Don’t Tell Them, Show Them!

Don’t Tell Them, Show Them!

By Coach Suzy

suzy lulu 3 low resInvolving Children in Triathlon

Standing in the Experience Triathlon booth at a local triathlon last weekend, I noticed a familiar face in the crowd.  It was my friend, Katie, who had come with her 2 teenage daughters, Madeline and Rosie, to pick up their race packet.  Tomorrow morning Madeline and Rosie would participate in their first triathlon as part of a relay team with their mom.  “How cool is that?!” I thought, as images of someday doing a relay with my 2 daughters, Marcella (13) and Alexandra (10), danced in my mind.  Like Katie’s girls and many other kids, mine grew interested in the sport of triathlon through watching a parent compete.  I asked Alexandra how she felt after completing her 6th youth triathlon in September of last year.  Her response:  “I feel happy and proud.”  If that’s not a feel good for a mom, I don’t know what is!!  There is nothing like success to help build a positive self image.

One of the most fulfilling goals I can achieve as a Coach and you can achieve as a triathlete is to inspire others to live a similarly healthy lifestyle, and who better to influence in such a positive way than a child in your life?!  With sedentary lifestyles plaguing our youngest generation and childhood obesity on the rise, inspiring our children to find their own athletic potential is a wonderful direction for our sport.  Our kids are our future, so their health – not a video game or a computer – should be a priority.

Nationally, youth participation in triathlon is growing at an exponential rate.  Last year, USAT reported over 22,000 children 16 or younger in its membership base.  Events geared toward young triathletes are on the rise, more than doubling from 193 in 2004 to 396 in 2008.  Youths are naturally gifted with fitness for endurance activities and it’s what they do all summer…swim, bike, and run!  It comes naturally to them, so now’s the time to lace up the running shoes and go for a family run!  The old saying, “Do what I say not what I do,” went away with the rotary dial phone.  Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, so don’t tell them what to do, show them!

Seven ways to instill a healthy, fit-for-life attitude in children:

(P.S.  Read between the lines and you just may find that these ideas will help you stay fit, too!)

  1. Be a role model first!  Show your kids how to incorporate exercise and fitness into daily family life.  Kids learn by example, so instill a healthy, fit-for-life attitude into your kids by showing them how to make a commitment to daily exercise.
  2. Put the emphasis where it should be: on safety, health, and most of all, FUN!  Don’t try to impose adult routines on them.  Children should not be “training.”  They should be spending quality time with Mom and Dad.  Keep the swim, bike or run unstructured and enjoyable.  Encouraging them to play and exercise with a minimum amount of pressure and expectations decreases injuries and mental burnout.
  3. Be involved, be there.  Kids, like adults, like to work out in a group.  Offer support and show your kids that exercising can be a time for the family to be together.
  4. Focus on effort, not results.  Don’t place too much emphasis on placement or prizes.  There will be plenty of time for that as they get older.  Allow mistakes and applaud all efforts, no matter how small.  The biggest mistake a kid will make about exercising is not exercising.
  5. Respect their attention spans.  Children simply do not have the internal drive, focus or ambition that adults possess. Don’t expect them to adhere to workout routines designed for adults.  The key is short sessions incorporating a variety of options appropriate to their age and development level.
  6. Stay informed.  It’s your responsibility to be informed on the prevention of sports injuries, rules, and safety equipment.  If you aren’t sure, then do some homework, learn, and share your knowledge with other parents and kids.
  7. Variety is critical for success.  First, there must be a good mental outlook toward sports and exercise.  This is accomplished by introducing kids to a variety of options.  Let your child explore different avenues of the sport and come to his or her own decision on what piques their interest.  If you want them to keep a good mental attitude and fit body, they have to like what they are doing.

Suzy Cerra is a Level 1 USAT Certified Coach, Camp Director and VP of Operations with Experience Triathlon Coaching Services.   Learn more about Coach Suzy and ET at

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