NICA Has Come to Bozeman
NICA has come to Bozeman. You may ask “what is NICA?” NICA is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and its, mission is to build strong minds, bodies, characters, and community through cycling. The NICA values are fun, inclusivity, equity, respect, and community. NICA is for 6th graders through highschoolers. The season is July through October, three days a week, but since it might be hard to attend every practice, you are not required to go to them all. This year we alternated between the Lindley Center and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center.
This was my first year participating. I have really enjoyed biking with the team, and I have learned a lot. Some of the fun things that we did this year are costume challenges where we dress up and vote on who has the best outfit, games like Footdown, which is a game where you ride around in a circle and try not to put your foot down while the circle gets smaller and smaller, and it’s always fun to compete in a slow race. Sometimes we pick huckleberries when we are at Crosscut. At practice, we usually do either skill building, bike riding or both. The coaches mix up the groups, so you are always with different kids and coaches. The Bozeman team is part of the Montana League and in previous seasons there have been races with the other Mountana teams, but the races are always optional and just for fun. Because of the pandemic, we have been doing time trials instead, which are like races but only with the Bozeman team and with staggered starts. They were very fun because everyone cheered for you whether you finished first or finished last. Since biking is so important to Bozeman I think that it is a really good program to have and a lot of fun.
Here is a interview with the head coach Heidi Makoutz:
Kat Forester: Tell me about your cycling background and what got you interested in coaching?
Heidi Makoutz: I started riding when I was about 5, on a Huffy bike up and down the dead end dirt road I grew up on with my sisters and neighbor. I have always enjoyed biking but didn’t get fully into bike racing until 5 years ago. I love learning new things and started doing the cyclocross series here in town. I have been coaching various sports for the last 20 years and one thing led to another to put the two passions together.
KF: When did NICA come to Bozeman?
HM: We had a trial team of 16 student athletes in 2018, then our first official year as a Montana league was 2019. We are in our 2nd year in the MT league, but our 3rd year building the dream!
KF: What was the hardest part of organizing the Bozeman team?
HM: The hardest part is sustainable growth! We have such an avid family cycling scene, it’s challenging to manage the explosion of numbers.
KF: What effects do you think the cycling program has had on the Bozeman community?
HM: I think it is win-win - we have an amazing community that supports biking, and we have amazing bike families and volunteers that see the value in community. It feels good to be a part of something that brings people together in a safe and adventurous way (especially during COVID).
KF: How did the team handle the Coronavirus?
HM: We developed and followed specific protocols based on recommendations from the local health department. We required student athletes and coaches to “mask up” at the start of practice while grouping up and then when we stop on the trail. We took this very seriously so that we could keep riding together and so that we could have this healthy outlet in an uncertain time.
KF: What sort of goals do you have for the student athletes?
HM: My main objective for every athlete is to choose to bike into their best self each practice - be that by stretching their growth mindset for fun on their bike by learning new skills, pushing their endurance limits, making new friends, or seeing their surroundings in a different way. Depending on the athletes’ individual goals, my goals for each of them become fine tuned from there to create team goals.
KF: How do you organize the practices?
HM: Practices are planned in a way that splits the kids into small groups for skills and trail riding. We match roughly 8 kids with 2 adults and we have a practice plan for each week as we progress through the season that scaffolds the bike skills and team building.
KF: What is the best way for someone to get involved?
HM: Email us at BozemanNicaTeam@gmail.com! We are continuing to thrive because of amazing volunteers!
KF: I know that the amount of kids on the team has changed dramatically over the years. What do you think caused that?
v: This town has an amazing foundation of bike families - from BMX to BYC, we have a lot of kids on bikes. This is the fifth year of Bozeman Youth Cycling programing for kids in the 1st-5th grades. All of these kids are then ready for the next challenge and excitement of a middle school and then high school team.
KF: How many coaches and volunteers does the program need?
HM: NICA has a student-athlete:coach ratio of 8:2. That is one ride leader and one sweeper. So when we have 120 kids at a practice, we need 30 adults - 15 leads and 15 sweeps.
KF: What is your favorite part of NICA?
HM: My favorite part of NICA is building a team around our “High, LO, Shoutout” philosophy. Each practice, event or race, there are highs (things that went well), L.O.s or learning opportunities (things we can do better or work on), and shout-outs (where we recognize those that made it a better ride or experience for us and those around us. Even with a massive-sized team, there is room for each athlete to shine and contribute and see the strengths of their peers.
KF: Is there anything else you want people to know about NICA?
HM: NICA MT has a lot to offer, not just in making a town full of avid and skilled bikers, but in shaping the lives of our kids and positively impacting the adults who coach them. If you are thinking, hmmm, I want to be a part of something where I make a difference and can see change happening before my eyes, then you should check out NICA! If you love bikes and want to share the joy for riding - check out NICA! If you want to get better at biking and be inspired by our young people - CHECK OUT NICA!