Seven Reasons Triathlon is a Good Sport for Kids
Standing on the beach nervously surveying the open water swim before his first ever triathlon my 11-year-old son whispered “wow, that looks far”. Lukas had heard the word for the first time the previous day. “Triathlon?” he inquired, “what is that?”
I had just groused that navigating the different sports, venues and equipment required for all my children’s activities was “like the triathlon of carpooling!” When I answered that there is a sport that combines swimming, biking and running (three activities he already loved) he lit up, “Really? Can I try it?” A web search for “local triathlons” revealed a super sprint nearby the very next day.
We filled out the entry form, inflated the tires on his hand-me-down Trek bike and made our way to the starting line. As Lukas stood on the beach studying the waves I reminded him what we talked about “Don’t worry about anyone else. Go as fast or as slow as you want. Your goal is to just finish.”
Off went the horn and into the waves he crashed. The smile on his face as he approached the finish line told me the story before he even caught his breath. He was hooked. Once I realized how kid-friendly the sport is our whole family quickly became enamored.
#1 YOU ALREADY HAVE THE GEAR
No trip to your local sporting goods store required to get started. I’m gonna bet somewhere in your garage you can find goggles, a bike and running shoes. That is all you need. You could buy better and more expensive equipment but if your child decides she has a passion for the sport there are birthdays for that kind of upgrade.
#2 NO WEEKLY PRACTICE
Yay!!! No carpool excel spreadsheet needed when starting out in triathlon. My child does not “train” for his events. He is 11 and LIFE helps him train. He is on the cross-country team (running? CHECK!) and water polo team (swimming? CHECK!). Biking has been his primary mode of transportation for years. There certainly are clubs you can join to practice and get regular coaching but when just trying it out sign up for the events that work for your schedule. FREEDOM!
#3 EVERYONE GETS A MEDAL
Yep … there it is …. That phrase that I distain in all other sports. I am completely AGAINST the “everyone gets a medal” mentality in soccer, basketball and other team sports but anyone who is self motivated enough to complete an endurance event should feel darn good about it. The “Finisher’s Medal” in triathlon is an accomplishment no matter when you cross the finish line.
#4 NO SPORT SPECIALIZATION
There have been several studies recently that do not support early sport specialization amongst children. Over-use injuries derail many a school-sporting career before college. Mixing it up is one of the basic tenets of triathlon helping build a more balanced body.
#5 THE CLOCK DOESN’T LIE
No sugarcoating. Had a bad run? There it is. Worked hard on your swimming? Your time will reflect that. In triathlon the athlete is completely in control of the outcome. No official, coach or teammate will be responsible for your result. Post race results include splits so it is easy to compare how fast you ran 5K in June to the same distance in October.
#6 FLEXIBLE DISTANCE
There are varying distances available in Triathlon. Sprint, Olympic and Ironman are the standards but for children starting out mini-sprint, super-sprint and relays are all terrific options. Start short and maybe keep it there for a while. Lukas’ first three triathlons were shorter until I allowed him to move up to a full sprint (750M ocean swim, 20K bike, 5K run) for the fourth one. Next season the plan is to do the same going very short distances so as not to put too much pressure on his body and if he wants to do a full sprint or two towards the end of the season we can discuss it.
#7 TRIATHLON HAS A FUTURE
As both an Olympic and emerging NCAA sport serious triathletes have plenty of inspiration however the “future” I refer to is a simpler goal. I have seen competitors in tri events as young as 7 and as old as 85. My goal as my child’s “Director of Social and Emotional Health” (my self-imposed title) is to stay out of the way in the hope that he loves sports and competition as much at 51 as he does at 11. That means that after he crosses the finish line I have only one comment “Did you have fun? I love to watch you race!”