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Why a triathlon is good for your child

A pediatric orthopedic surgeon answers questions about youth triathlons.

cool kids triathlon

The COOL Kids Triathlon is coming up on June 10 and for parents who may be concerned that a triathlon is too grueling for youngsters, we’ve got some answers.

The distances aren’t nearly those that adults run, bike and swim. There are three age groups for kids: 6 to 8, 9 to 11 and 12 to 14. The running portions range from 1 kilometer (about two-thirds of a mile) for the youngest kids to 3 kilometers (about 1.8 miles) for the tweens and teens.

If a child isn’t a swimmer, he or she can do a second run instead of the swim.

And, it isn’t a race. The idea is to finish.

Jennifer Brey, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, gets a lot of questions from parents who share in their child’s excitement to participate but are concerned about overall health and safety.

“These concerns are legitimate and I’m happy to answer a parent’s questions. After all, we both have the child’s best interest at heart,” Dr. Brey said.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about kids and intense sports, such as triathlons.

Is participating in an intense sport like a triathlon good for my child?

Yes, a triathlon is a wonderful sport, especially at the youth level. The distances of the legs of a youth triathlon are much shorter than those for adults. The main goal of youth triathlons is completing the race rather than getting the fastest time.

What are the benefits of a child doing triathlons?

One of the biggest benefits is that your child is exposed to three separate events in one, helping to prevent overuse injuries that can occur from playing just one sport all of the time.

By participating in the same activity or sport over and over, our bodies are more susceptible to injury. Participating in shorter segments of multiple activities can actually decrease the number of overuse injuries.

Additional benefits include overall increased physical fitness and weight management.

Is there a down side to youth triathlons and other intense sports?

As with any endurance sport, if too much time is spent training at a young age, overuse injuries, especially in the legs, may occur. Acute injuries such as sprains or fractures are very rare but can occur as well.

The most common injury is during the bicycling leg and the transition on and off the bicycle. Training in proper transition and overall bike safety can lessen these risks.

How should my child train for a triathlon and how far in advance should training start?
COOL Kids Tri

Saturday, June 10 • 10 a.m. start

Mary T. Meagher Aquatics Center, 201 Reservoir Ave., Louisville, Kentucky

Registration fee: $25

For a youth triathlon, the goal is to finish rather than get the fastest time. Kids should be able to swim, bike and run the individual distances prior to competing.

Typically six to eight weeks of preparation (for a child who already knows how to swim) should be sufficient. Kids generally should train two to four days per week. Every child is different, so keep in mind that these are just recommendations.

A biathlon also is an option for kids who are not comfortable participating in one of the three legs. This allows them to participate in two of the events and this is a common practice for most organized events.

COOL Kids Tri is limited to 200 kids

What type of shoes do you recommend for triathlons?

Kids typically wear running shoes during the bike and run segments (as opposed to specialized bicycling shoes). Shoes should have secured laces to prevent getting caught on the bike or coming untied during the run. Shoes also should be in good condition with good tread on the sole.

In the days leading up to the event, is there anything parents should do to help their child prepare physically and mentally?

Rest is of utmost importance. Children should sleep 8 to 10 hours per night. Maintaining good hydration also is key, especially in the week leading up to the race.

Mental preparation includes visualizing the legs of the race and reviewing transition procedures. Transitions are considered the fourth leg of a triathlon, and practicing prior to a race will help prevent confusion on race day.

Triathlon details

All age groups will start at 10 a.m.

Children ages 6 to 8 will swim 50 meters (about half a football field), bike 1.5 kilometers (just less than a mile) and run 1 kilometer (about two-thirds of a mile).

The 9- to 11-year-olds will swim 100 meters (about a football field), bike 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles) and run 2 kilometers (about 1.25 miles).

Youth ages 12 to 14 will swim 200 meters (four laps in an Olympic-size pool or just more than 200 yards), bike 5 kilometers (3 miles) and run 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles).

Registration (including race day) – $25 ($10 of fee is for a required USAT membership)

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