As "The New York Times" reported in 2009, "triathlons for children have become tremendously popular, drawing participants as young as 3 years old." This phenomenon mirrors the surge in popularity of triathlons among adults in the early 21st century. But if your child wants to participate in a triathlon, his training must be carefully monitored. The demands of a triathlon, even the shorter versions designed for children, can cause injuries in the short term and more permanent damage in the long run.
Swim Training Crucial
Swimming is the most dangerous stage of a triathlon for kids and adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that that triathlons for kids should limit the distance of the swim stage to 50 yards for ages 6 to 8 and max out at 300 yards for ages 12 to 15. If your child can't swim more than a short distance, triathlete coach Matt Russ at The Sport Factory recommends beginning swim lessons as the best training program. For kids who can swim proficiently, getting them into an organized swimming program is an excellent way to prepare for a triathlon. Swimming, a low-impact activity, is a great way for kids to get in shape, and it doesn't put as much stress on a child's body as running.
Gradual Increases for Running and Biking
Russ recommends that you train kids for the bike portion of the triathlon by increasing their workload gradually. Start with a slow bike ride about half the distance required in the event, which generally ranges from 2 miles for younger children to 4 miles for older kids. Then gradually increase the distance each week. The training for the running stage is similar. Start by slowly running half the distance required by the event, and perhaps walking the remaining distance. Add a bit more running and a bit less walking each week. Three running sessions per week is plenty, and kids should run on soft surfaces rather than concrete or asphalt.
Beware of Injury Pitfalls
Kids are particularly susceptible to injuries such as cartilage damage, overheating, stress fractures, tendon pulls and ligament tears. Excessive training might result in permanent damage to growth plates in the shoulders, arms, pelvis, knees, ankles and feet. Orthopedic surgeon Kevin Plancher recommends that parents consult their pediatrician to determine whether their kids are ready to train and compete in a triathlon. "At less than age 7, parents should be cautious," Plancher told "The New York Times."
Less Stress, More Fun
Competing in a triathlon poses other risks for children. Kids can burn out on sports at an early age or suffer psychological damage from the stress of competition. To combat these potential problems, most triathlons for kids emphasize participation over competition. Training should be enjoyable as well. As Rush states, "For children, their main motivation is to have fun. They will quickly lose interest or enthusiasm if it becomes drudgery."