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Old 06-30-14, 08:53 AM   #1
topflightpro
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Declining Participation Theories

I've noticed references in several threads to the declining participation this year. CDR has said Bethel was down about 25-30 percent. And I've noticed around here in North Carolina that race turnout seems to be a lot lower - at the races I've put on and attended.

And that got me wondering, what is driving the participation decline?

One of the local officials recently commented to me that she is amazed at how many master's racers stopped showing up once they announced they were going to start increasing drug testing at amateur competitions. (There have been two guys, maybe it was three, guys around here who got popped for doping in the last couple of years.) But, I haven't seen any actual testing being done locally, so I am not sure that is the case.

But I have a different theory. Participation in cycling jumped in the early to mid 2000s, largely due to Lance Armstrong's success. But after almost 10 years, give or take, a lot of those people who took up cycling have started losing interest, and there are several possible reasons:

* They either found racing too difficult.
* They reached a point that they weren't getting any faster.
* They had children, or their children got older and started their own activities.
* Careers go in the way of training.
* They crashed or got injured and decided racing was no longer worth it.
* The economy took too much out of them and they can't afford it.

Among my friends, the birth of children has been the biggest issue driving people to stop racing. Though for me, injury reduced my racing, while costs have made me much more selective about the races I do.

Golf is seeing a similar decline. Participation spiked in the late 90s early 2000s when Tiger Woods came on and started dominating. He drew a completely new group to the sport. But when he stopped dominating, participation started falling. Guys probably found it too difficult to do well or too expensive.

What are your thoughts?
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Old 06-30-14, 09:21 AM   #2
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I think it's the economy. Full stop.

Even those of us fortunate enough to still be employed, are dealing with more stress, longer hours, and just trying to save $ for a rainy day.
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Old 06-30-14, 09:21 AM   #3
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all of the above, plus,

-every year the "local race circuit" for everyone is pretty much the same and people have gotten stale of doing the same races year after year, but doing different races adds time commitment, travel, cost, etc.

-racing takes a lot of commitment and mental fortitude, some folks just got tired of starting training in October/November, watching diet, etc., to go and race when they could do some other non-competitive activity to maintain fitness

for myself and immediate group of friends, kids and career are the two biggest factors plus the stale as a distant third.
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Old 06-30-14, 09:23 AM   #4
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Bethel is a little unique in that it's an early spring race. If the winter was warm the numbers go skyrocketing. A bad winter leads to very low numbers, probably because people aren't in shape at all so they'll go training instead of paying to race. A nice day automatically bumps the numbers, a bad day makes them drop. This past winter was bad around here. Add to that we never had a good day - a few days it was supposed to snow on race day - and we never had a really nice day. Just a couple years ago, in the heat of the Lance negative stuff, turn out was excellent due to a warm winter and some good weather during the races. Last year wasn't great, this year was worse.

In other races I've seen some very high numbers. The local Keith Berger Crit had good fields (I raced it and the club I belong to provided a lot of volunteers). White Plains was up (I worked the race). The Masters games races seem to have lower numbers. The New England Crit Week series seemed to do really well (the Berger crit was the first of the events, the others were up in MA).

Of course I've had two teammates basically stop racing. One I think ran his course - he's been racing 7? years and has plateaued. Another took a job that would leave him no time to ride during the week.

On the other hand the 4-5 group in the club is really active, with a few new racers really getting into it.
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Old 06-30-14, 09:55 AM   #5
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Declining fields in the Northeast this year don't necessarily speak to long-term trends, and are not necessarily found in all LA's.
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Old 06-30-14, 10:02 AM   #6
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In FL, there has been no decrease in racers, only a decrease in daily participants due to an ever growing calendar.

If your local calendar is saturated, then don't look at numbers per race, but overall numbers for year.

When I started in 1992, we had far less race days available and fewer categories per event. Now we squeeze numerous races into a single day and have options for regional and state-level competition.
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Old 06-30-14, 10:43 AM   #7
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In texas, racing seems to be on the rise, or at least really active to me. I've only really been in the scene the last couple years so it's difficult for me to gauge that.

As for master's decreasing, well there's been a huge increase in tow testosterone diagnosis and subsequent prescriptions. This means that older guys are feeling healthier but can't race. So older men who are healthy conscious, e.g. cyclists, are taking testosterone at an incredibly high percentage relative to just a few years ago and therefore, can't race anymore without potentially getting popped.
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Old 06-30-14, 10:46 AM   #8
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In texas, racing seems to be on the rise, or at least really active to me. I've only really been in the scene the last couple years so it's difficult for me to gauge that.

