The following 3 articles have been submitted by Coach Boris G. Robinson. Coach Boris is a youth elite and junior specific coach. He is the director and head coach for T3Multisports Elite a USAT High Performance Team. He is featured coach for Training Peaks.com and has written youth and junior specific training plans available at www.trainingpeaks.com/coachBoris.
Training Considerations for Youth
As most athletes are now into the pre-race phase of their training cycle; the question that seems to be asked of me the most is: "How should I be training my child or, how should my child be training for triathlon?" Most youth who compete in triathlon do so with little or no training. If they have some training, it is often being prescribed by a parent with little knowledge about training young triathletes. In some cases, it may even be done by a coach who has little understanding of youth coaching in this sport. Here are some of my thoughts, advice and recommendations to the above questions. First, we must understand the dynamics of youth versus adults. This is critical because children, especially our young ones under 13 or pre-pubescents, don't have the same physiological make up as an adults. Therefore, children should be trained in a different manner.
Children, for the most part, seem to recover faster from intense physical exertion than adults do in the same form of exercise. Research suggests that children can recover quicker than adults primarily because they (children) can’t generate the same amount of power as an adult; therefore, they have less to recover from following an exercise. It has also been found that children possess anaerobic (without oxygen) power capacity lower than adults so their ability to recovery from high intensity exercise is far superior to that of adults. Another difference between youth and adults is the ability to go long distances. Children are naturally aerobic and are better at burning fat than adults; which is why I suggest children’s training should be more intense than long sessions. We want to build their ability to use the glycolitic system (burn carbohydrates than the fatty acid system (burn fat) to improve their overall fitness and ability to race fast. I don’t want to get too scientific in this discussion so I will now address how I believe we should train our youth for success now and in the future.
Endurance versus High Intensity
This has been a debate among some of the parents of the children that I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. Some parents believe, “ if my child can do a 5k, they should start to train for a 10K and if my child can win the local kid’s triathlons they should move to the longer distance adult races to keep their competitive edge.” Well, I disagree with this thought process primarily because of some of the things mention at the beginning of this article. Children should be training in a way that improves their speed and recovery; this is exactly what high intensity training does. On the other hand if a child is training to go long; essentially you are training the child to go slow. While a child is young we should focus on good technique; they should understand the “WHY” of what they are doing and then we should focus on their speed. Young athletes speed is something you want them to develop and increase as they develop into young adults. If you spend a great deal of time getting them to go long distances in their developmental years they tend to slow down to accommodate the distance and as they mature into young adults it is extremely difficult to develop the speed component that was neglected as a youth.
Recommendations for Training Youth
I would focus on general training first which includes good technique and as the young athlete develops incorporate speed and intensity into their workouts. This is more beneficial to the child than long endurance type training. If you can remember to have consistency, variability (which includes training the whole body), make the training progressive and add rest and recovery you will have a great start to a healthy form of training for the young triathlete. I always include a good warm up, drills (plyometrics and specific skills), a main set and recovery to include stretching in all of our training sessions. Plyometrics is a type of exercise training designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, generally for the purpose of improving performance in a specific sport. It is also used to increase the speed or force of muscular contractions, often with the goal of increasing the power. To build good balance, strength and stabilizer muscles incorporation plyometric training.
I wish you all the very best this season and hope to see you at the races. Train for speed.
He can be contacted via email at: Coach Boris G. Robinson
The Dynamics of Coaching Youth and Juniors
What's the difference between coaching youth and coaching adults? USA Triathlon has established recommended age-appropriate distances for young athletes entering the sport of triathlon. Starting as early as age seven; the 7-10 year olds compete in the 100 meter swim, a 5K bike and a 1K run. The 11-15-year-olds compete in the 200 meter swim, a 10K bike and a 2K run, while the youth elite ages 13-15 compete in the 375 meter swim, a 10k bike and a 2.5k run. The juniors age 16-19 compete in a 750 meter swim, a 20K bike and 5K run; this is equivalent to a sprint distance race. These distances offer a transition into longer races as the athlete matures. Many race directors will not allow anyone under the age of 16 to compete in adult races; some do make exceptions with written request from parents or coaches.
From a developmental standpoint, the young athlete should not compete in the sprint events unless they have had at least one year, or better yet two years, of youth elite distance training and competition experience. The physical requirements necessary to jump from the 11-15 age race categories of about 30-40 minutes duration to the adult sprint race of approximately 75-100 race minutes can be a big jump. Triathlon is not like other sports such as football or basketball where you have quarters, half time and timeouts. The physical demands of triathlon are continuous.
