What To Expect At A Youth Triathlon


Are you a fan of triathlons? It’s never too early to start introducing your kids to it too!

It could be something fun to bond over, as well as an excellent way to promote fitness to your loved ones from a young age.

The good news is that there are plenty of events for your kids to take part in. They’re practically the same as an adult event, but there are some small differences you should be aware of.

Here’s what to expect at a youth triathlon.

How Do Youth Triathlons Different from Adult Tris?

The only real difference between an adult triathlon and a youth triathlon is that the distances are shorter in youth triathlons.

The events are the same, and take place in the same order. But because kids or teenagers typically haven’t been training as much as adults, it’s necessary to decrease the distances a little.

Typically, youth triathlons are also less serious about gear. As adults, we tend to kit ourselves out with pricey bikes, compression gear, fancy wetsuits, and other accessories.

Youth triathlons usually have much less focus on what the participants are wearing and using, and more focus on just doing it!

How Far Do Children Have to Swim, Run & Cycle?

Youth triathlon distances vary by the age of the participants and the experience of the participants. Keep in mind that although these are fairly standard, some events may have their own distances.

Here’s a quick rundown of the categories you can expect to see:


This is where enthusiastic kids will begin. It’s split into two age groups so whatever age your kid is when they become interested in triathlons, there’ll be an appropriate distance for them.

  • Age 8 to 10: 54.6-yard swim, 1-mile bike, 710-yard run.
  • Age 11 to 14: 218-yard swim, 3.7-mile bike, 1.25-mile run.


Tristar and novice are actually pretty interchangeable. Some events may use the word “novice”, while others would use “tristar”.

Tristar is split into four categories instead of two, though. This helps your child to progress more steadily, whereas novice is a bit of a bigger jump.

  • Age 8: 54.6-yard swim, 1-mile bike, 710-yard run.
  • Age 9 to 10: 218-yard swim, 3.7-mile bike, 1.25-mile run.
  • Age 11 to 12: 164-yard swim, 1.8-mile bike, 0.8-mile run.
  • Age 13 to 14: 328-yard swim, 4.6-mile bike, 1.5-mile run.

Youth & Junior

The Youth and Junior category is for teens of 15 to 19 years old. This vent consists of a 437.5-yard swim, a 9.3-mile bike, and a 3.1-mile run.

How to Choose the Right Triathlon for Your Child

How do you know which triathlon category is right for your child? If your child has never done a triathlon before, the first thing to consider is your child’s age.

The categories are split up by age and based on an average distance that’s appropriate for a child of that age. If your child is 8 or 9, they’ll obviously have to begin in the 8 to 10-year category.

If your child is an accomplished triathlete or has super skills, the age-based distances might not be challenging enough for them.

You’ll need to consult the organizers of each event if you want to move your kid up a category. Some will allow it, but it won’t be acceptable in all races.

Also, check-in with your kid! If your child loves the run but hates the swim, it may be better to choose a shorter swim distance. Find out what their thoughts are.

If they really despise one of the sports, you could consider switching to a duathlon (no swim) or an aquathlon (no bike) instead.

What Does My Child Need for a Youth Triathlon?

Although gear is less important in a youth triathlon, your kid will need certain equipment in order to be able to compete in the race.

Swim Gear

Youth triathlons typically don’t use wetsuits. All they’ll need is a swimsuit they’re comfortable in, goggles, and a swim cap.

Make sure that the swimsuit is skin-tight and doesn’t have any loose bits that will flap in the wind or drag your kid down in the water.

Put some effort into choosing the right pair of goggles for your child. They should fit tightly but not be so tight that they cause pain. A good seal around their eyes is important.

Youth triathlons’ swim legs are usually done in a pool and not in open water. This is important for safety but also easier for kids to manage. Darker tinted goggles are a good idea to prevent the glare from bright pool bottom and surface.

A swim cap is also a good idea. They’ll keep dirt and debris out of your kid’s hair, protect their hair from chlorine, and, if you choose a bright color, you’ll be able to pick them out of the crowd easily!

Be aware that some swim caps are made from latex, which can cause allergies. If your kid has sensitive skin, you may need to choose a silicone cap or a different material.

