Bobby McGee knows a lot about running. A South African, McGee is also a fantastic coach, and I was incredibly excited to hear him speak among the other USAT Level III coaches. Never before had I been so elated and brimming with inspiration after hearing someone speak. I look forward to reading more of McGee’s literature very soon. I had attended the USA Triathlon Youth and Junior clinic with fourteen other coaches from around the country.
This article highlights a few key facts about child athletes that I learned from McGee, and it also covers some of my personal realizations and their relationship to my goals as a triathlon coach. I hope you gain some knowledge and motivation to keep striving for your own fitness goals!
1. There was so much great information delivered, but above all, it was extremely interesting to learn that periodization for kids is quite different when compared to adult triathletes. The physical abilities of children and adults are not the same, which may seem obvious, but sometimes it takes a reminder.
2. There is a serious lack of nutritional studies done on child athletes. Many dieticians and nutritionists will state calorie requirements for children, but the reality is these numbers have very little research backing them, and many of them are for those suffering from childhood obesity. The amount of calories a child athlete expends is hugely different from that of a sedate child, but the exact numbers are largely unknown. The lesson? Take the “official” nutrition advice with a grain of salt and make meal plans that match both a child’s dietary needs and physical exertion.
3. These days, there are tons of certifications for coaches, and I recently determined that I need to get certiﬁed in other aspects of cycling, such as bike ﬁtting and USA Cycling. I feel like I am doing a disservice to athletes both young and old by not being able to offer these services, since they bring much more insight into the sport of cycling beyond the basics. I will plan to achieve certification in these fields over this-coming summer from F.I.S.T. and Dan Empﬁeld of Slowtwitch.com
4. During this certification, I was surrounded by many other coaches and athletes with similar aspirations, and this led me to an evaluation of my current state. Being a triathlon coach based in Reading, Pennsylvania has been increasingly difficult, mostly because there is a huge deficit of athletes interested in being coached for competing in triathlons or endurance sports. My new plan is to finish my schooling and relocate to an area where there is more demand for my skill.
5. Triathletes need to start swimming at a very early age. Whether you’re your start in swimming lessons, water polo, diving, or competitive swim team, it’s important for all children to learn how to swim at an early age. Many adults know that the low impact of swimming is important for aging joints, but it is also crucial for growing joints as well. The reality is that hard impact activities such as endurance running should not be done regularly until the teenage years, after the growth spurts have stopped. Do your child a favor and help his or her joints last longer by learning to swim earlier.
6. Coming from a military training background and dealing mostly with adult athletes, I never fully understood what it meant to be a coach until I started working with kids. It’s an eye-opening experience to teach kids a lifelong skill such as swimming, and watching them progress. This is also when most coaches realize they wear many hats, and it’s part of their job not just to teach the physical motion, but also to act as a mentor and role model.
7. No matter how old you are, you need to remember the importance of accountability. As an entrepreneur and coach, I make sure my athletes understand how ﬁrm I will be in terms of requirements I ask of them, no matter how old they are. If they miss too many workouts or don’t heed my advice, they are more than likely to take a fall, and the only ones to blame will be themselves. This is a lesson adults learn over and over again, and this is something children should also acquire at an early age.
Those are a few things I learned after a weekend of assembling with like-minded coaches and athletes. Hope you learned a few things yourself!