Keeping kids active has a new secret weapon: the wow factor. While many sports have been talking about new player initiatives and making fitness fun, USA Triathlon made been developing multi-sport events kids will brag about. Sports Destination Management caught up to Brian D'Amico, youth event and program manager for USA Triathlon, the NGB for multi-sport, to find out what hosts and organizers need to know before embarking on a children's event.
Sports Destination Management: How long has USA Triathlon been offering youth activities?
Brian D'Amico: We always have, but have increased the emphasis on youth events and programming in recent years. We have embraced the opportunity to introduce a healthy lifestyle to kids through multi-sport, and recognize these athletes represent the future of our sport. USA Triathlon surpassed 60,000 annual and one-day youth members in 2012.
SDM: What makes multi-sport so appealing to kids?
D'Amico: Our sport is a lot of fun for them. It's a little less traditional than team sports like baseball, soccer or basketball. In addition, it's all about participation. We emphasize that kids should have a good time, finish safely (obviously, that's one of our main priorities) and embrace a healthy lifestyle. We want them to enjoy it so much that they're ready to come back and do it again.
SDM: What does USA Triathlon recommend for ensuring a safe course for kids?
D'Amico: You want a course that's as compact as possible, with everything as close together as you can make it. That's good for parents, too, since they like to be able to see their kids participating in each portion of the race. We also recommend using a pool for the swim portion because open water can be intimidating to kids at times. Ideally, you'd like to be able to have them do the bike and run portion of the race on a closed path. It is also crucial to have a lot of supervision in the way of staff and volunteers. For example, for youth events, it is a good idea to use twice the number of lifeguards you would have for adult events. Also, USA Triathlon has a listing of recommended age-appropriate race distances available online at usatriathlon.org.
SDM: Is it more difficult to keep youth events safe?
D'Amico: We always keep the safety of the athletes and spectators in mind. One of the unique things about a youth event is that you sometimes need to allow parents to support their children without becoming overly involved. A lot of times, parents want to help their kids out in different parts of the race. It may be difficult at first for the parents, but the benefits of having their child finish the race unassisted is second-to-none.
SDM: What are some good practices to make sure kids have fun?
D'Amico: We try to keep the emphasis on participation and on completing the course. Offering finisher's medals or some kind of a premium to every kid who finishes, for example, makes them feel good. There are some races that are more competitive, and they'll also have medals or prizes for the fastest kids in their age group.
SDM: Obviously, many kids are just in it for fun, but what about the ones who have a desire to compete at a higher level?
D'Amico: USA Triathlon also runs a Youth Elite and Junior Elite series of draft-legal races. Youth Elite events are for ages 13-15, and Junior Elite events are for ages 16-19. USA Triathlon has 10 Regional Athlete Development Coordinators around the nation who look to identify talented up-and-coming triathletes who may be a good fit for the USA Triathlon development pipeline. Ultimately, it's really up to the kids and their parents, as racing at this level can be a significant time commitment. We want them having fun at whatever level they choose.
SDM: What are some of the things USA Triathlon is doing to get kids into the game and just having fun?
D'Amico: We have a new series called the Splash and Dash Youth Aquathlon Series. It's a great introduction to the whole multi-sport concept. A Splash and Dash is a run followed by a swim; there isn't a bicycling component, so kids don't have to worry about getting their bike tuned up, buying a helmet or incurring the extra cost of purchasing a bike. We started the Splash and Dash Youth Aquathlon Series in 2012, with 30 events across the country, for ages 7-15. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with more than 1,500 participants who were brand-new to multi-sport. We'll have 40 events this year, and we're looking for this program to continue for years to come. It's a great way for kids to ‘get their feet wet’ without having to train a lot. More information can be found at www.usatsplashanddash.com.
The Splash and Dash Youth Aquathlon Series is offered for ages 7- 8, and 9-10, and those have a 100-meter swim and a one-kilometer run. For ages 11-12 and 13-15, it's a 200-meter swim and a two-kilometer run. As always, we like to use closed courses and pools, but if an event is held at the beach, for example, we would like it to be a shore swim, and encourage children only to go out as far as their feet can touch bottom. That way, they can just put their feet down and walk if they need a break. And of course, we're still going to have a lot of lifeguards there for them.
SDM: What do you recommend if a city wants to host a youth multi-sport event?
D'Amico: The first thing we tell people is that the planning should never be rushed. You may need between 12-18 months lead time. This kind of an event requires quite a bit of planning, permitting and marketing, and of course, a lot of work to make it safe for the kids. We tell people to meet with an experienced race director in their local area. A triathlon is complex to plan. There are three different events, plus the transition areas. You need a comprehensive plan for medical and safety support, you'll need water testing, you have to make sure the roads or paths are free of debris -- it's a lot of detail.
We encourage people to have their events sanctioned by USA Triathlon, which benefits the event and the athlete alike. Sanctioned events meet USA Triathlon’s safety guidelines. If I'm a parent, I'm going to be more comfortable with my child doing an event that has gone through the sanctioning process.
Sanctioned events receive an affordable, comprehensive insurance program from USA Triathlon, access to event planning resources and outstanding exposure and advertising opportunities like the usatriathlon.org Sanctioned Event Calendar. That's key because especially with a brand-new event, you'll want as much exposure as you can get.
SDM: Are all youth triathlons held in the summer?
D'Amico: Traditionally, we find the summer months to be the best time for them because kids are out of school, but many times it varies by geographic region. The peak season is usually April to September.
SDM: What are good ways to market a youth triathlon? Are health clubs a good place to start?
D'Amico: Health clubs are good because active parents will probably encourage their kids to take part, but youth multi-sport events can also be publicized at park districts since a lot of times, they'll have summer day camps, and they'll encourage all the kids in a program to take part in the event. You can also go through YMCAs and community centers, and you can see if schools will let you send flyers home with kids so that parents know about it.
SDM: Should event planners work with local sporting goods stores too?
D'Amico: Having partners in the community is great. For example, you can work with a running store and have them supply information about shoes for kids, and you can work with bike shops who can do bike inspections and repairs. They'll also benefit because parents will want to buy helmets and things for their kids.