A Conversation with NICA Student-Athletes: A Place for Everyone

September 29, 2022

Share this post to your channels!

We had the honor and privilege of having a conversation with a small group of NICA student-athletes during our 2022 National Conference in Philadelphia. Elizabeth Allen, Associate Director of Organizational Development at Valley Youth House and a Board Member of the PA League, facilitated this honest, heartfelt, and fun exchange.

Student-athletes could share their stories and experiences with Elizabeth, who was incredibly supportive of them. She highlighted how important it is for all people to be able to tell their own stories and how we all have a responsibility to listen when someone else shares theirs.

The conversation started with a question about how NICA has influenced their lives and what makes them proud to be a part of it. The common theme was a sense of a welcoming community.

Tristan Kingsley, our youngest panelist, said, “I was the youngest on my team. I wasn't as skilled as everybody, but they still let me in and helped me with the trails. So I'm glad they didn't take my youth as an opportunity to pick on me.”

For Adonai Soleto, a member of the MD league, it was all about the coaches. “Coaches always have something exciting to tell you. They tell you their story of how they started doing one type of sport or another. They always have that magic in themselves. Coaches express themselves to get kids more comfortable.”

We also heard from Brandt Wilson, an urban area NICA Coach and Tristan’s dad. “When I let my guys know we're gonna launch a mountain bike team, they were elated. We have phenomenal athletes, but they're not your basketball and football athletes. They ride bikes. So it blew their minds when I took a mountain bike they were doing wheelies with on the street and took them to the mountains for the first time.”

One of the audience members asked a question that made the student-athletes smile. The question was about the “cool” factor in coaches. “Is it cringy when we try to relate to you? Or are we doing okay?”

Tristan was completely honest and said, “Since he's my dad, I'm fine with it, but my soul wants to walk away and never talk to him.” That is some real talk.

The student-athletes revealed some fun stuff about our NICA coaches. Randy Yarnell, from the NJ League, stated, “when they’re talking with the other coaches, it seems like they are back in high school” To Randy, listening to the coaches talk to one another in this manner feels relatable “It feels like when I talk to my buddies. Seeing adults like that for the first time was odd, but it made me feel more comfortable.”

NICA Coaches are the pillars of our organization and at the core of our mission.

Elizabeth went on to ask our panelists what advice they would give to coaches, team directors, and all coach supporters. What our student-athletes had to say was eye-opening. NICA Alum Victoria Williams brought up empathy. “Just because it wouldn't hurt you doesn't mean it wouldn't hurt someone else.”

Tristan expressed the desire to be considered more when making plans or trying to find solutions. “​​When there are problems, you all usually look to each other. And sometimes the kids have great ideas. We want to help, but sometimes we don't know how to help.” This was a very important and powerful insight. Our panelists expressed their understanding of the difficulties of being a coach and finding the right balance. “It’s a tough job for sure,” said Adonai.

Before closing the session, Elizabeth encouraged our panelists to share some parting words.

This is what they had to say:

  • “All I have to say is thank you to all the coaches from all the kids. You impact our lives, and we appreciate that ... even if we don’t tell it to you, we truly do. Thank you coaches!”

    Tristan Kingsley
  • “I enjoyed all of this. It's been something I found that I didn't know existed for a long time. It caught me off guard to see how a group of kids is coming together, all wanting to do the same thing and doing it because they want to. This is just straight up. I want to do this, and this is fun because I'm with other kids who want to do this. That's a big thing where we're all here because we want to do it.”

    Randy Yarnell
  • “Keep doing what you’re doing. Everything is going well.”

    Adonai Soleto

We are incredibly grateful to Elizabeth and all the panelists for sharing their stories and insights.

To all our NICA Coaches, thank you for your time, passion, and work to get #MoreKidsOnBikes.