Triathlons help children develop physical skills, get exercise, make friends, have fun, learn to compete fair, and improve self-esteem. It is a motivating way for kids to get fit, have fun, and gain confidence. Participating in triathlons also provide physical, mental and emotional benefits that can support children through improved cognitive function for better learning, improved physical literacy, and the ability to lead healthy lives with a sense of social well-being.
Triathlons for children have become tremendously popular, drawing participants as young as 3 years old (who probably did not come up with the idea themselves). USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, said that in 2008 it had about 23,500 members who were under 18, up 36 percent from 2006. Distances vary from race to race, but children 6 and under are asked to swim 25 yards, then bike one mile, then run a quarter of a mile.
Because triathlon involves three sports, sports medicine doctors don’t see as many overuse injuries from the races as they do from Little League or tennis teams. But there’s always the risk of overtraining. However, you'll find no data that kids will tear up ligaments, destroy cartilage or damage growth plates with high cycling/running mileage. You don't really need to put a top limit on it.
What is triathlon?
Triathlon is a great way to stay active and have fun. At Triathlon Inspires you can learn tips for your swim, bike and run, discover the best way to set up your transition area.
If your kid have never done a triathlon before, it is hard to know what to pack, what to wear, and what to practice. It seems simple enough. Run, bike, swim... or is it bike, swim, run? It also may sound more intimidating than it really is, but it is easier than you think.
Kids are not mini adults
Youth and juniors participating in the sport of triathlon should never be classified as adults when it comes to their training, recovery strategies or their daily nutrition plans. Specific to training, young athletes progress through very different developmental stages at different rates and this must be respected when training opportunities are presented. It is not appropriate for any youth to participate in the same volume of training that adults do. In fact, it is much better to emphasize functional play teaching agility, balance and coordination up until the age of 15. After youth become adolescents, more specific triathlon training concepts can be implemented but at shorter distances.
Form before fitness
By far the most important training concept that should be utilized with young athletes is teaching them proper biomechanics of movement along with teaching them the ABCs: agility, balance and coordination. Each new growth pattern that youth progress through is like them getting a more finely tuned car. Because of this, they must be continually taught the basics of movement pattern learning and mastery before any type of fitness is developed. The great thing is that they will develop cardiopulmonary fitness through more technique and drill work so throwing a ton of volume on their somewhat developmentally delicate bodies will simply not be necessary.
There are two types of training when it comes to youth: multilateral and specialized. All research on young athletes supports that multilateral training (that is teaching proper movements such as skipping, hopping, rolling, multidirectional, etc.) is the necessary step for those age 5-15. Once they reach the age of 15 or 16, they will be ready to specialize in 1-2 sports if they choose to do so. Triathlon is a great sport for young athletes because it is three sports in one which provides more opportunity for movement pattern cross training. However, all youth under the age of 15 or 16 should always be encouraged to participate in other, non-endurance-based sports, to develop different types of agility, balance and coordination.
Proper Youth Race Distances
Age limits – while there are no labeled age limits for athletes doing endurance events, try to use this as a guide when picking age appropriate races for your athletes:
7-10 years old- 50-100m Swim / 2-3km bike / 100m-1km run
11-12 years old- 200m Swim / 5-7km bike / 2km run
12-15 years old- Super Sprint ≤ 500m Swim / 10km bike / 3km run
15-18 years old- Sprint Distance ≤ 750m Swim / 20km bike / 5km run
18-23 years old- Olympic Distance ≤ 1500m Swim / 40km bike /10km run
Triathlon Basics for Children
- T1 & T2 -
- First Leg -
- Second Leg -
- Third Leg -
The Transition Area
The transition area is where bikes are kept on racks that are organized by age group to minimize confusion and lost bikes.
On race day, find your age group and pick a spot on the racks that is easy for your child to locate when running in from the pool area.
The transition area is also where they leave all of their gear: towel, running shoes, socks, t-shirt, race bib/belt, water bottle, and hat. Kids can bring goggles with them for the swim.
Tip: Spend a moment to familiarize your child with the entry and exit gates. Review where the bike is to be left after the ride; there may be a second transition area, and again, look for the entry and exit points so your child knows what to expect and where they are supposed to go next.
If your child is new to triathlons, look for one where kids swim in an indoor or outdoor pool rather than a lake. Swimming in lanes is much easier than swimming in open water, as well as less intimidating, and they are mostly temperature controlled.
Find out the distance your child’s age group needs to complete and practice a couple of times in a local pool.
Kids can wear goggles and use a floatation device if necessary.
All kids will start in the water, hanging on to the pool edge, their swim will end in the shallow end and they will be guided along a path to their bike where volunteers will be on hand to help them.
Tip: It is important the kids know how many lengths they need to do on triathlon day so they don’t get confused and do too many or too few.
Helmets mandatory and fun required!
Adults can sometimes help with the transition from pool to bike and even run alongside kids on the bike if they’re up for it.
Bring a towel to dry off, and then put on the t-shirt/race bib before the helmet (you’d be surprised at how many forget to do this).
Have the race bib already pinned on the t-shirt. Shorts are not necessary (your child will still be wearing their bathing suit).
Tie shoes properly or get kids some “clips” like these ones for young kids or these for older ones that allow for fast shoe putting on. Volunteers will be there to help get kids dressed but everyone is trying to go fast so it can get clumsy.
Tip: Kids are not used to putting socks and shoes on wet feet or riding a bike while dripping wet. It’s a good idea to practice running out of a pool, sitting on towel, putting on t-shirt, socks, shoes, helmet, and riding around the block while still wet.
Helmets must be done up before touching the bike. Safety first!
Kids will walk their bikes from where they change to the designated spot marked for getting on their bikes.
There will be a clearly marked area at the end of the bike course where they must dismount their bike.
Tip: Most bike distances will include a number of laps around the same loop. Cyclists and their family members are usually responsible for counting their own laps so come with numbered signs or get close to the bike loop so your child can hear you and help them keep track.
If their chain falls off or a tire goes flat on the course, do not panic. Volunteers are riding the bike loop and will be by shortly to assist them and get them back in the fun.
Practice the distance with your kids and check the bike ahead of time to ensure their seat is the right height, tires are inflated, chain is in good working order, and that they can manage the brakes.
You will never see bigger smiles than when your child rounds the curve leaving the transition area to head out for the run. They know the finish line is in sight.
If it’s a super-hot day, a hat is a good idea, and it’s important to encourage them to stop at the water stations provided.
Kids can wear goggles and use a floatation device if necessary.
Kids should know how far they are running and follow the appropriate signs and volunteers that are there to point them in the right direction. If laps need to be done, help your runner by counting laps for them.
Tip: A few practice runs and some training in how to run before the event are great ways to help kids feel confident and to know what to expect on race day.
Watch this video from Trifusion Kids triathlon, which will help you to understand more how your kids will do things during that day:
Recommended Gear for Kids Triathlon Distsances
Watch Blake and Lance's from MiracleKids giving great advice for a transition Set-Up: