When I first discovered triathlons in the 1980s – “last century” as my kids remind me – the sport was in its infancy, but I still fell in love with it. The challenge, the camaraderie, the unknowns of each step, all held special allure. Over the ensuing years, family, career and life in general took priority in my life, so triathlons took a back seat.
Having returned to a much-changed sport 8 years ago – a sport now filled with data, science and precision that did not exist in my first go-round – it remains a sport that, at its core, is still about passion, a passion for overcoming obstacles, for healthy living, and for being part of a community.
This summer, I had the opportunity to be part of the Southeast Youth Championships, held on a rainy and windy day in Alpharetta, GA. What I encountered was a reminder that there is a thriving youth movement within our sport, a movement that is often out of view as we focus on our adult training calendars, A-race plans and tinkering with the never-ending quest for just the right gear. It is a movement that is the future of our amazing multisport community, a movement that can benefit from our encouragement and investment.
While the weather on race day caused some course modifications and a couple extra parental nerves, it did nothing to dampen the joy of the young athletes competing that day. The smiles at the finish line, whether in a sleek aero tri suit or in one of the many rain-soaked t-shirts, were just as real.
The day also provided the opportunity to spend time with parents – time answering questions on gear, training, nutrition, safety and many other topics, as well as time encouraging them to keep encouraging their young athletes.
Now, as we begin to move into the off-season and plan for the upcoming year, this is a good time to look at how to invest in the next generation. How do we continue to play a part in the future and growth of our sport? To fuel your thinking, here are a few ideas:
Ideas for investing in the next generation:
- Build in time to bring kids along on a few training days. Sure, this might reduce the pace you go in the water or the distance you ride on a given Saturday, but the rewards will far outweigh the “loss” of training effectiveness.
- Host a “kids only” event with your Tri Club. Create an event with the specific focus on having fun versus racing. Continuing to mix in reasons to love sports and a healthy lifestyle are great ways to keep kids active long term. There are plenty of opportunities to compete, but don’t forget that it should also remain enjoyable.
- Don’t make it about the gear. Be open and positive about what kids around you have available to use. Our sport can be intimidating for the newbie with all of the tech and terms that we casually toss around. Don’t make it even worse by focusing on top-level gear requirements.
- Replace a race opportunity with a volunteer opportunity. Sure, you might have one less finisher medal this season, but it feels great to be sore from smiling and high-fiving youth as they finish their race day. Use your experience and enthusiasm to encourage the next generation of athletes and their parents. Find youth events near you at https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/Events/Sanctioned
Have other ideas for continuing to invest in the next generation? Share them here email@example.com