Bike Gear

Obviously, a bike is necessary. At this stage, your child should just be using a bike that they’re comfortable with, without worrying about fancy features. We feel that a hybrid or mountain bike would work well for a triathlon at this level.

Unlike adult triathlons, your kid won’t need special cycling shoes. Kids’ bicycles don’t often allow for clipless shoes, anyway! A simple pair of running shoes will suffice.

Don’t forget to include a shirt that they can wear, either with their swimsuit bottom or over their swimsuit for the cycling leg. Moisture-wicking, quick-drying material is a good idea.

Lastly, but most importantly, a bike helmet. Do not neglect this piece of equipment! Your kid most likely won’t be allowed to participate without one. Anyway, protecting their head should be the first priority.

Running Gear

All your kid will need for the run is comfortable clothing and the right running shoes. It’s not likely that your kid will need as much fancy shoe technology as an adult, but they still need a durable, comfortable, and high-quality pair of shoes.

There should be enough space between your kid’s toes and the front of the shoe to fit a thumb in there. Most kids will be happy with a pair of neutral running shoes, but if they happen to have very flat feet a pair of stability shoes may work better for them.

If you aren’t sure about the flat-footedness, have your kid try a pair of neutral and a pair of stability shoes on and let you know which is more comfortable.

Apart from shoes, dress your kid in a light, quick-drying pair of shorts and a soft, comfortable shirt.

For More Experienced Kids

Once your kid is past beginner level, they may want to upgrade their gear. The first thing you can look at upgrading is their clothing.

A tri suit is an outfit specifically designed for triathlons. They come in one-piece or two-piece designs, and they’re designed specifically to be worn in every leg of the race.
Tri suits are made to avoid chafing, to increase streamlining, and often include small pockets for snacks. They also make your kid look a little more like a pro!

If you really want to make your child feel like a pro athlete, get him or her a triathlon race belt. They’ll be able to attach their number to their belt, as well as store small items like a water bottle or a quick snack.

A wetsuit could be a useful swimming tool as your kid moves onto events with open water swim legs. It improves buoyancy in the water and also keeps the swimmer warmer. Double-check the triathlon rules before, though, as they don’t all allow them.

As they improve, it may be worth looking into switching out their bike pedals for clipless pedals and buying clipless shoes. These are shoes that can be clipped into the pedals for a more powerful riding experience, although we only recommend this for older teenagers.

Other useful accessories include elasticized shoelaces, cycling gloves, and sunglasses.

Is Participating in an Intense Sport Like a Triathlon Bad for Kids?

Taking part in events like triathlons can be an excellent activity for kids. Kids should do physical activity. A triathlon is ideal as it consists of three different disciplines, so your kid shouldn’t get bored.

The distances in a youth triathlon aren’t long enough for a kid to be physically overwhelmed. In fact, they’re more likely to become fitter and healthier when taking part in triathlons regularly. As time goes, they may even develop a particular enjoyment for one specific discipline.

There are only a few cases in which a triathlon may be a bad thing for a kid. One, when they don’t want to do it but their parents want them to. And two, when they’re being pushed to perform by their parents.

The goal of a youth triathlon is to get out, have fun, and finish the race. It’s not about time or PRs yet.

How to Prepare/Train for the Race

Youth triathlons aren’t focused on time. The goal is simply to finish the race and enjoy it. Time comes in at the Youth & Junior stage, where the teens may be getting serious about triathlon as a sport.

It’s a basic requirement that your child is able to complete the distances in the various disciplines before entering a youth triathlon.

Swim Leg

If your kid loves being in the water, they may have no issues training or preparing for the swim leg. But the swim can also be scary for kids who aren’t water babies.

Most youth triathlons’ swim legs take place in a pool. Get your kid into the pool and do a few test swims, at least a few weeks before their event. Work on their stroke, their breathing, and hitting that distance.

If the race happens to take place in open water, you’ll need to get your kid into the open water for training. Many kids who train in a clear, sparkling pool can freak out when they find themselves in murky, dark open water!

Bike Leg

Distance is what you should be aiming for in your kid’s bicycle training. Ride along with your kid, but be prepared to go slowly so they learn how to pace themselves and keep their energy up for the second half of the bride.

