Swim, Bike, Run, FUN!
Why Participation in a Junior Triathlon Program is Advantageous for Kids
Lindsey J. Baker Photography
It’s a Tuesday afternoon at Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy. Dozens of kids and adults stream through the doors; a human hurricane of after-school and after-work activity. In a flash the parking lot is full of adults and children armed with bikes, swim bags, shoes and goggles for Tuesday night practice. Groups assemble in their assigned spots. Adults hit the gym for their cycle workout or strength training session. Outside, a growing number of kids huddle near the pool waiting for instruction from Coaches Jeff Raines and Doreen Redenius. Their spot in the grass near the pool deck resembles race morning at a triathlon. Transition towels are lined up with shoes and race belts strategically placed for speed and efficiency. Suits, swim caps and goggles are on and awaiting that first plunge. It’s time for another Junior Triathlon practice at Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy.
The 2015 USA Triathlon Annual Membership Report recognizes the need to strategically grow Youth Triathlon and admits in the report that it is “still in a very organic, grassroots state.” Grassroots growth was also the strategy that AASA employed to recruit junior triathletes to this program that started almost two years ago. The facility hosts twice weekly practices and summer camps to attract existing and budding triathletes to their program. It wasn’t until Coach Jeff Raines took over the program a year ago, however, that the program started taking real shape. Membership went from about a dozen kids to almost 40 in the last year, creating a need for two coaches and separate groups for developmental and more advanced athletes. “It started out as a fun and organized after-school activity for kids,” says Program Director Jeff Raines, “But as skills and competition have developed, so, too, has the need for more strategy and training periodization, especially as the older more experienced kids get into more racing.”
While Coach Raines encourages fun with the sport (practices often include team relays and even ultimate frisbee games to enhance interval work and teamwork), he is also a stickler for the finer details of the sport as well. Kids practice transition set-up and compete in regular Splash-n-Dashes at the training center. The advanced kids are now even bringing their own bikes and training with power on the center’s 10 Wahoo Kickr bikes. This unique atmosphere also allows for regular benchmark testing, another staple of this program’s success. In addition to the pool and power trainers, the facility also hosts an on-site crushed granite trail for run drills and run workouts. “The kids and parents can actually monitor and track progress,” says Raines. “We post all of their times, workouts and tests so that parents can understand our process and follow along.” Lindsey Baker, Mother of two junior triathlon athletes, has been one of the team’s biggest advocates from the beginning and she knows first-hand the benefits of this training. “The sense of pride and confidence our kids have for their sport, team and personal accomplishments is intangible,” she notes. “In addition to achieving specific physical goals like making the podium, they also have developed more responsibility and organization skills. Our kids pack their gear bags, set up their transition stations and have to remember sometimes up to 10 items just for practice.” It’s very inspiring as a parent, indeed, and also very rewarding for her family. This sport has also strengthened their family bond as the entire crew is involved in the sport. Husband, Matt, takes care of the bikes while Lindsay wrangles the race day logistics and team photography duties. Some of their best memories are made driving to and from out-of-town races.
This inclusive nature has also created a bond between the teammates and their families. Many carpool and travel to races together as a team, they gather socially to celebrate birthdays and holidays and a group of young triathletes is even gunning to compete in the USAT Junior Nationals this year! The team has a closed Facebook group and weekly eblasts with photos and success stories from each week’s practice.
Truly, there is something special building at Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy thanks to the growth of their Junior Triathlon program. They are a living and thriving result of USA Triathlon’s active push to grow the sport among youth and they intend to increase their visibility and participation in order to keep those numbers on this rise.
Why Participation in a Junior Triathlon Program is Advantageous for Kids:
1) Kids learn technical and athletic skills in all three disciplines, plus an introduction to strength and conditioning which helps with muscular development and coordination.
2) Build respect for the sport and each other with regard to equipment and coaches.
3) The team atmosphere allows kids to grow, thrive and receive support at practices and races.
4) The variety of sports and practices keep kids engaged longer with less burnout and fatigue.
5) Triathlon is no longer a “fringe” sport as it was in the early years. Many high schools and colleges now have full-fledged triathlon teams and opportunities to race are plentiful, even as they get older.
6) Triathlon teaches confidence in all ages and levels. Crossing the finish line is proof that “anything is possible!”
7) Triathlon teaches valuable life lessons - things don’t always go as planned. How do you handle adverse situations? Can you be patient?
8) Triathlon teaches the importance of giving back. Many of the athletes also volunteer at area races.
9) Bucking the trends. Let’s face it. Being active in three sports increases health and reduces risk of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle that is so prevalent in today’s society.
10) Camaraderie and friendships develop easily through the sport.