USOC hosting women's leadership conference

I know it's been several days since I written anything. I've been so busy with work, riding, playing with the dogs, hanging with Steve, and well, life just gets busy at times.

This weekend I'm headed to Colorado Springs for a women's leadership conference at the Olympic Training Center. I'm looking forward to learning more about women in coaching and women as athletes. Lots of new ideas and information. Should be a great time.

Here's an article about the weekend, reported in Velo News, by Kathie Reid.
You can also read about it at, in the feature section.

USOC hosting women's leadership conference
By Kathie Reid
Filed: January 24, 2008
A group of roughly two-dozen women will converge on the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on Friday to learn what they can do to encourage female leadership in cycling. They will be exposed to information from an impressive slate of attendees and speakers presenting an array of topics like health concerns for female athletes, opportunities and realities in women's racing, as well as unique considerations when training moms.

The conference is sponsored by USA Cycling, but Sam Callan, USA Cycling's Sports Science and Coaching Education Manager, gives credit for its creation to Kristen Dieffenbach, assistant professor of athletic coaching education at Western Virginia University, and Lynda Ransdell, professor and chair of kinesiology at Boise State University.

Dieffenbach said they saw a need for this type of gathering more than a year ago when statistics indicated that the number of female coaches at the NCAA ranks "has plummeted" since the 1970s.

Though the enactment of Title IX in 1972 brought with it an increase in female athletes and women's teams at the collegiate level, the percentage of those teams coached by women has decreased from a high of 90 percent in the early 70s to just 43 percent in 2006.

"There's some worries and concerns that young female athletes are not being mentored properly to go into coaching," Dieffenbach said.

Inspired by bigger conferences for women coaches that were initiated by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the non-profit WinStar Foundation, Dieffenbach and Ransdell worked with Callan to design a conference to specifically address the needs of female cycling coaches. Unlike NCAA coaches, Dieffenbach said, "Most people who are professional coaches in cycling are doing it from home. They're not doing it within an administrative structure. But still, you see very few women as team leaders and team managers or coaches within USA Cycling."

When they began conceptualizing the gathering, Dieffenbach said, they wanted to be sure people understood that their efforts to enhance female leadership were not in response to dissatisfaction with male leadership. At a USA Cycling Coaching Summit in 2006, Dieffenbach asked for a few minutes to gather the 30 or so women in attendance (out of close to 200) to gauge interest in a listserv for female coaches. That few minutes lasted nearly two hours.

"Everybody was so excited to have a network of peers," Dieffenbach said. "They loved their male colleagues - most of us had been mentored beautifully by men - but there is something to be said for knowing what it's like to be a female in a female pack ...or knowing what it's like to be the only female in a junior race...or be the only female official - stuff like that."

Ransdell described three primary goals of the conference, the first being to increase the number of women who coach cyclists. "There are good people who could contribute to the coaching world, so we're trying to encourage them to get involved and become interested in coaching."

A second goal is to increase the number of women interested in racing, and speakers will generate ideas for doing this. Lorri Lee Lown, the founder of VeloGirls, a large California women's race team that, according to Callan, does impressive work with juniors, will speak on Saturday morning. That afternoon, a panel of elite athletes, including retired professional cyclist and former world champion, Alison Dunlap, will share their experiences.

Ransdell and Dieffenbach agreed that their third and biggest goal for the conference involves networking.

Dieffenbach said she'd like attendees to leave "with a really strong network" and the ideas, resources, and enthusiasm to improve things in their own communities.

"We're not trying to put this forward to say we're the experts. We're trying to say, okay, there are a lot of people out there who have great knowledge. Here's how to find them," she said.

"There aren't just two experts in the country who can talk about women's health issues in cycling. There's somebody in every community ... How do we get their voices out to help them be heard?"

This fits with what Michelle Grainger hopes to gain from attending the conference. A former professional cyclist in Boulder, Grainger has been racing herself and/or mentoring others for almost 20 years, establishing herself as a sought-after coach and personal trainer through her business, Athletic Excellence (

Grainger, who mentors athletes at all levels, including Jason Donald (Slipstream-Chipotle), with whom she works on his core fitness, is a staunch advocate not only of women in cycling, but of the need for professionals to continually update their skills and learn from each other. She is looking forward to the conference largely because of the "concentrated environment of women" that will be represented.

"I need to know what's out there, and this is the best way to find out what's going on in women's minds from 27 different women," she said. "How else will a bunch of women, especially coaches or racers, find current information on women's topics in a concentrated area? This will be an easier way to put it all together."

Dieffenbach, Ransdell, and Callan anticipate that this conference is just the beginning. "It's a very beginning idea based on something done by other groups on a much bigger scale," Dieffenbach explained. "But we're a slightly different organization, so that's why we're so excited about it ... I don't think that this leadership conference is designed to be the end-all-be-all-let's-teach-you-everything-about-leadership [conference]. It's more about the start of the dialogue."

Callan said USA Cycling is prepared to provide as much support as it can. "The coaches are in a leadership role and certainly can influence getting more women into the sport and keeping them there as well ...We just want to try to do anything we can to enhance what's already going on out there and spread the word.

"[This conference] is a first effort, and we'll see what works and what we get feedback on that's positive, and figure out what to do in the next phase."