Coaching Kids

Coaches’ Characteristics

  • Be able to talk to kids. Kids have to relate to you, but not be your buddy.
  • Have a presence. Be some one who will gain respect. Don’t look unfit even if you are! 
  • Kids need boundaries. When to arrive, what to bring, what will be expected of them. Make it clear as well actions to be taken if they go outside those boundaries.
  • Kids see right through a bullshitter. If you don’t know it, don’t say it. Tell them you’ll try to find out the answer to their question.
  • Technique – know it well. Difficult job to know all the basic mechanics well, but its important for kids to learn proper technique right away. Bad habits are hard to correct.
    Make it fun and challenging. What fun things did you do in training that you remember? What made you want to come to training?
  • Kids need to watch the champions. They need that visual picture in order to visualize excellent technique, speed, power, etc. They need idols to look up to and copy. Many of their work-outs will be done alone. They’ll need to have clear images to emulate.

All types of training should be introduced at an early age. They are all important and all types of training and competition should be encouraged. In order of priority and time spent they are:

  • Aerobic sessions with work on technique at the same time. Emphasis on swimming until age 13-15, then more balanced. Testing for aerobic threshold would be a good idea.
  • Short sprints with plenty of recovery. Builds speed and power without heavy lactate loads or fear of tendon/ligament/bone problems.
  • Resistance training and flexibility. Go together. Learn how to do exercises properly. Learn a few plyometrics, a few chords, a few weights.
  • AT work in all three
  • racing in all three

The main thing to keep in mind is that the teen years are the most important time to develop aerobic capacity. At no time later in life will an adult be able to make as great an improvement. That window of opportunity to make a huge leap will be closed.

Sample training weeks for various ages/ experience levels

1st year triathlete with minimal background in any of the three:
Age 12-15
Swim – 4-6 sessions/week, 1 hour each. 2 of those session preceded by20-30 minutes of dryland strength and flexibility.
Run – 3-4 sessions/week of 40-50 minutes. 2 of those sessions followed by some fast strides (4-8x100m) and some plyometrics and stretching. Most runs could either precede or follow a swim session. This makes it possible to do very little training before school and allows for more sleep.
Bike – 2x/week. One indoors (60-90 minutes) or some reps or faster stuff or group tempo ride, one longer one (2-3 hours). Vary it.

2nd-3rd year triathlete with some swimming background:
Age 13-16
Swim – 5-8 sessions/ week. 60-90 minutes each. More kms in winter when cycling less. Typical swimmer program really with exception made from swim coach to let the athlete have 2 afternoons off of swimming to run/ride. 12-15 yrs old 20-60km/ week. 14-18 years 30-60km per week with 1-2 swim “camps” per year of 1-2 weeks. 2 sessions/week preceded by 60 minutes chords/strength/flexibility/abs.
Run – 4-6 sessions/week. 1 reps or tempo run. 2-3 of the aerobic sessions to include strides/plyometrics/stretching at the end.
Bike – 3xweek. 1 reps or tempo, inside or out (90 minutes). 2 aerobic 2-4 hours. Should have objective TT goals for all 3 that are reviewed every 3-4 months.

4th year or more – as an adult/elite/pro:
Age 16-20
Targets for 
swim to take priority unless a decision to make IM’s or non-drafting races a priority. If so then change to more balanced program.
Bike racing – very important to start in the mid-teens when power, technique can develop quickly and pain threshold are high.
Track and x-country racing – very important to start as soon as possible. Cannot be too early 8-10 years would be great!

Other Sports
Obviously these schedules leave very little time to excel in other sports and leaves very little time to study or socialize outside of training and competition.

A great, young triathlete will not be a well-balanced individual. This is a choice. Summer and school holidays are times to catch up an do other things. Other compatible, secondary sports are soccer, hockey, water polo, surf (run, paddling, malibu board, swim), kayaking, rowing, orienteering, mt.biking. As long as some swimming and running are being done each week it might be possible to do a season of any of these sports and have it be a positive diversion.

Some exercise should be done just about every day during the holidays, even on trips away. Going for a run or ride is a great way to get out and have a look around. Get the maps out! A phone call in advance to a the swim club where the holiday will be taking place will usually be all it takes to be able to swim with a squad.

Group Sessions
Some kids will be there just to take part with no big aspirations. They should be encouraged to work on improving no matter what level. Run and bike sessions will separate the group unless done on a track. While trying to keep each individuals effort at the appropriate level, let good ones have the opportunity to extend themselves most of the time. The slower members of the group should not determine the pace for all.

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1 Response to Coaching Kids

  1. Ray Lichtwark says:

    Hello Scott, i have a triathlon magazine from July 1983 that has a feature on the San Diego triathlon which you won . the magazine says Vol 1, no 3 printed in Berkeley, if you want it i’ll send it to you.
    i hope you an Erin are well and, i guess as busy as ever.


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