Multisport events are continuing to grow in popularity. Whether as a ‘bucket list’ endeavor or as a serious competitive sport, at the youth, college, elite or pro level, an ever-increasing number of events is being offered. The idea is to grow multisport at various skill and age levels, and to introduce new competitors to it.
USA Triathlon, which oversees this growth, is the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. The organization sanctions more than 4,300 races and connects with nearly 500,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world.
USA Triathlon values fitness and health through exercise, the spirit of competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence, in other words, the multisport lifestyle. It offers a variety of events designed to appeal to athletes at any level they choose, with the goal of getting them active and involved.
USA Triathlon’s Retro Triathlon is one example of a newer program that is designed to help multisport appeal to a wider population of athletes. Anyone who studies sports trends realizes there has been an increase in themed fitness events in the U.S. (Examples of this would include mud runs, color runs and so forth). The Retro Triathlon is the multisport version of a themed event: it has entry-level distances but it is a real triathlon. As part of the theme, participants are encouraged to wear throwback clothing (such as that harking back to the 70s or 80s) to mix thing up and make the event fun.
The retro theme event has been a complete success. Participants are really getting into the event by wearing costumes and USA Triathlon provides retro-themed items to bolster the feeling and theme. Events put on in 2015 will feature everything from neon T-shirts to bright and exciting finisher medals. In 2014, all athletes received retro-style sweatbands that they were encouraged to wear on the run as well as neon trucker hats as their finisher premium.
We knew the series was going to draw a ton of interest and participants, and that is exactly what it did; in fact, our projected numbers have been spot-on with the actual registration. We also believe that many of those athletes who competed in 2014 will also be competing again in 2015; this kind of information about retention in events is key for a race director.
The retro event series will have 12 events in 2015, all focused on providing a quality, safe and fun environment. Eight of those events are returning to the schedule after hosting successful races last year. We encourage families (as long as kids are at least 13, they can participate), teams and friends to participate, and that’s what we’re seeing.
By watching participation numbers – and by seeing people participate in actual events – USA Triathlon has found that this sort of race environment has proven beneficial in increasing involvement in triathlon, and provided an encouraging environment for individuals to experience multisport. At the same time, the events still cater to that of an experienced triathlete by offering an event within a national series close by.
In terms of set-up, retro triathlons can exist as a wave in a traditional triathlon or they can be their own unique, standalone events. Events are generally set up in the same format as traditional triathlons but one of the races that was a part of the series in 2014 and will be again in2015 offers a unique twist by having it be a reverse triathlon (run/bike/swim).
The Retro Triathlon Series is just one avenue that USA Triathlon is using to increase participation in multisport while we continue to promote the sport and introduce individuals to all their options. We are currently looking into other programming options that will help people see that multisport is an attainable goal. Shorter, beginner-friendly races are a great place to start. This holds true for not only adult events, but youth events as well. Just getting people to get their feet wet is often the most important part.
The Kids’ Splash & Dash Aquathlon is a great example of a youth event. It is offered for two age groups: 7-10 and 11-15. This is an untimed event where the emphasis is on participation and where we strive to keep it from being intimidating. It is just a swim/run event (no bike portion) and the swim portion is in a pool, rather than in open water. The real goal of the event is to get kids to dabble in multisport for the first time. Ultimately, we would like to see them age out of the children’s events and start participating in full triathlons.
So far, the event has been very successful. USA Triathlon offered 50 events across the U.S. in 2014 and had upwards of 2,000 participants. This number continues to rise year over year. We’re about even in registration numbers in the two different age groups.
We know that often, some kids are trying out the event because someone they know – maybe a friend – is doing it. Kids like to say they’re taking part in a multisport event – it’s something fun to talk about. Of course, it could also be that a parent or sibling is a triathlete, and they want to follow in their footsteps. Multisport is a very social community and people encourage others to take part.
While we don’t have a way to track whether the same kids are coming back each year to participate in the Splash & Dash, we can see that our youth membership continues to grow. There’s no doubt these youth events are helping kids see the fun in multisport and continuing on in the future.
Multisport at the college level continues to be very promising as well. Of course, everyone knows that in January 2014, the NCAA approved triathlon as the next Emerging Sport for Women for Division I, Division II and Division III. Since then, we have seen a lot of positive movement and interest within the collegiate landscape for women’s triathlon. While no institutions have submitted sport entry forms yet for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is still early in the submittal process for that time period and the organization is optimistic in the potential for institutions to establish varsity programs for next year’s competition season.
USA Triathlon is also working to encourage participation at that collegiate level. In December of 2014, USA Triathlon announced the USA Triathlon Women’s Triathlon Emerging Sport Grant, which is a $2.6 million dollar infusion of funds into the collegiate landscape to develop, grow and sustain varsity women’s triathlon programs. We have seen a lot of interest in these grants, and are looking forward to awarding them.
Something we are doing as well is identifying and communicating with institutions on the potential benefits of establishing varsity women’s triathlon programs. We know that many colleges offer triathlon at the club and recreational level, and we are working to identify collegiate club programs that could be elevated to varsity status at those institutions.
Institutions assess the longevity, success and participation of their collegiate triathlon club programs when they are evaluating the potential of a varsity program, so it is important to be a resource for our collegiate club teams, coaches and their respective institutions. In April, at the Collegiate Club National Championships, USA Triathlon will be hosting an NCAA information session for athletes, coaches and parents who wish to hear more about the NCAA. We also make all information available at www.usatriathlon.org/ncaa and update it regularly.
USA Triathlon continues to work on growing its events and its membership, as well as on introducing people of all ages to the multisport lifestyle. Sometimes, all it takes is one event – no matter what distance – to get people hooked.