USA Triathlon's Splash and Dash Youth Aquathlon Series is currently finishing up its seventh season and is on pace for another record year. 2017 saw record participation of over 2,250 and 2018 is tracking to be well over that number. The mission of the Splash and Dash series is to introduce children to multisport in a fun, educational, family-friendly, and non-competitive environment. With over 60 events accepted into the series this year, USA Triathlon provides each of them with deliverables like shirts, finisher medals, items from our partners, and post-event stipends based on participation, acquisition of new youth annual members, and retention of participants from the previous year in the series.
As the youth triathlon and multisport event market can be very difficult, we are always thrilled to see successful youth events, especially in their first year. The Superhero Splash and Dash on Aug. 26 in Reston, Virginia had 139 participants and is one of several very successful events in the national series this year. We are interested to see how they did it. Hosted by the CORE Foundation, a non-profit organization in Northern Virginia, Executive Director and USA Triathlon Certified Race Director Taralyn Kohler discusses the event's inaugural year success with Cody Crowther, National Events Coordinator and Co-Program Manager for Splash and Dash at USA Triathlon.
Cody Crowther: Please tell us about your event and where your participants came from? Who are your participants? Is your event part of a larger series or program? Or is it a standalone race?
Taralyn Kohler: The inaugural Superhero Splash and Dash brought together youth athletes and their families from all walks of life for the chance to experience multisport in the Northern Virginia area. The event was born out of a concept to create athletic experiences for kids in Northern Virginia who would otherwise not be exposed to those opportunities in cooperation with a grant from the USA Triathlon Foundation.
The Superhero Splash and Dash was produced by CORE Foundation, a 501(c)(3), which operates the largest sprint and youth triathlons in Northern Virginia. Proceeds are seeded back into the community to those who need it most from those athletic events. CORE Foundation enables others to be the change and participate with “Race With Purpose", our personal fundraising program. Our youth program is 8 years old but the majority of the athletes in this event were new to CORE and multi-sport as evident by the number of new registrations sold.
CORE Foundation applied for and received a grant from USA Triathlon Foundation. This included paid entry fees, training support and clinics and gear to children experiencing homelessness and low income youth. When we received the grant in late Spring, we launched into action to make the program happen in less than 10 weeks. This resulted in 40 kids from local shelters and low income centers participating on scholarship.
CC: Why do you believe your event was such a success, especially in its first year?
TK: This event was successful for two main reasons: First, we had a hook and built an event that athletes and volunteers wanted to be a part of. Second, we used a high level of personal touch to reach out to our community and engage volunteers and sponsors.
We felt that we needed a catchy theme or a hook to pull this event off in a short period of time. When we applied for the USA Triathlon grant, we wrote that we wanted every child to cross the finish line feeling like a rockstar regardless of their demographic or ability. We replaced “rockstar” with “superhero” and the Superhero Splash and Dash was born. We wanted kids to leave confident, smiling and feeling an inch taller than when they stepped up to the starting line.
CC: What marketing techniques did you find very successful in recruiting participants?
TK: We recruited in three ways: targeted solicitation to our existing lists, social media and personal touch. In terms of social media, we found paid Facebook ads with targeted demographics to be extremely successful. They easily paid for themselves.
CC: What marketing techniques did not work for you?
TK: We tried handing out flyers at a swim meet, and this did not generate results.
CC: Many youth multisport events struggle to get large numbers of athletes. What would you suggest to other race directors who have a difficult time recruiting youth participants?
TK: Targeted Facebook ads worked out great. We suggest recruiting a strong core of volunteers and ask them to spread the word. Having a few strong sponsors who are also willing to offer social media shout outs is helpful. We were lucky to have a local musician and DJ produce our event. He was a true partner and gave us much media love. The local paper also published a pre and post event article offering positive press.
CC: Do we have any sort of training plan or clinics leading up to the event to get kids interested?
TK: Yes, in the summer months leading up to the event CORE Foundation reached out to community centers and homeless shelters in the area. We conducted clinics dressed like Wonder Woman and spoke on what to expect on event day as well as the benefits of multi-sport and trying something new. Healthy snacks were also handed out to kids from BARE Snacks encouraging healthy nutrition. These programs were very well received and integrated those kids into our CORE Foundation community. They were very prepared for event day and had a wonderful experience. We hope to significantly expand on clinics and training events for all kids in 2019.
In 2019, we hope to grow this program to 200 athletes while creating experiences for those kids in our community who need them the most. We will be adding additional clinics and enlisting the assistance and leadership of nationally ranked local high school triathletes. We will begin to post the profiles of these ranked athletes on our CORE Foundation blog this fall to continue engagement and generate interest for 2019.
CC: How do you plan on keeping in contact with the participants from this year’s race in the future?
TK: At the conclusion of the race, we did a post-race survey to parents. About half of the respondents said that they wanted to fundraise for CORE Foundation’s youth programs which is wonderful. We will be creating a targeted fundraising program for that group. Many of those who responded noted that they are interested in their child participating in a future clinics. 95% said they would or are very likely to participate again next year. We will create targeted lists based on interest. For the kids in shelters and low income centers, we plan to continue clinics and outreach with those groups. Many of the parents also joined our social media sites and we will continue to connect with them in that manner.
To contact Taralyn Kohler directly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.