As for master's decreasing, well there's been a huge increase in tow testosterone diagnosis and subsequent prescriptions. This means that older guys are feeling healthier but can't race. So older men who are healthy conscious, e.g. cyclists, are taking testosterone at an incredibly high percentage relative to just a few years ago and therefore, can't race anymore without potentially getting popped.
I cant imagine that this has any bearing on race participation numbers.
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Old 06-30-14, 10:49 AM   #9
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I cant imagine that this has any bearing on race participation numbers.
I only have anecdotal evidence but my dad did some racing and then got a low T diagnosis and decided to go back to just doing randoneering. Why do you think it wouldn't have an effect?
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Old 06-30-14, 10:56 AM   #10
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if there is an overall decline, which I'm not really convinced of, it's because racing is really hard. most people suck at it.

take a look at some random racer results - many don't get past the 5's.
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Old 06-30-14, 10:58 AM   #11
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well, you've got an example, I don't, so you trump me, but my train of thought is that a preponderance of masters racers have low T, it's what happens to men as they become eligible for masters racing (i.e. get older). it doesn't make sense to me that anyone would quit racing to dope (OK, to treat the low T condition, something that to my knowledge does not have life threatening or emergent symptoms) when the odds of USADA showing up and selecting you for testing are so low. Plus, it's announced that USADA is present before you race, so if it was a concern to you, you could just pull up and roll off the course with a "mechanical" to avoid selection.
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Old 06-30-14, 11:13 AM   #12
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well, you've got an example, I don't, so you trump me, but my train of thought is that a preponderance of masters racers have low T, it's what happens to men as they become eligible for masters racing (i.e. get older). it doesn't make sense to me that anyone would quit racing to dope (OK, to treat the low T condition, something that to my knowledge does not have life threatening or emergent symptoms) when the odds of USADA showing up and selecting you for testing are so low. Plus, it's announced that USADA is present before you race, so if it was a concern to you, you could just pull up and roll off the course with a "mechanical" to avoid selection.
Testosterone goes down as you age sure, but that doesn't mean it falls out of the "normal range." Low T has been linked to increased cardiovascular risks and a shorter life expectancy, those are things old people want to prevent...It also improves mood, motivation, bone strength, muscle mass..i.e.: quality of life. So there are many reasons why older men would quit racing because they want to take testosterone therapy.

As to rolling out of a race, pretending to have a mechanical..that's not really much of a solution. I'm not arguing for older testosterone users to be able to race, but it could be small reason why.
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Old 06-30-14, 11:35 AM   #13
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I dunno how this thread turned into a T argument. But I'm pretty sure there are more masters racers using T, than there are masters racers deciding not to race any more because of their T usage.
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Old 06-30-14, 11:38 AM   #14
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One has to have a greater passion for cycling to stay in it, let alone accomplish the necessary to get to Cat-3, Cat-2 and perhaps Cat-1.
It was no different 20 years ago than it is today. Bike racing is not something you can fake. You may be able to delude yourself and others in the 5's but past the 4's, into the 3's and 2's. It's all about recognition and respect thru achievements.
Many are not willing to put in the time, effort and expense that is required. Figuring a training plan that works, then juggling that with the demands of family and career is not for the meek. Nor is it for those who grandstand.
Losing the drive to compete is also a factor, without it it's game over.

What took me out of cycling for the most part 10 years ago was the burn out syndrome. Racing, coaching juniors and promoting a stage race led me to burning the candle at both ends. I returned home after training in France for two months, went to a race, went off the front, turned around stuck the bike on the rack and drove home. Pretty much just played and competed in tennis for the next few years. cycling was only to stay somewhat fit.
At this point we'll see how Sept. rolls around. Full scheduled return to racing is spring 2015. So far I have enjoyed riding and training, which included a few days this past winter riding in the snow. ( probably some of the funniest times I've had looking at drivers looks of disbelief going by me.)

Everyone is different and therefore there are hundreds of reasons as to why some stop.
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Old 06-30-14, 12:11 PM   #15
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if there is an overall decline, which I'm not really convinced of, it's because racing is really hard. most people suck at it.

take a look at some random racer results - many don't get past the 5's.
it's always been hard and most people have always sucked at it.

I say it's the lack of coverage. No Lance -> no sportscenter or media coverage -> fewer riders.

(if there's even a decline, which nobody has demonstrated)
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Old 06-30-14, 12:13 PM   #16
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if there is an overall decline, which I'm not really convinced of, it's because racing is really hard. most people suck at it.

take a look at some random racer results - many don't get past the 5's.

also, can you use your race results app to skim like 10,000 random USAC license #s to get the average number of podiums, average category achieved, and avg. approx points? How low is the general achievement level? Feels like 5% of racers take up 90% of podium/wins.
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Old 06-30-14, 12:13 PM   #17
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if there is an overall decline, which I'm not really convinced of
Yep, exactly. About the best proxy we have (which still isn't very good) is the number of annual licenses issued by USAC each year. And one year to the next doesn't really tell you much; you need three data points to determine a trend. This data is available, though.

