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Kids Who Tri: Transforming Youth and Youth Sports Culture

Kids Who Tri: Transforming Youth and Youth Sports Culture

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Kids Who Tri: Transforming Youth and Youth Sports Culture

289 pagine
4 ore
Jul 29, 2019


Social scientist, parent, and sports enthusiast William Marsiglio champions the virtues of an emerging sport, a slice of American sports culture—youth triathlon. Kids Who Tri systematically explores the links between youth triathlon, models of youth sports, and child rearing and coaching philosophies, while offering readers an insider's view of the dynamic youth triathlon community. Drawing on interviews with parents, coaches, race directors, USA Triathlon staff, and young triathletes, as well as more than six years of personal observations as a "tri-dad," Marsiglio shows how embracing the multisport spirit teaches youth key life lessons while empowering them. He also reveals how youth triathlon has the potential to transform features of the American youth sports culture. This thought-provoking book challenges leaders in youth sports and fitness, education, and community development to join forces to make youth triathlon a mainstream sport in our schools and communities.
Jul 29, 2019

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Kids Who Tri - William Marsiglio

Kids Who Tri

Transforming Youth and Youth Sports Culture

William Marsiglio

Cover photo by Archi Trujillo

ISBN (Print Edition): 978-1-54397-687-8

ISBN (eBook Edition): 978-1-54397-688-5

© 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Praise for

Kids Who Tri: Transforming Youth and Youth Sports Culture

"Kids Who Tri invites you in with a firsthand look at the youth experience in the lifelong sport of triathlon and how it can transform our kids. William Marsiglio has provided parents with a blueprint to navigate the youth level of triathlon and shows how triathlon is not just a sport for adults to enjoy. Kids Who Tri provides our nation’s youth a roadmap to a sport that gives kids a sense of accomplishment from finishing their very first triathlon all the way to the pride they feel from being the best in the U.S. I wish my parents had a resource like this to lean on when I was just starting out in youth triathlons. I can’t recommend Kids Who Tri enough for families who are already involved in the sport as well as the first-time kids who are just learning how to swim, bike, and run. This book is a must read for any parent looking to dive deeper into the sport of kids triathlon." 

— Hunter Kemper (4x Olympic Triathlete, 5x IRONKIDS National Champion, USA Triathlon Hall of Famer)

"Written with both head and heart, Kids Who Tri serves as a primer for youth in triathlon. Marsiglio effectively blends science and passion as he shares a reservoir of knowledge, invaluable insights, and personal anecdotes from his vast experience. This book is both launching pad and didactic tool for any parent or race director involved in the introduction to, and support of, young athletes in the fast growing multisport. Marsiglio’s love of both the sport and his son shine through every page."

—Alicia DiFabio, Psy. D. (Best-Selling Author of Women Who Tri: A Reluctant Athlete’s Journey Into the Heart of America’s Greatest Obsession)

"Kids Who Tri is a great book for parents who are interested in having their kids develop and become successful not just in triathlons, but in life. Any parent who wants to give their child a chance for success should read this engaging book. Backed by extensive research and investigation into this sport as an author and parent, William Marsiglio shows parents in a detailed way how they can educate and inspire kids to develop a healthy set of life skills and habits that will influence them for a lifetime."

—Dr. Andrew Jacobs (Sport Psychologist, Host of Dr. Andrew Jacobs Sport Psychology Hour, Co-author of Just Let ‘Em Play: Guiding Parents, Coaches and Athletes thru Youth Sports,

"Based on interviews with parents, coaches, race directors, youth triathletes, and USA Triathlon staff, as well as years of first-hand observations in the trenches as a ‘tri-dad,’ Kids Who Tri provides an engaging and intimate overview of the exciting sport of youth triathlon. As a scholar who focuses on family health, William Marsiglio makes a compelling case that adult advocates for young people need to do more to promote youth triathlon for boys and girls from all backgrounds and abilities. This book asks us to rethink the culture of youth sports and see how triathlon, specifically, can help kids fundamentally change their outlook on life, health, and fitness in a positive way. It’s a ‘must-read’ for any parent or person who simply wants to help kids to a better life."

— Cherie Gruenfeld (13x Ironman Age Group World Champion, Founder & Director of Exceeding Expectations—a non-profit foundation for at-risk kids in San Bernardino, CA)

"Kids Who Tri provides a great roadmap or ‘State of the Union’ to understanding kids triathlon. The analysis of how it started, where it is now, how to get involved and be a part of the community, and Marsiglio’s reflections on how to grow the sport are valuable insights for not just kid’s triathlon, but our sport as a whole. Having grown up as a triathlete, I understand the unique challenges it provides to kids, coaches, parents, etc. I found myself reflecting on my own experiences and how my parents, team, and coach mainly learned through trial and error. The lessons portrayed in this book mirror what took us countless hours, days, months and years to figure out. Kids Who Tri lays the groundwork to inform the unknown, tackles the challenges that the sport faces, and suggests solutions for how to develop kid’s triathlon so that we can more effectively share the sport that I, and so many others, love and grew up loving."

—Ben Kanute (Olympian, Mixed Relay World Champion, 70.3 Champion, Triathlete)

"Kids Who Tri dives into the emerging culture of youth triathlon and its journey toward the mainstream. It explores how partnerships at the local, regional, and national levels are essential to growing triathlon for youth, while giving voice to the diverse perspectives in the multisport community. It is a fantastic resource not only for current triathlon enthusiasts, but also for aspiring youth and their families to jump into the world of swim, bike and run!"

