Think back to how you got into triathlon. It was probably as an adult, right? Entering the sport at any age is encouraged, but USA Triathlon (USAT) is taking a proactive approach when it comes to building the next generation of triathletes: triathlon combines.
Taking its concept from NFL-style combines, USAT’s youth triathlon combines are similar in style, except there’s no tackling allowed. Instead, these regional events encourage middle school- and high school-aged athletes to attend a half-day workshop in which they run a timed mile, swim a timed 100 yards in a pool, and learn about triathlon and its status as an NCAA sport.
Triathlon is tantalizingly close to its required 40-school status that will bring it into fully-fledged NCAA championship status. That goal is nearly within reach, and USAT figured it was time to up their recruiting efforts. We got to see a combine in-person in Colorado Springs in August.
“This was probably one of the most aggressive recruitment efforts [USAT] has ever done,” said Tim Yount, Chief Sport Development Officer at USA Triathlon. “We hit the media hard, we hit coaches of high school swimmers and runners hard, we hit athletic directors hard.”
Yount knows that the majority of youth athletes are not focused on pursuing triathlon in college… yet. USAT is focused on letting budding swimmers and runners know that their skills can take them into more than one lane when it comes to collegiate sports.
These regional triathlon combines are free of charge and vary widely in skill level, catering to athletes of all ages, backgrounds, and aspirations.
“We saw all abilities, but that’s really what we wanted,” noted Yount. “We saw everybody from 8:30 to 5:30 miles on the track. We had a range of swimmers as well. We hope this serves as motivation for kids to go home and say ‘I’m gonna be faster the next time I go out and do [a time trial].’”
Despite having 19 driven, competitive kids participating, the combine maintained a fun, healthy environment.
“I’ve never done this before, I’m a soccer player and a basketball player,” said 14-year-old Bridget. “It was laid back. I liked it. I was scared at first, but I’m fine now.”
From Bridget’s mom Jamie’s perspective, she wanted her daughter to “try different things” in the sports world—Bridget is already an accomplished young athlete in soccer, track, basketball, and baseball.
Triathlon is as new for many of the attending parents as it is for their kids. Not only is the triathlon combine geared toward youth athletes, but it’s structured in a way that allows parents to be involved throughout the day.
“If she enjoyed [the combine], I would bring her back for sure,” said Jamie. “It was pretty easygoing and you could ask questions as the day went on.”
Bridget’s father, Bob, agreed.
“[The combine] was relaxed and welcoming. I think Bridget enjoyed it,” Bob commented. “She came to expand her horizons.”
After the time trial results are taken, all data is uploaded to individual athlete portals that USAT and NCAA triathlon coaches can view any time. This not only encourages early recruitment, but continued conversation around how triathlon can continue to offer opportunities from college and beyond to the younger generations.
Think your kiddo might want to give triathlon a shot? Keep an eye out for upcoming youth triathlon combines here.
Editor’s note: For more on the next generation of triathletes, pick up our September/October issue, available on newsstands now. Or, purchase the digital version here.