring every session is fun. Delivering fun and enjoyable sessions ensures our riders and parents experience the sheer enjoyment, positive lifestyle, health benefits, outdoor experience, and social aspects of riding a bike off-road.

Learning
Best achieved through fun experiences, where doing with some structured coaching enables the rider to improve current skills. Through the learning, riders feel proud of their achievements and increase the desire to try new things, preserve and as a result continue to learn and develop.

Social
An essential ingredient to gaining a positive experience with mountain biking is the social aspect. The interactions riders have with each other, especially intermediate aged and teenagers are a very important aspect of why young and older riders participate in sport. Riders are encouraged to interact with each other, the coaches, and parents in a positive and constructive manner.