The truth is, I am more comfortable to write about youth sports than coffee. Although I am a coffee connoisseur, I'm still learning more about the coffee industry every day as Martha's is at its infancy of coffee expertise. Youth sports on the other hand is a different story. I've worked in the sporting good industry for 19 years and for the last 10 years, I've worked for three different global brands who are all market-share leaders in their respected categories. I've provided sales and marketing support to some of the largest youth team sport organizations in the country. Every day I consider the social, economical, emotional and physical impact that team sports have on youth athletes and their families...both positive and at-times, negative. The Georgia Cycling Association is the platform for which Georgia middle school and high school students compete in cross country mountain bike racing. Martha's is a sponsor of the Georgia Cycling Association (GCA) but my insight isn't coming from just a sponsor, it's coming from the lens of a career-long youth sports insider.
In the most broad stroke description of the GCA, it's a platform for youth development through cycling. As you dive into the details, you can quickly see that this program is a complex web of contribution, growth and health advocacy.
Team Builder: GCA units more than 70 teams across the state of Georgia.
Outdoor Advocate: 5 outdoor trails in a variety of regions.
Financial Assistants: Nearly $5,000 in financial aid and over 13 loaner bikes provided.
Mentor Program: 670+ coaches working with student athletes.
Community Volunteers: 55,000+ community volunteer hours
The numbers are impressive! This is a state-wide operation working with multiple facilities, partners and supporting students from all of Georgia. This level of activation is a product of having a clear vision and purpose. The fruit, is a product of their labor and their labor revolves around their 'Core Pillars.'
Living through these 'Core Pillars' has built the GCA from being a transactional effort of getting kids on bikes, to a transformative experience where life skills shape young athletes. Bikes are the tool for which personal development and healthy coping mechanisms are fostered. These traits will remain with the student athlete for years beyond the races.
Communication: Developing traits of being a good listener and how to receive communication from others. Teaching to respect feedback and new ideas.
Forward Momentum: Teaching students to visualize where they want to be and how to propel yourself towards your goals and you will achieve them.
Own It: The importance of taking ownership and responsibility for your actions and behavior.
Wellness: Building the foundation for living an active life filled with physical, mental, and social well-being.
Everybody Rides: Taking the position of inclusivity and encouragement.
Finish Over Podium: Success comes in many forms and look to define success on a personal level.
The accomplishments and core pillars has placed the GCA in an elite group of outdoor sports operators. The uniqueness of this experience when compared to traditional team sports is most noticeable in two distinctive areas:
Variety: Georgia is an outdoor playground. There are so many unique, enjoyable and beautiful outdoor spaces that you would be missing out if you only got to experience one area of our state. The GCA is a touring model with races at 5 different locations. This format allows for students and families to experience some of Georgia's top parks and bike trails. Compared to traditional team sports, where students are spending weekend-after-weekend at the same sports facility, the variety GCA provides, adds excitement and awareness to the overall experience. You lose the excitement of riding a new trail or seeing a new outdoor ecosystem when you are playing at the same baseball diamond, soccer pitch or lacrosse field day after day. The variety of trails challenges the riders in different ways as well. In traditional team sports, the competitor changes but with youth cycling, it's the terrain, conditions, track style and features that change each race.
Collaboration: In general and from my perspective of a sports marketer, the current landscape of team sports in the US is designed to get the athlete to the 'next level.' Recreational teams are designed to pipeline players to the club teams. Club teams are designed to get players into college. College, thanks to new NIL rules, are designed to turn players professional or make them marketable. There is a clear system of operation and objective that team sports has adopted over the years, emphasizing 'player ownership' amongst the clubs. Team sport organizations are often operating in fear that players might leave for another organization, risking loss of profit for the club or success on the field. This fear can lead to lack of development, growth or ultimately not providing what is best for the student. I have experienced a fundamental difference in youth cycling...it's simply designed different. Completing the race is valued over placement. This places an emphasis on the 'now' rather than the accomplishment today that will place you tomorrow. Don't hear what I'm not saying - competition is great and incredibly valuable. There are fierce competitors riding in the GCA and the competition level increases every season. There are many riders that will continue their career in college and independent races across the country. Where the competitive bar is raised to is a complete separate conversation. For the purpose of this context, it's about knowing where the foundation is...the bottom of the pyramid on which the rest of the structure and experience will be built. At the GCA, collaboration is the way and leaders assisting other leaders is a regular practice. I've seen countless times where different team coaches will work together to either schedule cross-team group rides and share technique. The term, Neutral Support, refers to the on site mechanics on standby to assist all teams. That concept alone defines the nature of traditional team sports where lines are down between Team A, Team B or the Officials; very seldom is anything shared.
As far as Martha's, we couldn't ask for a better partner. We have dedicated ourselves to enhance the outdoor experience and we feel that we're able to live out our vision with this partnership. We provide premium coffee and packaged goods to the spectators, staff and riders (caffeine free or post ride). We have come to know so many families over the past two seasons; many of our customers stop by the coffee trailer multiple times a day just to talk. Our youngest daughter, although not yet old enough to race, brings her bike and participates in the skill challenges set up near the pits. We get to experience parks that we don't often visit and we get to spend our weekends outdoors and right along the race track. Authentic to their mission, the GCA always involves us with new information and ask what they can be doing to best serve us...that's a sign of living out your intentions. As Martha's grows over the years, the GCA will remain a cornerstone in what we do. We look forward to our children, if they choose, to participate in the GCA through both middle and high school.
If you have a son, daughter, neighbor, family member or friend that should consider joining the GCA, please have them visit www.georgiacycling.org. If you are a cyclist yourself (skilled or not) and have the resources (time, money, network, etc.) to contribute to the efforts of the GCA, I HIGHLY encourage you to consider getting involved. We're going to save our excitement for 'reasons to coach' for a future blog. Our community needs more leaders to guide the next generation of outdoor athletes...but I'll we'll save that deep dive for another blog post. If you're a rock climber, kayaker, hiker, trail runner, etc. I would encourage you to consider how the GCA pillars can be applied to other outdoor sport categories. Can we implement a state-wide youth participation model in multiple outdoor sport categories? How can we increase the amount of organized outdoor activities for our state's youth?
If you see the Martha's trailer at GCA race in 2023, please come up and say hello! Even if you're not a coffee drinker, we just want to get to know you and share in the enjoyment of the Georgia outdoor community.
- David Chaney