This summer I am a mentor for Little Bellas, a fun mountain bike program for girls ages 7-16. Our group in Minnesota is ages 7-13.
On Day #1, the mentors arrived 30 minutes early so we could go over the plan for the day – but I, along with several others, arrived an hour early due to excitement! By the time I left a few hours later, my excitement for this program and the summer had increased. The first day was a whirlwind of learning names, making sure girls were riding with girls of similar ability, dancing and games. We started with the whole group together playing games that were easy to catch onto. It was amazing to see the girls start coming out of their shells and be silly with each other! The difference from the beginning of the first game to the end of the night was incredible – we ended the day playing musical bikes and dancing in a giant circle together.
Here are some of my favorite things about Little Bellas as a whole.
During pre-teen years girls begin losing self-confidence and Little Bellas is about reversing that trend. In my experience, girls grow up in a world where being scared is cute. It becomes a bad habit and taking chances is not encouraged. Earlier in the day we split off into our little pods – I am with 9-11 year olds – and hit the trails. Our group stayed together well and cheered each other on when we tried a scarier downhill. I love that Little Bellas is an all girls activity because it creates a community of girls that is focused on being strong and brave. It is a space where it is okay to fall – it’s maybe even a little bad-ass since it’s proof you tried something hard.
The first session was roughly 90% games and dancing and 10% riding bikes. Some of those games were on bikes, and in future sessions it will be more riding, but the fact that we spent the majority of our time focusing on making meaningful connections shows something important about Little Bellas. It shows that learning skills in Little Bellas is done through games and after we have built trust. In our training call, Sabra (“Founder of Fun” – co-founder of Little Bellas) reminded us that kids spend too much time in structured activities and not nearly enough time playing outside, getting dirty, falling over, and learning how to get back up. She told us that at one of her sessions, the girls learned the word “bushwhack” and wanted to spend the rest of the session “bushwhacking” through a field. So that is exactly what they did. It is more important to Little Bellas that these girls are having fun, learning and making connections with each other and the outdoors.
#3 Food is Fuel
We eat to ride, we do not ride to eat. Some of the most important conversations we have happens during snack-time. We all sit together for snack and we talk about how food makes us feel. We talk about foods in three categories: “Go”, “Whoa” or “Slow” foods. “Go” foods make us feel strong and ready; “Whoa” foods are foods that do not work for us individually and “Slow” foods don’t give as much energy as “Go” foods.
Although it is an all-girls group, this is not a man-hating atmosphere. We encourage everyone and when we are riding we cheer for other riders on the trails. Gender is not a topic that we specifically address and we do not compare men and women or boys and girls. The program being girls only allows the girls to focus on themselves and their own improvement (with fun thrown in) rather than comparing themselves to boys their age. Overall, we focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle and being supportive and encouraging of everyone.
I am overjoyed that I get to do this for seven more weeks. I am looking forward to creating stronger bonds with these girls, watching them grow as riders, become friends with each other and challenge themselves to be strong and brave on and off the bike.
Is it Sunday yet?