Athletes who race in age-specific distance competitions naturally mature as they gain experience. This rate of adaptation is highly individual and this is where coaching plays a key role; even more so than it does with adult athletes
The Maturation Process-Early vs. Late Developers
Maturity of the young athlete varies greatly; there is an individuality of the development process. This is mainly due to the maturation process. Every coach should understand that there are "early bloomers" and "late bloomers." Trying to identify this phenomenon is guesswork at best, but it plays an important role in bringing athletes along the competitive continuum.
One of the best ways for a coach to evaluate this is through observation. This means that the coach has to observe each athlete over a few seasons. A 12-year-old might not be able to compete against kids their own age because they are facing athletes that are early developers. They can realistically be overpowered by this group of maturation-advanced athletes. However, they come back and are able to compete with them the next year. Some coaches have experienced this first-hand. When you have a 12-year-old who never was able to finish above seventh the prior year but was unbeatable the next year. This can be somewhat amazing to watch, but it can only happen with a coach's observation, ability to encourage the athlete and the athlete's ability to stick with his or her training that will proved to be successful.
Another observation point is muscular development. Some athletes are more "muscled" than others at a given age, be it youth or adults. They look older even if they are the same age. If an athlete is the same age as the others but has a slower maturity level he/she simply does not possess the speed or power that goes with that of their peers and may struggle to compete that season.
An additional factor is training; here's an example: a coach has a 13-year old who has been involved in youth triathlons since the young athlete was 10. She lost to a competitor who was more experienced two years ago. The following year that competitor did not come within two minutes of this same athlete's time in the past years. It is the opinion of most coaches that the difference is that this athlete's growth and racing experience caught up with her. More importantly, training experience has enhanced the athlete's maturation process. She is a more mature-looking 13-year-old than the other girl. While this addresses as unique situation coach should not be as concerned with the athlete's results as much as with overall improvement. This can be applied to any triathlete. A coach can watch her over the years to monitor her improvement. You are on the right track if she is steadily improving.
She will be ready to reap the fast gains that come with this when the maturation process takes hold. Place does not matter nearly as much if we improve in performance. Another issue to consider with maturation is that it is not flat line or straight up. Youth have growth spurts, plateaus, slight down turns and more spurts. It all happens at different rates, times and frequencies. This process is different for males and females. Athletes are trying to understand what is going on with their bodies. They are not mature enough psychologically to understand all of the physiological things that are going on with their bodies. Coaches should talk their athletes through this and really listen to what they say. Athletes are motivated to train some days but not others. This goes beyond periodization models. The coach should decide whether or not to push it or to talk about what is going on.
The Psychological Aspect of Maturation
There is a psychological aspect that goes along with early and late blooming beyond the physical process of maturing. Results vs. performance take center stage here. Athletes who are "king/queen of the hill" at 13 may find themselves moving down the podium at 14 when late-maturing athletes find themselves on the upswing. The psychological aspect of this is an important issue that must be considered by the coach because it plays a key role.
Coaches can observe development's big picture. Parents are much more focused on the here and now, results over performance. This also becomes a big psychological issue with the athlete. As a coach you should talk to the kids about their performance. They may not have won like last time, but they improved if they were a minute or two faster than last year. Talk to athletes about the different rates of maturation so they should not get too caught up in comparing themselves with the others. You as an experienced coach should also talk to the parent about this.
Kids, who want to win so badly and have a history of only focusing on that goal, tend to get discouraged when they do not win and may fall away from the sport. What will happen to the kids who hate to lose if they do not win? Normally, they will try to figure out what they did that lost them the race and see what they can do to improve themselves. This is something most coaches that deal with elite athletes have seen; they seem to have a common theme; they hate to lose more than they want to win. On the converse, coaches have seen youth that want to win so badly that if they lose they leave the sport. This is a big psychological issue is from the athlete's perspective and requires a good coach and parent to help them through it.
Youth Triathlon Club Training and the Social Aspects
Most people talk about triathlon as being an individual sport. Technically it is, but if you look at the ITU (draft legal) approach, there is a team concept. Kids like to be involved with other kids doing the same thing. One of the things USAT discovered out at the sensing sessions in 2006 with kids at the youth nationals in Wisconsin Dells, WI, was, our kids are somewhat unique when they are around their classmates. They do not necessarily feel isolated, but they feel different in their school settings. The youth club offers camaraderie not found at school and they do not get that "outsider" feeling. Beyond the social aspect, clubs provide kids with structured training opportunities. This really helps their motivation. There are days when the athlete does not feel like training, so having a group commitment really helps during the rough days. This works well for both young male and female athletes. However, the boy's group setting must be somewhat restrained because it is simply their nature to turn everything into a race. They should be constantly reminded that it is a training session and not a race. Improvement can be made in individual training sessions, but a group setting works the best with young athletes who want to maximize training.
