As much as I love sports, and as much as I am a booster of youth sports, I'm against parents who push kids so hard to excel that they miss out on the typical experiences of growing up. We all know the horror stories surrounding parents who are convinced their kid is the next Hope Solo or Michael Phelps.
That's why I was just a little skeptical when I heard about triathlons for kids. Ugh, I thought. Sounds like another outlet for frustrated superjocks who have nothing better to do than pressure their kids.
While I'm sure there are plenty of those parents still out there, a recent local event helped me see that there are also plenty of kids who are just plain excited about participating in triathlons. The recent Columbia Kidz Triathlon was set up for ages 7-14, and the distance of each event increased for each age group. For example, ages 7-8 had a 50-yard swim, a two-mile bike race and a half-mile run. Ages 13-14 swam 200 yards, biked six miles and ran one mile.
The whole program was incredibly safe: all the swimming events took place in one well-supervised pool, and all the cycling and running events were held around a nearby elementary school to create a closed course that kept kids out of traffic. It was also an opportunity for the local bike shop to do safety checks on kids' helmets, and for a sun-safety program to give out tubes of waterproof sunblock.
The main goal for the day was making sure all kids had a great time. In fact, posters for the event noted, "Winning is finishing what you start." Every time they finished an event, kids were entered to win one of the 10 grand prizes being given out that day. They also came away with goodie bags, shirts, hats and finishers' medals, had their own post-race party, could see photos by the official race photographer, and more.
According to IronKids, the global youth triathlon organization, participation in these types of programs is strong. In 2010, the average IronKids event had a race field of 392 participants. The largest race field ever was 1,380. The number of sanctioned youth races has gone from 181 in 2006 to 325 in 2010. And these numbers should continue to increase. Kids enrolled in an event like this tend to tell their friends, who then want to do it, too, creating free promotion for the program and bragging rights for all kids involved. It also creates an opportunity for fitness facility owners who want to hold periodic "tri-training days" for kids throughout the school year. A Saturday of swimming, group cycling and perhaps a pizza party and movie afterward could be a fun option for kids and an incentive to keep active.
Admittedly, the number of kids enrolled in tri programs doesn't come close to the figures for Little League or soccer, but they do represent a group that isn't sitting around in front of the TV or the computer. And that in itself is a victory in my book.