With a child’s growing body, general well-being, varying different sports interests and clubs, and of course school work, it is hard to provide specific answers for this question. However, Chris Maxwell, head coach to the Chippenham Tristars provides some guidelines
1. Keeping the training fun and enjoyable is key, especially for younger children in Tristars Start and Tristars 1. If training becomes a slog, children can quickly change their minds and choose from the growing list of other sports available to them.
2. Don’t be afraid to change routines and factor in extra recovery if the child is feeling jaded, has some injury niggles, or just has a lot of school work on.
3. Other sports, especially for the younger children, can really complement triathlon training. Ball sports for example are great for coordination, agility and speed. Gymnastics provides superb flexibility, strength and coordination. As the child develops, there will of course be time pressures and as they get towards 14 years old, they will probably want to focus mainly on swim-bike-run, if triathlon is their chosen sport.
4. Strength, conditioning and stretching (physical preparation) is important, even at a young age. Exercises using body weight alone will be sufficient in most circumstances – the plank, press-ups, lunges and squats are great. Seek advice from a coach and once good technique is ingrained, children can do these regularly (e.g. 2-3 short sessions a week) at home to make them stronger, faster and help with injury prevention.
5. Finally a well-balanced healthy diet, hydration, and good quality sleep and recovery are fundamental to support the training below.
The best activity for limiting the risk of injury, but do be aware of ‘burn-out’. Joining a swimming club will certainly help develop all strokes and provide great training and racing opportunities. However even at quite an early age (e.g. from about 12 years old), they may be encouraged to swim more than three times a week, plus galas.
Swimming at this age is a key foundation and can be the primary focus at this age, but please be guided by the child’s tiredness and enthusiasm levels. Bear in mind they will be doing other activities and therefore may need to do less sessions than children concentrating purely on swimming.
A local triathlon coach could be useful for liaising with the swim coaches to ensure the sessions are suitable for your child. One pool session a week concentrating on front crawl and open-water skills is worth considering, along with coached open-water swimming in the summer for Tristars 2 and above.
From an early age, bike skills and technique will be the most important aspect to develop rather than churning out the miles. Children of all ages usually find marked-out technical courses on tennis courts a lot of fun, and this really builds balance and control. Transition skills can also be built into these sessions.
These types of sessions will be useful all year round, in combination with a run session. I also find turbo sessions (particularly good for when the weather is poor) great for coaching pedal technique, especially cadence. For older children (12 plus), if you can find a traffic-free circuit, group riding skills and short time trials are great. One skills session and one group riding session per week would be sufficient for most Tristars. Children over 15 may add further bike sessions under coach guidance.
I recommend joining an athletics club. For younger children this is likely to include all athletics events and this mixed training is great to develop speed, coordination flexibility and strength. Run drills are absolutely essential at this early stage to ingrain technical running. As the child develops they will likely move towards a middle-distance event group for training and racing. Coaches will usually guide when the time is right for this change.
Track speed is a great foundation from a young age. Keeping run training focused on technique and speed, rather than pounding out the miles is certainly important. As the child develops they may want to add further run sessions, possibly including endurance session. Try to minimise running on the concrete – grass/trail running is more fun! Try some short fartlek sessions (speed-play – fast run intervals of different lengths).
In the winter cross-country races are great for strength and endurance. Junior park runs are useful, just don’t do them every week! In summary, for all aspects of training, keep sessions fun and enjoyable, flexible according to the athlete’s developing body and mind, and focused on technique and speed. This will give them the best chance for a successful long triathlon ‘career’, whether that’s at age-group or elite level!
Chris of Maxwell Coaching, is head coach at Chippenham Triathlon including the Junior section. In addition, Chris is a GB Age group triathlete and double Ironman. images courtesy of www.xtratimewest.co.uk