I can tell you that participation steadily increased during the time I was racing in Tennessee (2009-2013), with very noticeable increases in field sizes at most events year over year. I don't know what's happening down there this year. I think it's a little premature to be formulating theories for a decline that may not even be real. I certainly believe that participation is down in the Northeast this year, but there are any number of possible explanations for year to year fluctuations in a region where road racing is probably pretty close to its current maximum potential anyway (based on number of road cyclists in the region, exposure, interest in pro events, blah blah blah). What we know for certain at the national level is that road racing is not growing as a sport, but that's old news, really.
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Old 06-30-14, 12:26 PM   #18
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also, can you use your race results app to skim like 10,000 random USAC license #s to get the average number of podiums, average category achieved, and avg. approx points? How low is the general achievement level? Feels like 5% of racers take up 90% of podium/wins.
I could, yeah - but USAC probably wouldn't like it too much if you did it quickly.. and it if you did it slowly (to give their servers a rest), it would take forever.

I just did random sampling of taking my USAC results page (with my ID in the URL), and added 1 to the ID to see what people that registered around the time I did were doing.

Most of them had done 5-10 races then disappeared. Not scientific, but I think it's representative.
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Old 06-30-14, 12:31 PM   #19
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Cash money. NYC races sell out. Guys are less willing to travel with gas up, entry up, prize money down.
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Old 06-30-14, 01:12 PM   #20
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Road participation is down around here, no question. Overall participation (# licenses) is fine but that is because Cross, XC and BMX are doing well.

I don't think the problem is from people quitting after trying the sport, it's that we are not attracting any fresh blood. Heck the survey someone posted a while back showed the sport is grossly overpopulated with masters. We have like 20 masters for every U23 and no women... not good.

I'm sure some of the decrease is due to the Armstrong bubble bursting.

I'm surprised no one has blamed Strava yet.
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Old 06-30-14, 01:15 PM   #21
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Personally, as I am not on a team, finding out about races when your group of friends don't ride is a big problem. A lot of cat 4's that ride unattached may not know about a lot of races and just ride the local series. Besides going on Bike Reg or reading sites like this, it may be hard for people to know about races within 50 or 100 miles of them.
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Old 06-30-14, 01:25 PM   #22
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I'm surprised no one has blamed Strava yet.
Thanks for reminding me!

I blame everything on Strava, Rapha, and cross.

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Personally, as I am not on a team, finding out about races when your group of friends don't ride is a big problem. A lot of cat 4's that ride unattached may not know about a lot of races and just ride the local series. Besides going on Bike Reg or reading sites like this, it may be hard for people to know about races within 50 or 100 miles of them.
USA Cycling's site has a race calendar for each state, which will include every race available to you.
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Old 06-30-14, 01:27 PM   #23
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Personally, as I am not on a team, finding out about races when your group of friends don't ride is a big problem. A lot of cat 4's that ride unattached may not know about a lot of races and just ride the local series. Besides going on Bike Reg or reading sites like this, it may be hard for people to know about races within 50 or 100 miles of them.
Doesn't the USAC Site provide for that area?
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Old 06-30-14, 02:00 PM   #24
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Personally, as I am not on a team, finding out about races when your group of friends don't ride is a big problem. A lot of cat 4's that ride unattached may not know about a lot of races and just ride the local series. Besides going on Bike Reg or reading sites like this, it may be hard for people to know about races within 50 or 100 miles of them.
Do you imagine we all sit around talking about what races might exist? Bikereg. In the old days we found races in the back pages of velonews and mailed in checks.
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Old 06-30-14, 02:16 PM   #25
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Do you imagine we all sit around talking about what races might exist? Bikereg. In the old days we found races in the back pages of velonews and mailed in checks.
retrospectively, this is a big reason I didn't race as a kid who grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I would have loved to have raced someone besides the dogs on my paper route that chased me all over the place. I had no idea it existed as a sport I could participate in. I thought the extent of bicycle racing was the tour de france, the sunday weekly summary show, and the list of names that followed greg lemond and Miguel indurain on the box score page of the local newspaper.

despite the ease with which people in the know find races via bike reg or whatever means we use, I don't think access is significantly different today. Very few people outside of the small circle of people who race bicycles knows that bicycle racing is going on. Way off the topic of this thread, but the sport is really not promoted at all, and even once people become involved, it's confusing to people on how to participate.
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