Check out this video of my son Luke competing at the National Tri Championships in August 21…
When your child lines up for their first few multi sport races – Triathlon, Duathlon or Aquathlon – the main aim should be to finish with a smile on their face!
There are so many things to learn and variables that can make or break the experience for them and you. It can seem overwhelming for both children and parents.
Having been to literally hundreds of children’s multi sport events over the years, I have seen pretty much every thing that could go wrong happen. And every kind of behaviour that you could imagine (good and bad) from other parents, the children competing, race officials and marshalls and event organisers.
I’ve also learnt a lot personally about how to prepare and conduct myself. Many times I have reflected on what went wrong or right in terms of making sure my children enjoyed the races they were doing and performed to the level they were capable of in the long term.
So why not learn from what I’ve seen and done and get it right as you prepare to support your child in Triathlon and multisport racing.
Without further ado let’s get on with the TOP 10 TIPS to help your child enjoy their first race….
- ENJOY THE JOURNEY TO THE START LINE!
Especially for their first few races don’t focus on finish positions or beating their best friend’s times, just let them finish the race and enjoy the experience and leave them wanting more. As a parent or carer don’t bring your expectations or pressure to the situation. Remember it’s their race!
Try to embrace and enjoy the process of getting to the start line as much as the race itself and you will set your child up for a very positive experience. The race is the cherry on the top!
2. PRACTICE TRANSITIONS!
Practice transitions at home, at the running track, with your tri club, with your swimming club. Find as many ways of practicing those swim to bike and bike to run changeovers to make it smooth and hassle-free! If you are using one, practice putting the race t-shirt on – ideally avoid this by getting hold of a tri suit – it’s really hard to put a t-shirt on when you have been swimming. Work out ways to make the transition process as simple and easy as possible The less things there are to go wrong the better.
3. DON’T RUSH ON RACE DAY
Get there in good time – no rushing. Walk the course if possible, if not walk the bits you can and allow time for registration, racking the bike in transition and a warm up before the race briefing.
Try to help your child to develop a race day routine including when to eat, when to warm up and when to change into race kit. Having a timetable may be useful (depending on your child) but remember that there are always variables on race day so be ready to be flexible!
4. REHEARSE TRANSITIONS AT THE VENUE
Rehearse the swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions when they have racked their bike. Practice running in from the direction of the swimming pool and work out what landmarks or how many steps away their bike is.
So many children “lose” their bike in transition. It’s easier to do than you might imagine. In the rush of the race with hundreds of other bikes everything suddenly looks very different. The more they rehearse it the better the chances are that it will go smoothly in the race.
5. STAY CALM!
Model calmness – become like a zen master! Show them how to be calm even though your heart might be racing with worry or excitement, show them how to be calm when the pressure is on! Practice this together.
Remember that “butterflies”are normal and OK – it shows that you care and want to do well. Race day nerves may manifest themselves in many different ways – work out what works best for your child.
6. PRACTICE PACING
Practice pacing over the swim and run race distances where possible. You can practice pacing the run at a junior parkrun. Many kids start far too fast in both the swim and the run and this can create an unpleasant and slower race when they “hit the wall”. If the race is in “Open Water” then practice some safe open water swimming with a club or at a recognised open water swim venue.
7. TUNE UP THEIR STEED!
Make sure that the bike is tuned and running well. Tyres should be pumped up to the correct pressure, brakes not rubbing. If using an mountain bike make sure the suspension is locked off if possible. The bike leg is usually the longest element and riding with the brakes rubbing or soft tyres makes this part of the race unnecessarily hard and unpleasant.
If you can get hold of one and they are competent on it, a racing bike, cross bike or hybrid will almost always be faster than a mountain bike even when racing on a grass track. Speak to your local bike shop about tweaks that you can make with your existing bike to make it better for their first few races. Then if you find they love the sport you can always fork out for a more expensive bike.
8. MAKE A CHECKLIST
Compile a checklist of kit requirements and any extras they might want to bring. Help them to pack their race bag the day before. This will help to avoid that sinking feeling when you realise that you have forgotten something important.
Check out course maps at home and at the race venue. to make sure your child has an idea of what the course will be like. Make sure there haven’t been any last minute changes when you get there (this does happen!).
9. AVOID AN IMMEDIATE DEBRIEF ON WHAT WENT WRONG!
Don’t be in rush to ‘debrief’ the race. In fact don’t talk about your child’s performance at all other than to praise their effort. If they want to discuss things that they want to improve on at a later time or date then all well and good. But discourage them from picking over all the little errors in the car on the way home!
However much you think you noticed that could be improved upon, bite your lip! It won’t actually help them to perform better and will make them feel disappointed and discouraged and much less likely to want to toe the line next time out. Buy an ice cream and find some positives and leave plenty of time for the dust to settle before any reflection.
10. KEEP SOME PERSPECTIVE!
Remember to nurture a love of sport and activity and racing. Only a tiny percentage of us go on to be professional triathletes for the rest of us it is all about enjoyment and challenging yourself. So keep some perspective. Allow them space to develop and improve over the years and maybe you’ll teach a life-long love of the sport. And that is truly priceless.