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How NICA is responding to COVID-19

Instead of helping orchestrate racing, the national organization has accelerated virtual training for its massive network of volunteer coaches.

Normally, NICA racing begins in March, but 2020 has proved far from normal. As the coronavirus began spreading across the country in early March, NICA canceled events across the board.

“We shut down operations to keep our community safe,” says Emily McDonald, who handles communications for NICA’s national organization.

Instead of helping orchestrate racing, the national organization has accelerated virtual training for its massive network of volunteer coaches.

Some teams are itching to jump into online activities with their riders, but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. For now, NICA is tapping the brakes. “Due to Safe Kids and athlete-abuse prevention standards, we have to be extremely careful about what online offerings are available,” says McDonald.

For students looking for online coaching, NICA links to trusted partners such as Positive Coaching Alliance. In addition to safety, teams need to consider equity when designing online activities, says Mike McGarry, who focuses on training programs for coaches at NICA.

“Not everyone has the ability to get online,” says McGarry, who previously coached a team in Wisconsin with a diverse range of students. “Who are you excluding when you move to online programs? You have to be really intentional about what you do, so that kids don’t feel excluded. Our sport is already expensive.”

For coaches, NICA can move more quickly with online programs. Unlike some youth sports, where coaches can be left to make it up as they go along, NICA tries to set out a path for coaches to follow.

“Everyone gets a dose of philosophy, like ‘here’s why we’re here,’ and all of the coaches get some coaching development and education,” says McGarry.

Typically, local leagues will also host summits for their coaches to network, learn best practices, and simply have fun. Those leadership summits have been canceled this spring and NICA is stepping up efforts to host online summits to bring coaches together.

“I love these leadership summits,” says McGarry. Initially skeptical about the value of online meet-ups, McGarry’s been pleasantly surprised. “When facilitated correctly, it can still be fun!”

Looking ahead, McGarry says NICA is ready to step up efforts to reach student-athletes directly, if it proves necessary. “I’m not sure we’re experts in that yet,” he says. “But if we get to a point where it look like fall leagues are going to be postponed, that’s when we’ll ramp something up.”

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