Decrease the overwhelm at your child’s first triathlon

So your child wants to try a triathlon?

Now is the perfect time of year to get into it with the Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon’s in full swing across most states of Australia. Plus, many of the local race series’ these days include a junior race, appropriate for primary school aged children, as part of the schedule.

While it’s very exciting for a young child to participate in their first ‘big’ triathlon, especially if they have spent their lifetime watching Mum or Dad compete, it can be overwhelming.
When you think about it from a child’s perspective, it’s easy to see how they can feel intimidated by the large crowds of people, noise, fancy equipment everywhere and confusing transition layouts!

What can you do to ensure your child’s experience is a positive one that has them wanting to keep competing in our great sport for years to come?

While children don’t necessarily need to be in ‘training’ to participate in a junior triathlon (although if they want to, there are plenty of great junior triathlon programs around!), you can practice some things at home that should have them feeling more confident on race day. It’s all about being organised and prepared.
Following are tips on what you can do to help your child avoid the overwhelm of their first triathlon.

Before Race DayYouthandJunior_inset2_200x300px

Practice transitions
Make it a game and practice the swim to cycle (cap and goggles off, clothes and shoes on and tied up, helmet clipped up) and the cycle to run (helmet off and RUN!) transitions in the backyard or at the park. Time the kids on your phone, so they have a marker they need to improve on or have them race their friends or siblings.
A popular game at our sessions is to have the participants set up a ‘transition’ of shoes and helmets. On ‘go’ they run from a starting point to the transition area, then shoes must be on, and helmet clipped up before they race back to the start.

Practising transitions might sound like such a simple thing to do. However, we see first hand the struggle, frustration and tears that occur due to children not being able to put their shoes on quickly, or they can’t do their helmet up at our junior sessions – you would hate for this to happen to your child during a race! What is amazing is how quickly they improve. Give them a couple of weeks practice, and they’ll be completing lightning-fast transitions in no time. Practice makes perfect.

Check that all equipment is in working order
Time and time again I’ve seen kids turn up to a junior triathlon with broken goggles, or a bike that has been sitting in the shed untouched for six months and the brakes have rusted, or a helmet that can no longer be done up. Several times I’ve witnessed children showing up with equipment so broken, they end up not being able to participate. Not fun for anyone!
Even though a junior triathlon is a ‘participation’ event and they don’t need top notch equipment yet, you do need to make sure all their gear is in working order so they can get round the course safely and without too much stress.

For bikes, have the local bike store look over your child’s bike and helmet before they race to check it is in line with safety regulations. Make regular servicing a habit if your child is going to be out on the bike regularly.

Go and watch a race or visit the race venue
Sometimes what a child believes a triathlon will be like (in their head) is very different to reality. If you can, try and watch a race before their first event, so they know what to expect. If you can’t watch a race in person, show them one on the Internet.

Even better, if you can go to the venue of the triathlon before their race and have a practice swim, cycle and/or run this is ideal. Familiarity with the environment can make all the difference to your child’s confidence level on the day!

On Race DayYouthandJunior_inset_200x300px

Arrive with plenty of time
Avoid as much stress as possible on race morning by arriving with plenty of time. If the race is not a ‘stand alone’ junior triathlon like the Weet-Bix event, then the kid’s races are often held right at the end of the program after the adult events. This means if you leave arriving at the last minute it’s crowded – there are massive lines for the toilet and limited car parking available. Be prepared with time up your sleeve. It may also help your child understand more about what they are doing if they can watch some of the action first, plus they can take their time setting up and walking through the transitions.

Walk through the transitions
Physically walk with your child from the swim exit, to where they will run into and out of transition for the bike and run legs. Show them and demonstrate by walking through the area pre-race. Walking through the transitions is much more effective for their understanding than simply a verbal explanation. Most importantly, make sure they know where their bike is and where to find it. The earlier people can learn this skill the better!

Bring spare equipment
With things such as goggles, hair ties and socks, you can never have enough spare items in your gear bag. There is nothing like a last minute freak out due to malfunctioning equipment! Yes, even adults are guilty of this, but it is somehow more socially acceptable to throw a tantrum when you are eight years old. So watch out if this happens to your child and you’re not prepared!

Preparing a child for a triathlon is not too different from preparing an adult. To avoid the overwhelm and apprehension your child may feel, simply put yourself in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and help them prepare for that environment as much as possible. Your child’s first triathlon can be nerve wracking and anything we can do to help keep these kids coming back for years to come will only benefit them and the sport.

Good luck to all our young, budding triathletes out there!


Michelle Hemley

Michelle is a passionate triathlete, coach and nine times Ironman finisher. With a professional background in Physical Education, Exercise Physiology and Sport Development, her speciality is working with junior triathletes. Her ‘Swim, Ride, Run FUN’ program’s have seen over 250 youngsters participate in triathlon in the last three years in the Geelong/ Surf Coast area’. For more information on what Michelle and the team at Henley's has to offer, head to
Facebook: @Hemleys
Twitter: @hemleys1

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