Developing young athlete rewarding and challenging. I always focus on the good moments, there are many times coaching kids can be difficult. But we all coach because we believe we can make a difference.
As coaches, we all have those "great coaching moments." Most of the time, the rewarding moments are the moments that most people don't know about. It's not about podium finishes, or PBs, but it's about seeing growth in an individual and knowing that you helped them along.
#12 "I am NOT a runner!" She said with a pre-teen attitude, almost daring me to ask her to run.
Clearly she didn't know who she was dealing with....
Teaching kids to discover their inner fire is one of the things I enjoy most about working with youth and juniors. It can be challenging and frustrating, but is also very rewarding. I remember meeting her for the first time. She was absolutely beautiful and had no idea, she wanted to be at practice- but she didn't. Clearly on the fence about this whole triathlon thing, she made it very clear MULTIPLE TIMES that she was NOT a runner.
It was our first practice, she was walking along rambling on about not being a runner. I convinced her to run with me for just 10 seconds. "Lets just run for 10 seconds, you can do anything for 10 seconds," I said. She did, but when we stopped, she became concerned about how hard she was breathing and the pounding in her chest. I explained to her that her body was working hard to provide oxygen to her blood. She was curious about the weird sensations, but seemed to understand and be less afraid.
The weeks progressed and she had now become a self-motivated run/walker. Always chatting it up with the girls at practice. "I am NOT a runner" turned into "UGGGH, ok I'll run for a minute, but just a minute." One day we were cruising along and there was a small group of lolly-gagging boys about to finish. So I decided to challenge her to race ahead to beat them to the line. I don't think I had finished my sentence before she was off and running. Clearly she had been thinking the same thing. She had a determined, fierce look. Who knew she was so fast! She beat the boys, who immediately picked up the pace when they realized a "girl" was hot on their trail. She was shocked, I was shocked, her mom was shocked. But that was the moment, that she became a runner. Over the last 3 years, she has developed into a runner. Since then she has completed du-athlons, participated on the middle school track team and plays Field Hockey.
So many youth sport programs are focused on finding the early talent and pushing them, ignoring the athletes who need to develop at a different pace. Athlete development is more than just athletics. Biological age, developmental age, social and emotional states vary from kid to kid. The ability to be able to adapt and respond to these various stages (regardless of their age) is part of the art of coaching. This type of work is one of the most rewarding aspect of coaching, but also easily overlooked. Planting a seed with an athlete and watching it grow, that's one of the reasons I coach.
My hope is that she will have many coaches that continue to help her develop and grow over the years. But most importantly that she will always be a runner.
#11 Taking the development team athletes to Youth and Junior Nationals
Every year the first weekend in August, youth and junior athletes from around the country come to West Chester, Ohio. It is a fun, jam packed weekend. For some of the kids, this is considered their "big" race of the season. It can be quite intimidating, as over 1500 racers come from around the country to participate. I've learned over the years that it's not a good match for every athlete. So I try to be careful on who I recommend to attend. Those who do attend must have a solid swimming background and be confident in the water. The majority the kids races here in Ohio are a little more than waist deep, so it's important that understand there is no bottom as a "back-up" for those with less swim experience. It's not a good place for someone who gets overwhelmed easily. But for those who do go- it's like a giant party. It's so much fun to watch the kids race.
A couple of years ago, one of athletes was especially nervous about the race. We went over to the venue while everyone else was at the race meetings. We carefully walked through the course, I answered all of his questions and we checked things out head to toe. It was so calm and peaceful, but that was all he needed to be ready to race!
Even though this is a "National Championship," athletes of all ability levels can race in the amateur event. It's a pretty big deal and its a great step for the kids to see how they match up to more completion. I will say that over the last few years, I've noticed that the majority of kids are listed with HPT's from across the country. There are more new teams each year and the race is getting more competitive each year. This event also gives the kids a chance to see the elite races. This is part of the progression for the athlete to understand the difference between drafting and non-draft events.
I especially enjoy watching many of the Junior Elites from other teams race and watching them progress as well. It's amazing to see how much they grow each year. They are such amazing kids, and it is pretty cool when the junior elites take time to stop and pose with the kids. The Junior Elites are like celebrities is the younger kids who follow the sport. I really appreciate how my parents organize everything so well, we always have plenty of food and drinks to share. Lots of learning takes place each year for the kids and Nationals is a great place to pull it all together.
#10 The day we took this picture.
Prior to this year, I had been coaching kids in small groups, and never “formally” came out as a team. I was really nervous for some reason. This was the year I decided to come out as a youth and junior coach. The team name was 161 East. The next year I rebranded, which caused all kinds of issues with team suits., but it just didn't feel right.
One of my parents took the picture. it was a really fun night doing our first “team” photos. I remember how happy the kids were. But especially how nervous I was getting started as a coach and "coming out." I was so thankful to have had a chance to meet other coaches who were working with kids. It gave me the permission to move forward, even though I really didn’t need it.