Encourage them not to sprint ahead from the start! It may be tempting for them to go all-out, but as they understand the feeling of running out of energy halfway, they should learn to keep it steady.

We recommend taking at least a weekly ride with your kid to make sure they can handle the distance easily.

Run Leg

Like the other legs, your kid will need to be able to run the distance easily. Work on hitting the distance consistently in the weeks before the event.

Just like the bike ride, work on keeping your kid at a pace that’s consistent and won’t leave them with no energy halfway through the run.


Don’t forget to teach your kid how to transition easily and quickly! Learning this at an early age will also set them up for transition success later on if they decide to pursue triathlon as an adult.

Essentially, it’s all about being organized. This is actually a great skill to teach your kid in life, never mind a triathlon!

When Should Your Kid Start Training?

Just like adults, kids need a bit of training before they go into their event. Six to eight weeks should be sufficient for kids who are already fairly active.

Three or four days a week or training is ideal. It depends, to an extent, on your child’s fitness level. Time goals are much less important as a kid, so initial training should simply be focused on achieving the distance and not a particular time.

That being said, every kid is different! You know your child best, so make sure their training works for them and they enjoy it.

If they’re losing interest, losing energy, or not enjoying the training, you may need to adjust it to something more suitable for them.

How Can Parents Help Children Prepare Physically and Mentally?

Supporting your kid is super important. If you want to make sure your kid is in prime condition to have a great event, here’s a couple of things to implement in their life.


Many people forget that rest is as important as training! In this case, we’re talking specifically about sleep.

Kids need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. If your child isn’t getting enough, they’ll lose motivation and feel physically worse.

Set a bedtime and stick to it. Make sure that your child’s room is conducive to a good night’s rest. It should be quiet, dark, and at a good temperature.

Also, make sure your kid has everything they need for a good night. A glass of water next to their bed, their favorite fluffy toy, and perhaps a bedtime story can do wonders for getting good rest!


Keep your child properly hydrated so that their body is in optimal condition. This means water! No soft drinks, fruit juices, or unhealthy, sugar-filled juice boxes.

If your kid isn’t a fan of plain old water, try carbonated water with flavored tonic. This mix contains much less sugar than a regular soft drink and it’s more exciting by far than plain water for a kid.

From the age of 8, your kid should be drinking 8 glasses of water a day.


No junk food! There’s no need to give up every food your kid likes, but try to avoid sugary, processed foods at least in the week leading up to the race.

Remind your kid that they’re eating like an athlete if they start to miss the sugar rush! In fact, proper nutrition should be implemented from a young age, so this is an excellent way to get your kid into healthy habits.

There’s no need to count calories or anything like that. Just make sure your child is eating whole foods, a good mix of carbohydrates and protein, and eating three meals a day.


It’s the ideal time to teach your kid how to visualize! Make a game out of them visualizing every part of the race. They can fall asleep going through the race in their mind.

Although it can be hard for kids to understand, it could give them an excellent foundation for mental strength later on.

What to Expect on Race Day

Try to arrive a little early so you don’t have to rush through setting up. Take your time helping your child lay out their transition area, and if you have time you can even take a quick walk around the course.

Make sure you check-in at the appropriate time and don’t forget! Get your child ready by sticking their number to their belt or getting their number inked on their arm and leg.

Your child is likely to be nervous, so stay calm, support them where you can, and help them navigate the process as easily as possible.

Before You Sign Your Kid Up for a Race

You can enter your child into a youth triathlon from the age of 7.

But there’s little to no information out there about what this kind of sport can do to still-developing bones. So if your child is skinny or hasn’t quite hit their growth spurt yet, it’s a good idea to get your child assessed by a pediatrician first.

It’s Not the Olympics!

Parents, it’s awesome to have active, happy kids who want to take part in sporting events, especially if you love the event yourself!

But it’s highly important that you keep your excitement under control. While your kid will need to feel your support, there’s a fine line between excitement and being overbearing.

Don’t scream at your kid while they’re doing their thing. Shouting encouragement can help, but do it in such a way that you’re not getting hysterical.

If you take their sport too seriously, there’s a high chance of your child feeling pressured. This often leads to a loss of enjoyment in the sport, as there’s too much pressure to perform and not enough space to have fun.

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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.