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Women in Cycling

Kristen Dieffenbach Paving The Way in Coaching Education

By: Jasmine Werninger  March 16, 2021

Learn more about Kristen and her experiences over the years in relation to cycling and coaching. She is currently a professor at West Virginia University and has helped the cycling community develop for many years.

Kristen Dieffenbach is an accomplished coach, professor, and is well known in the cycling community. She is the director of the Center for Applied Coaching and Sport Science at West Virginia University in which she works with a variety of students studying to become coaches. Kristen has coached numerous athletes with a variety of backgrounds for over twenty years. She discovered cycling watching a group of athletes from the Wheel-n-Sprocket team riding in a paceline and was completely “mesmerized by the human-powered machine that was hauling seamlessly on a road parallel to I-43 north of Milwaukee.” In this moment, she discussed how seamlessly they moved, and how the unison of the group impressed her beyond measure. She became a competitive cyclist and continued into the ultra-endurance and adventure field after college.

We had the opportunity to chat with Kristen and ask her about what she enjoys about her current job, what got her into cycling, and more!

What do you enjoy most about working in the space that you’re in?

[Kristen]: “One of my favorite things is helping people unleash their athletic self and find joy in sport, building their confidence and competence in their abilities. In my work, I get to spend time as an academic with other sport scientists exploring how to help athletes reach their goal, as a coach developer I spend time with coaches helping them bring knowledge to application and as a coach I get to spend time helping athletes reach their goals.”

How do you balance all of your work, between teaching, coaching, and your personal life?

[Kristen]: ”I think balance is a bit of a myth and expecting to have it can cause unnecessary stress. I try to approach my life more like a Venn diagram. I try to make sure there is overlap between the things I am doing and I typically don’t commit time to something unless it can fit into more than one ‘circle’ This doesn’t mean it always works out. It is also really important to make time for self reflection on the things I am doing and being intentional about things.”

When did you get into coaching and what sparked your interest in cycling as a whole?

[Kristen]: “Most of my early coaches were all volunteers and I learned early on the importance of giving back. I began officiating and coaching in soccer before graduating high school. I became a track coach after graduating from college and the end of my collegiate running career. Although I had been racing bikes for years, I didn’t even consider becoming a cycling coach until I was encouraged to do so by Jim Lehman. I had the sport science background, experience as an athlete, and training as an educator but at the time there were not many female coaches and not all sports were as receptive to female coaches as cycling has been. I am really grateful to Jim and others like Barney King who helped me grow my coaching confidence and to women like Renee Duprel and Kathy Zawadzki who were both role models and wonderful peer support.”

Do you have any advice that you could provide to younger athletes with wishes to pursue competition at a higher level?

[Kristen]: “Advice for young athletes - find your joy in sport, the internal joy- what is fun. It can’t be external (wins, other people, attention) because those things can be fickle and come and go. The joy of sport and participating needs to be at the core of what you do and why you do it. Participate in a lot of different activities - you don’t have, you shouldn’t be competitive in all of them. Be well rounded, it will help reduce the chance of overuse injuries, will give you other outlets when you need a break, and will improve your overall athleticism. Above all, pursue it because it speaks to your soul, not because of the outcome goals because seeking high performance is a lifestyle and a journey. For those seeking to coach... Your experiences as an athlete provide an excellent base on which to then build the knowledge and skills associated with teaching, communicating with others and building performance. Coaching is a helping profession and a teaching profession. Make sure your why is centered on supporting the growth of others and not on the ego boost of being coach. Coaching people where they are is the only way to help them achieve their potential.

What is one of your most memorable coaching moments?

[Kristen]: “ Most memorable coaching moment? That is hard because there are so many. This is the question that took me the longest to answer. I am going on 25+ years coaching and while I am proud of all my athletes, their personal best, the race and titles they have won, those who have gotten onto elite teams and earned scholarships, I think the most memorable moments are when I hear from or run into athletes years after they ‘retire’. It is amazing seeing where they are now, hearing about their families and lives and hearing how they are giving back to the sport now. Seeing it come full circle and knowing the next generation is passionate about sharing the beauty of our sport is so amazing and I am always honored to have had an opportunity to know them.”