Triathlon is one of the fastest growing participatory sports in the United States and much of that growth over the past decade has come in the youth and junior divisions. USA Triathlon (USAT), the national governing body of the sport, categorizes athletes 15 years of age and younger in the youth division, while the junior age division is comprised of athletes between the ages of 16 and 19.
Compared to some of the more traditional youth sports of soccer, basketball, baseball and softball, getting started in youth triathlon presents a number of unique challenges for participants and parents alike. Because it is a relatively new sport, many parents have never participated in a triathlon and therefore aren’t able to draw upon their personal experience to provide direction or support like they may with baseball or basketball. Likewise, because it is a newer sport, there aren’t as many formal leagues or instructional programs as there are with some of the more traditional sports. Fortunately, the number of instructional programs and events are growing each year, so these issues are becoming less of a challenge for youth triathletes and their parents.
Moreover, some of the same factors that make triathlon different from traditional sports, provide it with unique opportunities for younger athletes. Because it is not a team sport like soccer, or baseball, participants are not dependent upon a group of others to practice or participate. Most, if not all of the preparation for a triathlon, can be done at home. From a parent’s perspective, this can save lots of time carpooling back and forth to team practices and games. Since it comprises three sports, triathlon doesn’t require or favor a particular skill set like some single sports do. This helps to level the playing field, and can make a child less intimidated to participate when they recognize the wide range of strengths and weaknesses in the three triathlon disciplines. A child who struggles in the swim may be a strong runner, and vice versa.
Another advantage of youth triathlon is that most youth events are designed to be completed without a great deal of preparation by an active child. For athletes ages 10 and under, USAT recommends race distances of no more than a 100 meter swim, a 3 kilometer bike, and a 1 kilometer run. For ages 11 to 15, the maximum recommended distances are a 400 meter swim, a 10 kilometer bike, and a 3 kilometer run. For the junior division, USAT recommends race distances of no more than 750 meter swim, 20 kilometer bike and 5 kilometer run. Thus, for children who participate in other activities which involve running, the physical demands to complete a youth triathlon shouldn’t be a major obstacle. Most active youth will have the endurance required to complete the race distances, while sedentary children should aim to gradually increase their training so that they are able to complete the race distance in each discipline prior to the race. Of course, it is also important that your child knows how to swim and is comfortably able to complete the distance of the swim leg of the race. While many youth triathlons include a pool swim or a very shallow open water swim, the ability to swim the course independently and comfortably is essential.
Most importantly, the focus of youth triathlon should not be on competition. Rather, the focus should be on learning proper technique and skills, developing healthy exercise habits, and having fun. With the proper focus, participation in youth triathlon can lead to a lifelong passion for the multisport life and healthy living!
Bill Hauser, Founder & Head Coach of Mid-Atlantic Multisport
Bill has been active in endurance sports, both as a coach and competitor, for more than 20 years. He has experience coaching athletes of all ability levels, from beginners to elite-level competitors. Bill is one of a select number of coaches in the United States to have received Level II certification by USA Triathlon (USAT), the national governing body of the sport. He is also a USAT-certified Youth & Junior coach and served as the Head Triathlon Coach for the Southern New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training Program. Bill was selected to the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Triathlon All-American Teams by USAT and represented the United States at the 2002 Long Course World Championships in Nice, France. He has competed in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii three times and has run nearly 20 marathons around the world. His Ironman PR is 9 hours 38 minutes and his marathon PR is 2 hours 42 minutes. Bill has served on the USA Triathlon Board of Directors for the Mid-Atlantic Region since 2002.