Should Kids Participate in Triathlons?

Is it OK for 8 – 10 year old kids to participate in Triathlons?


BG Says…


While I am 100% heartened by virtually any activity a young person chooses to engage in, it is important to be careful how we direct their efforts in terms of "developmentally-sound" parameters.


The essence and need of childhood play (or fitness – they are interchangeable terms) is self-exploration of movement. This movement must be in the style of "free play". Meaning simply, kids must be encouraged to move in a variety of fashions (run, climb, crawl, jump, hop etc) without the over-prescription or repetitiveness of specific movements.


This is an imperative part of neural growth and development, setting the seeds for both a future full of movement and athletic ability as well as injury avoidance. Much like the academic world, the early years of school is based on learning a variety of subjects in order to create a well-rounded brain. Specification occurs later in life once this broad base has been built.


While triathlons involve three separate movement functions, they are still rather myopic in nature and will become repetitive during training phases. One only needs to look at the tremendous number of injuries that adult tri athletes endure (mostly in the realm of chronic injuries resulting from REPETATIVE action) to see what this type of training and over-indulgence of competition has the potential to do to younger people.


In short…


Repetitive motion of any kind is developmentally limiting for kids and could easily lead to overuse injury.


Free play and freedom of motion are the core necessities of fitness for kids.


Enough is enough.


It’s time for our industry to get educated and start creating youth fitness
and sport training programs that both WORK and are DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE.




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8 Responses

  1. Brian Schiff says:


    It is sad to see some of the things going on. We have a young lacrosse player who came to us for performance training. My staff member who was working with him asked me to look at him after the first session as he was having knee pain. Naturally, with me being a physical therapist too, I performed a brief interview and thorough screen.

    This kid had shin splints, weak hips, tight hamstrings and some ankle mobility issues. I asked him when he first felt the knee pain and shin splints. Then he told me his lacorsse coach was having all the payers not playing a fall sport train together for the Columbus Half Marathon to “stay in shape.” He started training 3 weeks ago and developed the pain then. Never before in his athletic career ahd he ahd these issues. His coach told him the running was going to keep them fit and be good for team building. I was floored.

    I told the father and player that day that he may want to reconsider the half marathon and focus on strength and performance work with us. Guess what happened next? They went to the doctor who merely told him to take Aleve and keep running. Wow!

    The athlete has continued to run and put our training on hold for now. What a mistake, eh? Little does the coach and parent know this will almost certainly lead to further injury all the while leading to training adaptations we really do not want for lacrosse. My biggest fear is the kid may become so sore and hurt he may end up missing lacrosse altogether.

    I plan to follow-up with the father, but I think he will be a tough sell. While the coach’s heart is likely in the right place, his little half marathon plan may turn into a big disaster. These are the kinds of things we all need to work to correct. Keep up the good work my friend.

    Brian Schiff, PT, CSCS

  2. Al Roth says:

    Brian, When you talk about how many triatheletes get injured, I have seen that most of the triatheletes have no clue how to properly train for their events, which are leading causes to these injuries. There is a small percentage of elite triatheletes period. Being a Health Club Owner and trainer allows me to see more individuals doing these triathelons that never do get training but get their programs from either one of their friends, or some book. They never are taught the basics, and the strategies of the training they partake in. Just like Brian said with that Lacrosse player, it is sad that sooooooooo many parents are just like his example. It makes me sick. When you are a trainer who has passion and wish only the best not only for performance, but health and character for the individuals you train, you will learn many times you will be passed over. Doesn’t matter. Stick to your guns. You Will Pesevere.
    Everyone have a Great Holiday. Al Roth

  3. Chris Kolba MHS PT CSCS says:

    Sounds familiar. Being in an orthopedic/sports medicine clinic I see the same nonsense occurring all the time. I too am floored at the lack of thought and common sense parents and many doctors exhibit when it comes to youth athletics and injuries. And like Brian stated it is such a hard sell to get these folks to see the big picture and the reality of what they are doing. Its frustrating but nonetheless we will continue to fight the fight! Thank goodness for the handful that do listen and take our advice. Keep up the good work Brian!
    Chris Kolba MHS PT CSCS

  4. While I totally agree with what you are saying in regard to repetitive training methods, I think you have thrown the dishes out with the dish water by saying that children should not participate in triathlons.