Weird how we put limits on ourselves.
#9 The day she didn't get lapped out.
One of the kindest spirits I had ever met. She lived two hours away from me and reached out to me about coaching. We bonded pretty quickly. She had left a sport she had been involved in for years and wanted to try something new. She told me she was scared to call me and it took a lot of courage.
I worked with her to get her started in triathlon, she trained with me all summer and had many successful races. Here parents were super supportive of her decision to change sports and it was a joy to watch her grow. Literally an energizer bunny, she always pushes through tough events.
When decided to give draft-legal racing a try, she signed up for the F-1 race in Detroit for a "test" race. F1's are the entry level events for athletes moving into the draft-legal format. She was terrified she was going to get lapped out. When she crossed the finished line, she was sobbing tears of joy.. She had reached her goal We both cried tears of joy when she crossed the finish line- thankful she didn’t get lapped out. Ultimately she decided to stick with non-draft racing. She has been an active member with RWB, she started her own high school training group with a group of friends and has completed multiple triathlons. Now she is in college, still training and racing. She is one of us.
#8 No Parents in Transition!
Love it or hate it, but one of the common rules among youth triathlon coaches is NO PARENTS IN TRANSITION. Why you might ask? Because it’s not the parent’s sport- it’s the kid's sport.
At practice, we spend a lot of time working on transitions. On race day it’s time for the kids to shine and show off their skills. The learn self-reliance, responsibility, practice "planning" and potentially-- logical consequences if they forget something important.
My team gets a great sense of pride of knowing that they get to go in on the own. Their parents are beaming with pride and enjoy watching them figure it out. It's so cute. Teammates get to talk and help each other. It's good for everyone.
Allowing the kids this opportunity teaches them to be responsibility for their own equipment and allows them to use what they've learned. It shows them that we believe in their abilities. It is an all around great way to build their self-esteem.
At most of the local races, there are more parents in the transition area than kids! My kids notice, and stand a little taller.
Besides, there is a ton of gear that athletes need to pack for races. Do you really want that responsibility?
This tough girl sets up and breaks down her transition area. There is no way she'd let her mom anywhere near her set-up!
#7 The Triathlon Family.
One of the cool things about being a triathlete is the camaraderie among participants. We often see many of the same people over and over at the same races, on bike rides and in various places. This is especially true with the families who attend the Elite Cup races. We get to know each other, the athletes, the coaches and are all brought together by our love for the sport. This creates a lot of connections with people in various places.
Rio Para Olympic Triathlon Gold medal winner, Grace Norman is pictured to the right, I’m friends with her coach and knew Grace lived only a couple of towns over from two of my athletes. Ben, one of our youth elite racers was selected to interview an Olympian by USAT and were matched up to Grace. She even invited them to join her for training sometime. Pretty cool experience for them.
#6 Teaching kids how to ride and then explore on their bikes!
Sharing the wonders of cycling with kids is a blast. It's very important for youth coaches to teach bike handling skills. This includes the basics of breaking, gearing, cornering, riding close together and bumping as well as playing games that get them really comfortable on their bike. I won’t say it’s easy, but it is a lot of fun. In the beginning, and can be a little sketchy- but once they get the hang of their bikes and have good control, the world is your oyster and it is incredible to watch them experience it. It's always important to keep the kids in a controlled environment, free of cars and other hazards. We are lucky to have miles and miles of bike trails to explore. It's also fun to have destination rides, our favorite spots are Tuesday Taco Rides or trips to the ice cream shop. I remember one of my athletes shouted out randomly at practice "I feel so strong when I ride!" Passing on that gift, is pretty cool.
What a beautiful day. We practiced starts, open water swimming, wet suit removal and swim-bike bricks. It was one of the first summer like days and it was great to be outside. The kids really bonded that day and we all enjoyed being together.
#4 Getting random texts from parents about their "Tri-Crazed" kids.
This athlete's enthusiasm and love for triathlon seeps out of him. He loves his team suit. Even representing the team suit at Dicks. I know it's silly, but this type of random text and knowing this kid like I do....puts a huge smile on my face.
#3 "Coach Kim, I feel so strong when I ride my bike." -She randomly shouted out at practice one day.
This 13 year old girl is a really strong swimmer. I coached her for a couple of years in as a single-sport athlete and then she moved over to triathlon. Like most swimmers, she has a HUGE engine for cycling, but just didn't know it. This conditioning creates STRONG cyclists, once they get comfortable on the bike- they can put the pedal down and fly! Triathlon empowers kids by teaching self-confidence and self-reliance... It also helps athletes discover new talents
#2 when you work with kids, sometimes you don’t realize how much of an IMPACT you have on them until you see things like this.
1) Watching the athletes race, knowing they are scared and helping them prepare to dig deeper.
We often have team huddles before races, or those quiet moments one-on-one when they encourage each other to just simply believe and trust the process.