At this point, you have found a race and registered (or at least decided to start training with your athlete). You have the proper equipment, your athlete is healthy enough to participate according to their doctor, and you are ready to train! How do you get started?
Children are very different than adults when it comes to exercise, and triathlon is no different. A seven year old is not likely to enjoy or be able to handle four to six scheduled and hour long workouts a week. They don't need to. When you look at the distances for the races, many kids may already be able to do each leg of the race without actually training. In fact, if they already play other sports and are active, they may be able to go out without any training at all and complete the whole race. With training however, they will be able to complete the race more comfortably and happier (and faster). They will also be more likley to want to do it again. Having fun is always one of our priorities, as our aim is to lead children into a lifetime of health and wellness. Make it fun and they will ask for more! The following are our best practices for instructing a brand new athlete wanting to complete their first race. For those who have goals above and beyond a finisher medal, please contact us about our training program or more specified instruction.
For the swim portion of USAT races, you are able to use any stroke to get across the pool, but no floatation devices are allowed, and they may not pull themselves along the wall or lane lines. The goal is to make sure new youth triathletes can comfortabley swim the distance, rest a bit, and do it again. This helps them to be able to feel confident that they can do the distance and know that even a bit fatigued, they can handle it. If it has been a while since they swam, they have no swim team experience, or struggle with this, we recommend getting some instruction (one on one or group). Our team is partnered with the fantastic Texas Swim Academy for our athletes' lessons as well as our weekly practices. Look for a local swim school, academy, or YMCA if you think your child might need some stroke work before the race. We try to make sure our athletes get a minimum of an hour of swimming a week. For new swimmers, break it up into shorter sessions, with plenty of rest in between. Always make sure to add in some fun too. Once they are confident with the distance, throw in a few chances to GO FAST! Children like to race, and go fast.
When it comes to cycling, in addition to being able to complete the distance, there are a few things your athlete needs to be able to do before the race. Safety is key! They need to be wearing their helmet before they mount their bike everytime. They also should be able to independently mount and dismount the bike, as well as brake, handle turns, potholes or obstacles in the road, hills and other cyclists around them. Practice these types of things in an empty parking lot if possible. Even our highest level triathletes practice bike handling frequently. Once they master the safety aspects and basics, they will also need to practice the distance aspect. Most kids just ride around their neighborhood, and may not have experience on longer rides. Try to get them out about once a week or more and go for a family ride on sidewalks or paths (roads for the older athletes are okay if they are with experienced cyclists and know proper road cycling etiquette, use good judgement here). Try for 1- 1.5 times the distance for the race as you near race day. Cycling is much easier on the body than many other sports, so this can be trained a bit more without problem. Make sure the bike seat and size are appropriate for your child, or it can lead to discomfort if they are riding a lot. If you are unsure, check with your local bike shop. They should be able to show you how high to raise the seat and when to know you are ready to move it up again or move to a larger bike. Biking is a really fantastic way to get some family time and exercise into your week!
Running is probably something every kid has the most experience with, even if not in a structured setting. Many sports like soccer, football, and lacrosse require running both in games and practices. New youth triathletes do not need to go hit the pavement for practices if they are just getting into the sport. They can practice with shorter distances on grass or the track, which are both more forgiving than the concrete. Shorter distances with a little rest in between are way more fun for most kids than running .5-1 mile at a time. If you do this in the evening after a full day of school, they get a little taste of being fatigued on the run, like they will be after swimming and biking. The nice thing is that for most children, adrenaline kicks in on race day and helps them push through!
Bricks rock! A brick is training two of the disciplines back to back in a single workout without much rest between. The goal of this is to help the athlete get used to the transitioning between the disciplines (wobbly legs, sea legs, etc). You can do this by biking to your swim facility, swimming, and biking home. Another option is biking to a track or field, running, and biking home. Try to get at least one or two of these in before the race! (Don't leave your bike unlocked and unattended though!)
As with all exercise, make sure your athlete is consuming plenty of fluids before, during and after training and is properly dressed for the weather and activity. Again, safety is key!
Our team athletes practice transitioning between the disciplines frequently. This helps them to become faster, smoother and more relaxed during the races. Keep an eye out for an upcoming video of our athletes in action during transitions. If you feel like your athlete has goals above and beyond just finishing and would benefit from practicing with a team, or that they would enjoy practicing the basics with a team, you can check out our programs. We have several levels within our team and would be happy assist you in finding the proper one for your athlete.
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Our hope is that we are providing you with the useful content to get started. If you have questions or topics you would like to learn about, shoot us an email, comment on Facebook, or comment here, and we'll get back to you!