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Kid-friendly advice from USAT’s top youth coach.
Last week, Kathleen Johnston was named USA Triathlon’s Development Coach of the Year. The Nashville, Tenn.-based coach led the Southeast Junior High Performance Triathlon Team to a first place at USA Triathlon’s Development Team Championships, and she coaches elite junior and youths in the Southeast region.
Johnston says she loves working with junior athletes for their “enthusiasm and joy for the sport and excitement to be around their teammates” and “genuine desire to seek continued improvement in what they do, and willingness to do the work needed to attain that goal.”
Part of being a good coach, Johnston says, is to be yourself and learn what your coaching “personality” is. “I know I have a calm, nurturing, upbeat but realistic demeanor and that works well with most young athletes but not all,” Johnston says. “If you want someone to yell at you to get you motivated then I know I’m not a good fit for you. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hold you accountable for your actions.”
Johnston offers some advice to help get kids started in triathlon.
For the kids:
• Go watch a race before you do one, get familiar with what it looks like and see what equipment you need and how a race flows. Seeing before doing can help relieve anxiety on race day.
• Join a swim team to learn proper swim technique at an early age (and it will help you a lot down the road!).
• Focus on learning good skills and don’t worry about the race results too much.
• Take your time, don’t try to do it all in your first couple years in the sport.
• Become a student of triathlon. The more you know about your sport and equipment, the more confident you will be.
For the parents:
• Provide positive but realistic opportunities—don’t head to a junior elite race until you’ve tried some kids races and local beginner-friendly races. Avoid overwhelming a young athlete.
• Allow your kids to take ownership of their sport. Assist them getting ready for a race but don’t do everything for them—allow them to be responsible for organizing and collecting their gear before and after a race. This makes it easier to judge their level of engagement with the sport.