Preparing Kids for Their First Triathlon


Triathlons can seem daunting, but they are simply three different activities done consecutively. The nature of participating in a swim, then a bike, then a run is exactly what kids love. Here are suggestions for how you can sort out the equipment and skill requirements of youth triathlon and help your kid to prepare for a fun and successful experience.

Equipment Basics

Although some kids race with expensive bikes and sleek tri-suits, none of this is required for your kids to enjoy their first triathlon experience.

You will want the following equipment:

  • Swim suit
  • Goggles
  • Bike (in good working order)
  • Bike helmet (approved for cycling)
  • Running shoes

Other optional equipment includes a swim cap, a race belt and elastic “speed laces.”

Skills Basics

It will be important for your kid to have enough skills to be able to navigate through a youth-oriented triathlon safely and confidently. If not, wait to sign up until your child is ready so that they have a positive first experience that leaves them wanting to do it again.

Minimum skills:

  • Can swim the race distance
  • Can handle a bike safely (braking, steering, mounting, dismounting, climbing, descending)
  • Likes to run
  • Can put on a bike helmet and running shoes

Swim Preparation

Before signing up for a youth triathlon (do not sign up for an adult tri), look for a race with an appropriate swim distance. For triathletes aged 7-10, swim distances should range from 50 – 100 yards/meters.  Pool swims are less stressful than lake swims. Once you have picked the race, have your child practice swimming the distance and take lessons if needed to acquire the confidence for the race.

Bike Preparation

Fun family bike rides develop good riding skills. Braking is a skill requiring practice. When your young rider can control their speed, carefully try some easy uphills and downhills. The ability to mount and dismount a bike is something that elite triathletes practice regularly and kids will need help mastering.

Run Preparation

Kids are natural at running. Go over how to pace in a race so that they don’t tear off at a max sprint and then walk a large portion of the run.

Transition Preparation

Practice putting shoes onto wet feet without socks; practice pulling on a race belt or t-shirt and learn how to put on a bike helmet without help. On race day, they may have to set up their transition spot without you at their side, so help them to practice this at home before you go.

Triathlons are a wonderful way for kids to be active in three different sports and kids love the variety. The Chicago area has many youth-specific triathlons and “Splash and Dash” (swim-run). Ultimately, your goal is to have fun with your kids through a sport that they will be able to enjoy for a lifetime.


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