There are a lot of different youth organizations for triathlon around the country, many with different approaches, goals, age range, and cost. So how do you find the right fit for your child?
Program goals and participant goals should align
Gillian Fealy, coach at Live Grit SOARS, recommends talking with your child about what they want to get out of their triathlon experience. Are they looking for a new challenge? Do they want to learn a new skill? Do they want to meet new people and make friends? Once you know your child's goals, you begin to research programs to find one that fits your child's desires.
Talk openly and honestly with the program coach or the race director to ensure the program ethos aligns with your child's goals. "Triathlon is a personal journey," reminds Fealy. Is the program designed with beginners in mind, or is it a better fit for seasoned athletes? Are the practices play-based or more focused on technical skills? Do kids need their own equipment or is it provided? Don't be shy about asking targeted questions to find the right fit.
As with any youth program, parents should ensure than any fees, practice times, or needed equipment align with family budget and schedules.
A non-negotiable, says Fealy, is asking about the program's approach to safety. Is it well thought out? Are there lifeguards, emergency medical assistance, and ample volunteers? Are helmets required for the bike? No matter how competitive a child is, safety should be the ultimate concern of any youth event.
Finding tri clubs for kids
Nationwide, there are a wide variety of triathlon programs for young people. Some are designed purely to get kids moving, while others are built to prepare young people for intense competition. Below are sample of what's going on around the country.
Attorney Gillian Fealy started Live Grit SOARS in 2017 with the goal of providing equitable access and empowerment of youth through triathlon. 90% of Live Grit SOARS youth participants are from low income communities and many do not have access to safe swimming, running, and biking opportunities. The program not only provides a safe and supportive place for children to learn tri-specific skills, it provides opportunities for mentorship and connection. During the pandemic, the group even provided free Chromebooks to area youth living in foster care.
Kids Triathlon, Inc., organizes the largest kids triathlon series in the world. Races are held in cities like Atlanta, Georgia, Houston, Texas, and on the campus of M.I.T., and are for age 6-15 only. Safety is a priority and all events are closed-course and pool-only swimming. As part of each event, Kids Triathlon, Inc. provides a seven-week training program and hands-on clinics. The organization also partners with schools to provide introductory triathlon programs via physical education class.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, South Carolina
As part of the CMAK Foundation, an organization that honors the life and memory of Chase Kowalski, Race4Chase provides children ages 6-12 a safe and non-competitive environment to discover triathlon. The program spans six weeks, and participants receive instruction in swimming, cycling, running, as well as strength training, flexibility, and nutrition. Equipment is provided through the organization and is free to all participants. Children who do not have a bike are able to keep the program bike at the end of the camp, and the program culminates in a USAT-sanctioned triathlon.
Bronx, New York
The TriLatino mission is to increase the participation of Latinos in triathlon and endurance sports, promote healthy lifestyles, and uplift community. As part of that mission, the TriLatino Junior Team offers strength, yoga, pool, and running sessions to Latino youth after regular school hours. The semester-long program also provides workshops on healthy lifestyles, endurance training, and critical life skills. The program is free to youth participants.
St. Louis, Missouri
This junior club focuses on fun and safety while also building triathlon skills for children. Little Sharks offers team practices, swimming workshops, tri drills and skills sessions, and strength training while also focusing on team building and community. Little Sharks is part of the adult club, Big Sharks, which is known for a laid-back culture of inclusivity, support, and friendship.
Charlotte, North Carolina
RYPE, which stands for Realizing Your Potential Everyday, is a program dedicated to nurturing, encouraging, supporting, and empowering girls through the sport of triathlon. The program includes twelve weeks of training, three times per week, and includes instruction on subjects like bike maintenance, nutrition, and complete wellness. Mentorship is a hallmark of this program, with experienced female triathletes enthusiastically helping young girls prepare for and find confidence for the finale race and in life.
With the goal of identifying, developing, and preparing elite youth triathletes, TriProject is a no-cost intensive coaching program for top youth competitors, age 8-18. Practices are held six days per week with ample focus on individual skill development and improvement. The program works to develop well-rounded athletes for the USAT and NCAA pipeline.
Westchester, New York
The Barracuda youth and junior team offers three levels of participation: development for ages 7-10, competitive for ages 10-14, and high performance for ages 13-19. Participants begin at an early age by learning fundamentals of triathlon and good sportsmanship, and can grow with the team to compete at elite and collegiate levels. Each team follows Barracuda's approach to training in three core areas: speed and endurance, technique, and recovery.
The Woodlands, Texas
This youth-only program promotes team building and camaraderie while also providing expert training and instruction at multiple levels. SelecTri hopes to build lifelong athletes, whether for fun or for competitive success. Children can join the recreational team, which is divided by age group and focused on triathlon fundamentals, overall fitness, and having fun, or join the competitive team, focused on race participation and performance.
With the mission of inspiring and empowering youth of all backgrounds and abilities to embrace an "I CAN" attitude, this group uses triathlon to promote principles of confidence, patience, determination, as well as academic growth, leadership, and health lifestyle. I Can Tri Club has multiple levels of participation, spanning from entry-level youth, youth and junior elite, and a high performance team. Programs generally run twice a year in the spring and summer and include two opportunities to race per session.
As part of larger Ironman events, IronKids Fun Run encourages kids to join in on the fun of an Ironman experience a day before the main race. Youth of all ages are encouraged to participate.
Don't see your area? If you're looking for a local race for your child, both usatriathlon.org and trifind.com have search features by age and state. Just be sure to do due diligence to ensure the program is still running and dates and locations are accurate.
Whatever your child's triathlon goals, there is likely a club or race nearby to join. And if there's not, why not start one for kids in your area? There's nothing but fun around the corner.