The club is also an excellent outlet for the parents. If a parent has little or no background in triathlon, they can learn through the club's training sessions that more is ot necessarily better. Parents oust understand, "More is not better. Better is better." Here's a unique situation with an athlete's parent you could find yourself providing a counseling session: a 13 year old running a marathon. A good coach will explain to her why this was not a good idea from the standpoint of potential injuries or overuse. So as you can see, the club setting is a great environment for parents to become better educated about smart training and the risks of overtraining a youth.
One way to avoid parent interference during training is to have workouts in our club where the athletes train a distance away from parent immediate access but within their view. You could have a club administrator talks to the parents during this time about certain aspects of training and what you want to accomplish. Parents want to help but they do not know how. The parents with marathon or triathlon backgrounds are surprisingly the most difficult to deal with. They have a tendency to want to advance their son or daughter faster than normal. This push is even harder if they have a child who is maturing quickly. Clubs for young triathletes offer unique advantages. They provide a sense of camaraderie, training motivation and parental education. I cannot think of anything more beneficial for young athletes!
Equipment Needs for Youth Triathlon Racing
As we begin to look at the 2009 triathlon racing season I would like to address equipment needs for our young athletes. Often I am asked by parents what type of bike should I get my child. Do I need to buy him or her aero-bars and aero-wheels to be competitive? I will attempt to address equipment for our youth based on needs versus wants. I define needs as something we must have; and wants as things we would like to have.
So many times parents feel obligated to buy their kids the equipment they see in the magazines, at races or triathlon websites; equipment like the elites/professionals use. This would be in the wants column. In reality, kids don’t need this type of high performance equipment for their skill level or race distances. While I realize this equipment makes the kids look like little professionals; it doesn’t really help their performance. Remember they are kids not adults or little pros.
I will use the bike as an example; since it is normally the most expensive purchase. Equipment like aero-bars and aero-wheels are designed for athletes sustaining speeds in excess of 25 MPH for 40 kilometers on 112 mile races; not 5k or 10k bike legs. Kids can't sustain these speeds; while many folks look at race results and see their child's average speed on the bike was 22-25MPH, the reality is this number is flawed because of two things: first the child didn't ride for an hour so this number is an estimate; secondly, a young athlete doesn't have the aerobic capacity and can't generate the power/wattage to sustain 22-25 MPH. So a better way to state the bike time is simply saying they rode a 10K bike course in 19 minutes and forego listing the average speed.
Most youth compete in triathlon based on a couple of reasons; either they have a parent that competes and introduced the sport to them or they have a friend that competes and suggested they try triathlon. Whatever the reason there are some basic equipment needs to compete in the sport.
The basic equipment requirements for triathlon are:
- Swim: Swim/race suit that will allow you to swim, bike and run in the same gear without being constricted and a pair of swim goggles that don’t leak.
- Bike: Any type of bike that fits you properly; is safe and in good working order. As your child competes more often I recommend purchasing a road bike; it is best for bike control and versatility.
- Run: A pair of good fitting running shoes. I do recommend you spend the money for good shoes; it’s cheaper than knee surgery later.
- Caveat:All equipment should be in good working order or serviceable.
Triathlon is a great sport; our youth can complete with the basic equipment listed above and have a great time in the sport. Of course we also have some very exceptional youth out there that do have a combination of some of the items on the want list.
I am not knocking parents that buy the extra equipment; ultimately it’s a parent’s decision to purchase equipment for their kids. I always say, “It’s whatever you wallet can afford.
I have listed what I consider the basic equipment for the new parents in the sport to help alleviate some of the pressures they may feel when getting their child into the sport of triathlon. As a youth athlete it still has to be about fun and learning proper skills and techniques.
Remember as a coach; especially with our young athletes we are part coach, part sports psychologist and part encourager. What and how we say it has a major impact on our youth.
If we build the engine (physical fitness and ability); the equipment will follow as they progress in the sport.
Boris Robinson is a youth elite and junior specific coach. He is the Director of Training for the Hawaii Youth Triathlon Club and the Director of T3Multisports Triathlon Club in Round Rock, Texas. Boris is a USA Triathlon Level II Elite Coach, a USA Cycling Level III Coach, and a member of the National Council of Youth Sports. Contact Coach Boris at: Boris G. Robinson