Before we get started, be mindful that the majority will not make the high standards necessary to get onto the elite program. However, there is so much you can both still get out of triathlon, so never lose sight of the benefits of our sport – fun, friendship and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
The other important point is that the aspiration should be shared between you and your child. If your child doesn’t enjoy the sport, they will quickly become disillusioned when the inevitable challenges come (such as injury, or juggling school and social life). A parent’s commitment to get to the highest level should also not be under-estimated!
1. There are a number of first opportunities to try triathlon, which include:
- Find your local club with a junior section and ask to pop along for a trial (and you can filter for “junior”).
- Look out for other ‘taster’ sessions such as those offered by the recently formed British triathlon skills schools (formed to help bridge the gap between triathlon clubs and the talent pathway)Also look out for other initiatives such as the Brownlee Foundation
- Jump in at the ‘deep end’ and enter one of a growing number of ‘tristars’ events. To note at this point that children are classed according to their age on 31st December of that year, from Tristart (age 8), to Tristars (3 categories from ages 9-14) and through to Youth (ages 15-16).
2. If your child ‘gets the bug’ from their first experiences of triathlon, the best next step would be to join a local club (or some schools also have triathlon teams). Joining a club will enable your child to benefit from qualified coaches, which should develop all three disciplines, the all-important transition skills, and many other areas of athlete development.
Technique and skills are the most important aspects to focus on, especially for the younger triathletes. Volume of training needs to be very carefully managed. You will note below the standards for accessing the English talent development program are for swimming and running. I certainly advocate cycling skills at an early age (and group riding as skills develop), but it’s arguably more important to concentrate on swimming and running technique and speed at this initial stage (tristars 2 and younger). To achieve the swimming performance standards necessary, the child will almost certainly need to join a swimming club, train multiple times a week and compete in galas (at all strokes to build strength, technique and ‘feel for the water’). Don’t under estimate the importance of other aspects such as strength and conditioning, nutrition and getting sufficient sleep and recovery.
3. The next step will be to enter local races. Again take care not to put too much pressure on performance – they should enjoy the experience (mostly!), take away learning points, and hopefully forge friendships in the sport. These races should start to give you both an idea of their potential.
If they are still enjoying the sport and achieving good results, you can then start to consider regional race series (e.g. for the South West England . In these races, they can achieve points, and take the first steps towards attending regional training camps and representing their region at National events. For youth and junior age categories there is option to enter the Super Series (subject to a performance assessment)
4. To reach the highest level, the next key step is to aim to join the Region’s Talent Academy, and subsequently the National Talent Squad. The process differs slightly depending on which nation you live in – refer to www.britishtriathlon.org/gb-teams/talent for further specific details and application procedures. In order to apply for these academies, there are very high standards to achieve – for example for England see their English talent id-tables.If your child is able to achieve this standard, then you should contact the Regional Head Coach. In Wales and Scotland the process is slightly different, but similar very high standards are required to join the talent programs.
Academies across all nations usually also offer open assessment days for children 14 years and older. Joining a talent academy is a significant step towards becoming an elite triathlete, but actually where the hard work begins!
No matter where your child gets to in their triathlon career, I’m sure you will both be very proud of their achievements, and reap the benefits of our sport.
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.