    Triathlons are a great ‘cross training’ tool for non triathletes as well as being a great sport to be involved in. Fit and healthy children do not need to ‘train’ to compete in triathlons so can avoid the very problems that you mention, but have many things to gain by participating in one of the only truly individual sports that there is.

    It is so rewarding to know that you and you only achieved the result on the day whether it was first or last. You couldn’t blame the goalie, or the shooter or the other track athletes that didn’t place in the team. It’s you and you only that gets you from the start to the finish and there is a lot to learn from that.

    So don’t discount this wonderful sport just because of some coaches and/or parents and the training programs or lack there of that they use


  5. Jon Pendano says:

    I think the answer to the question is does the triathlon pose that much of a difference in the young athlete’s traditional day of play? What I mean by that is, as a 10 year old I can remember during the course of a summer day riding my bike to the pool, being so excited when I got there that I didn’t even shower before I got in. I’d swim for hours, ride home and then play hide and seek until my mom made me come in for dinner. As I think about it, my traditional day sounds like a triathlon. So, do I think there’s a problem with a child participating in a small triathlon? No, especially if the structure is such that it resembles a day of play for the youngster. Do I think they should run in the Iron Man any time soon? No way! I certainly don’t think 8-10 year olds should train for the event either.

    As for Brian Schiff’s LAX experience, the biggest thing is, when approaching coaches and parents we have to remember we’re the equivalent of a young athlete advocate. I just feel it’s our duty to find the person that influences the parents the most. If the parents won’t listen to you, but will listen to the coach or doctor, sit down with one or both of them and try to team up and put together a community event to hash out the discrepancies. This will help the parents gain an understanding of your intentions and allow you to get your message out to the athlete. Which is the point, right? If we don’t take the time to do that the athlete loses. From my experience most athletes are confused about training anyway. All the important people (parents, doc, coach, and trainer) are on different pages. We can’t take no for an answer any more, we have to change the culture.

  6. Antonio says:

    Surely, the triathlon you refer to is some kind of mini-triathlon. I guess sometimes we should ask the kids what is it that they want to do? After all if they are compelled to run, or join the boy scouts, or take guitar lessons, or attend Bible classes against their free will, then it will be done sullenly, and poorly. And as soon as you take your foot off the kid’s neck, they will be off.

    A junior athletics club I once was on the committee of, had a membership of about 550, and after one season about 275 children quit the club. When the committee sat down to ponder this, I put it to them that we were doing something that displeased the athletes. In other words, I said. “We stink!” I suggested several reasons as to what I thought were our shortcomings in running a program, and in training, and then suggested that we put a questionairre to athletes, the children, and ask them what they wanted. From the answers we could format a program which would be user friendly. The committe thought it was a dopey idea and voted in the negative. That was the end of that!
    The bottom line is, if you get kids to do something which is either mentally or physically beyond them it will end in tears.

  7. Antonio says:

    There is one thing I would like to point out to all parents of youngsters who they wish to make into sports champs. It all ends one day. It may end with injury, or in scandal, or through lack of stimulation through endless training, or a myriad number of reasons. I know from the experience of my two daughters, who were very good at all sports from a very young age.

    Through they age groups they won state championships in showjumping, basketball, and netball, in javeling, triple jump, WALK, pentathlon and heptathlon, and did it easily. After they had won almost a hundred medals, the thrill of competition had gone, and they decided to live lives like other ordinary folk. At first I was perplexed, but then I realized that they had made the correct choice, that sports nuts are nuts, that success in sport is vastly overrated, and all sport, and I mean ALL SPORT is trivia. Nobody knows who the world table tennis champion is, or who is the greatest Gaelic footballer, or who is the European handball champion, and that is the way it should be.

  8. Liz Donnelly says:

    I say hit ’em hard & where it hurts! No pain, no gain. Make ’em cry. Okay, kidding aside, you’re absolutely right, Brian. Most adults aren’t suited to train for triathlons. When dealing with a child, we have a greater responsibility to respect his/her nervous system and overall development. Love the new site look (go, AJ!).

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