We all know how important a role model parents are, particularly when we’re children. Children are watching their parents’ every move and want to emulate them at all costs — for better or worse, sometimes — and our little mini-mes often want to do the same thing, or something similar, simply because mom or dad (or auntie, or uncle, or whomever) are doing it.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, that if our children see us training for a triathlon, they, too, will want to do one, too. After all, swimming, riding a bike, and running — the three components of any tri — are part and parcel to most children’s childhood experiences. They might not do all three sports in quick succession on any given day, but chances are good that most kids like to go swimming, go for bike rides, and play tag or chase with others.
How can we as parents go about being supportive of our children’s interests in, and endeavoring to, completing a triathlon? How young is too young? What type of goal(s) should our children have as they work toward completing their first youth triathlon?
Below, I’ll chime in with some insight about tips to help your children succeed in tris, based on my own personal experience of getting my oldest child, aged 6 at the time of her first tri, into the sport.
Some tips to help your children succeed in triathlons include the following:
Talk to your pediatrician first. If you have any doubt whatsoever, I’d always encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician. Doing so can help you get your doctor’s “blessing” that it’s safe for your child to do a triathlon, and it’ll also help assuage any doubt that you have or any concerns that may come up.
Listen to your child, and follow his/her lead. Remember how we said earlier that kids want to emulate their parents at all costs? The same goes for their parents’ attitudes and emotions. If you’re a nervous wreck about your kids’ tri, then chances are high that your kiddos will mirror that same emotion. Similarly, if you’re really anal about everything and are not in it to have fun but instead, to be ultra competitive and win at all costs, your children will probably also mirror that same (crappy) attitude. I bet your kids are interested in trying out the sport because they’ve seen you do it and you seem to have fun, so they, too, want to go have fun. Keep it simple for both them and for you. They’re kids, for Pete’s sake!
“Train,” but don’t worry about training. If your children are already playing on a regular basis — think recess, riding their bikes, playing tag, and periodically swimming — then I’d bet that your kiddos will be ready to go at any time for the race. If your children are older and thus will have a larger distance to cover in their youth tri, then for sure, I’d recommend doing some sort of formal training program with them so they’ll be prepared to handle the distance on race day. For the younger kids in particular, though, it’s really more about the fun and the spirit of the day than it is about the competition — shoot, for most little kids’ races, parents are even allowed to run alongside them, help out in T1 and T2, and even swim next to them (and/or the kids can wear swimming implements to make the swim easier) — so don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember: it’s not about you. It’s about your kids.,
The goal is to finish. Finally, when you’re talking with your children about their race day goals, I can’t encourage you enough to emphasize fun and doing your best. Kids can be competitive — they’re human, just like the rest of us! — but particularly if they’re young and/or if this is their first triathlon, as a parent, I’d be sure to emphasize that simply finishing a triathlon is an accomplishment in and of itself. Sure, it might be nice to win a trophy or a ribbon — if they’re even offered for the kids — but everyone’s a winner who shows up and tries his/her best. That’s enough.
Youth triathlons are so fun to participate in, of course, but as parents (or relatives or supporters), they’re also a ton of fun to spectate! Don’t be surprised if you get a little emotional toward the end when you see your child really beginning to dig deep to finish, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything… More than anything, enjoy the special accomplishment that your child completes, and be sure to take lots of pictures to document the occasion.
AUTHOR’S BIO: JANE GRATES Sports lover and a hiker. Producing at the crossroads of beauty to craft an inspiring, compelling and authentic brand narrative.