I’m a certified Youth and Junior triathlon coach by USA Triathlon and work with KidzTri3 Youth Triathlon Series as their Head Coach. I have observed kids of various ages compete and participate in triathlon during camps and clinics.
Triathlons can be stressful, fun, and for some a wild roller coaster ride. I see parents struggle at race with letting their young triathletes take responsibility of their training and racing. As parents they want what is best for their child and to afford them the best opportunity to succeed. Triathlon can teach kids responsibility and accountability, while providing opportunities for kids to practice skills that cross over to the real world.
Here are a few life lessons your kids can learn from triathlon races:
1. Good Sportsmanship
With coaching you never want to see anyone act as a sore loser or act cold towards an opponent, but instead want to see them demonstrate good sportsmanship both on and off the race course. Kids learn how to handle defeat, how to celebrate their victories, and how to help others, a cornerstone in learning sportsmanship. They learn at races what it means to be in a community where they can act as a teammate and support others. Parents need to celebrate these good and bad moments with their children to help teach this lesson of sportsmanship.
2. Accountability For Their Actions
Accountability for actions in a triathlon is part of being a competitive racer. When racing triathlon all athletes adhere to the rules and because of this, they can receive penalties if they are found to violate the rules. These rules may include endangering others on the bike, unsportsmanlike conduct, and drafting on the bike. This means that it is up to the kids to know where to be when the race starts, to know the competitive rules, and to know when to warmup and cool down before and after the race. This can translate to when they are older and have to make decisions where they might face certain consequences if they are not accountable for their actions. Just as a kid who doesn’t do their homework faces consequences, someone who doesn’t prepare to race or is found drafting can face consequences for those actions.
3. Talking With Those in Authority
When facing penalties in a triathlon, given by an official or during the pre-race meeting or check-in with adult volunteers, kids face those in an authority position without the assistance of a parent. The kids are the ones who sign in to receive their race packet and are expected to understand the rules.Just like in real life, we don’t have parents next to us when we talk with a professor, landlord, or future boss. Triathlon helps to teach kids how to interact in a professional matter and how to handle speaking with individuals in positions of authority without a problem.
4. Being On Time and Not Being Late
As someone who served in the military, I am very familiar with being on time (which means 15 minutes early in the military world). If your child is late to the race or misses their wave start, it’s on them to understand that the world is not going to wait for them to show up. Just as in school or at work, being late can have severe consequences such as losing a job or missing an exam. Giving kids the chance to understand the importance of being on time or where they need to be at a certain time helps them to learn about respect and responsibility.
5. How to Handle Constructive Criticism
During camps, clinics or races with kids, I will offer advice or suggestions as their coach. I see other coaches, volunteers or even parents giving advice or suggestions to kids as well. It’s important that the youth and junior athletes understand that it is imperative that they learn from their experiences (both good and bad) and are able to accept constructive criticism. Why you may ask? Because one day they are going to find themselves facing their supervisor or boss in a yearly performance review and will need to understand that the suggestions and criticism are there to make them better.
6. Having Fun
Kids need to have fun. Just like adults, it’s hard to justify doing a hobby or even working at a job if you’re not either happy with what you are doing or at a minimum enjoying what you’re doing. I realize that training can sometimes get boring which is why some triathletes hate training but love racing. Teaching kids to have fun, even if it means spending a practice at the pool playing games and remembering why they enjoy the sport, can have lasting effects later in life. Teach them, but also let them discover how fun a multisport lifestyle. At a young age, it is important that kids are enjoying the sport and having fun.
In what other ways do you think triathlon races help your kids throughout their lives?