— Rocky Harris (USA Triathlon CEO)

"Triathlon is such a wonderful sport for youth as it provides a multi-movement experience, while also developing resilience, commitment, and teaching young athletes to embrace the process of improvement. Kids Who Tri is not only a great guide for parents who know nothing about the sport but an excellent resource for elite-level athletes whose children may look at competition a little differently than they do. Get ready to swim, bike, and run!"

—John O’Sullivan (Founder, Changing the Game Project; Host, Way of Champions Podcast)

"Kids Who Tri is a compendium of everything a parent should know when launching a child into the sports of triathlon. William Marsiglio’s notion that triathlon transforms youth is not a platitude but a fact because it is a lifestyle of physical activity that helps set the stage for a productive, healthy life with well-developed time and project management skills. So much more than just a sport, Marsiglio leads you through the various programs, issues, and even emotions parents are likely to encounter whether their children are fun-loving adventurers who just want to dabble in triathlon or are focused swim-bike-run specialists who aspire to Olympic glory."  

—Melissa Merson (USAT certified youth coach, race director, & official)

Marsiglio’s contagious enthusiasm and ever developing understanding of the multidisciplinary sport of triathlon and its trimendous splash on our futures of tomorrow is illuminating, source-able, heartfelt, empathetic, and nourishment for the trifecta of the mind, body and soul.

—Coach Mo McCown (USAT certified youth coach, SLAP—Swim Like a Pro)

"Kids Who Tri is an important contribution to the current conversation on youth sports. Dr. Marsiglio explains, using first-hand examples and research-backed insights, how triathlon uniquely equips kids with the physical and mental tools they’ll need to thrive in tomorrow’s world. This book is for the parent who wants to gift his/her child with a life-long love of sport, challenge, and fitness."

—Joe Maloy (Olympian and World Champion Triathlete)

An informative guide full of important information and insights for those of us who participate in the exciting world of coaching or parenting triathlon kids. A must read primer for anyone considering coaching or parenting youth through the triathlon journey.

—Todd Waldner (Founder & USAT Level II Coach, iCAN Junior Triathlon Club)

"We should be alarmed that 84 percent of youth athletes quit playing sports by age 15, in part, because they can’t meet the time commitments, don’t have access to recreational sports as high schoolers, are unable to make competitive high school teams, or see organized sports as unattractive because they emphasize winning rather than participation. Kids Who Tri is the encyclopedia/solution/google/answer to get kids and keep kids on the right path to live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives. Along with the physical advantages, William Marsiglio shares the mental and maturing benefits of multisport activities. Rather than promoting triathlons as competitions, we stress the value of the camaraderie of training, feeling better physically and emotionally, and being fulfilled by crossing the finish line. The transformation of teenage kids through triathlons can be astonishing and stick with them through college and into adulthood. If we are serious about curing the health-care crisis, let’s collectively push for preventative maintenance? A lot of people doing a little is better than a couple of people doing a lot."

—Dan Engelhard ("You Against You," Founded High School Triathlon Club in 2009,, USAT Certified Coach)

"Wiliam Marsiglio’s book, Kids Who Tri is a classic example of the value of sports for young Americans. Too often, the pressures put on youngsters in team sports results in overwhelming dropout; thus cheating young people of the huge psychological, emotional, and physical benefits that sports participation provides."

—Fred C. Engh (Founder, National Alliance for Youth Sports)

Although I didn’t start triathlon until age 24, I believe triathlon is a great sport to start as a youth. I believe the best outcome for youth is to find health and happiness through sport. Triathlon is three sports in one. A child doesn’t become overworked, due to time constraints when trying to balance swimming, biking, and running.  William Marsiglio’s book is about youth triathletes, how to get involved, and how to grow in the community of triathlon. 

—Gwen Jorgensen (2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2x ITU World Champion, Triathlete)

To my son Phoenix and all the gritty kids (especially Nick Barnett) who embrace both the multisport spirit and the challenge of doing triathlon.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Setting the Stage

Chapter 2: The Landscape of the Sport

Chapter 3: Profiling Tri Kids

Chapter 4: Life Lessons and Skills

Chapter 5: Tips for Parents

Chapter 6: Tri Leaders

Chapter 7: Mainstreaming the Tri Spirit



I’ve had a blast being immersed in the youth triathlon community for the past six years—the last two and a half years actively working on this book. While I’ve done all of the writing, many people influenced how I developed this project. In particular, I want to thank the USA Triathlon staff, race directors, coaches, and youth triathletes who shared their time, thoughts, and feelings with me in our formal interviews. I’ve spoken informally to plenty of other people in the youth triathlon network who have sharpened my insights about this upbeat, devoted sports community. I owe a special thank you to Meg Duncan, Caryn Maconi, and Jessica Welk from the national USA Triathlon office for their incredible support. Each of them carefully helped me to discern the details and direction of USA Triathlon’s recent youth and high school initiatives. Meg and Jessica also referred participants to me from across the country who are devoted to the youth triathlon movement. I met many impressive tri enthusiasts from those contacts.

Two other special people I had the good fortune of meeting early in my journey into the youth triathlon community are Tom Gildersleeve and John Hovius. I interviewed both for this book, and I extensively discuss their views and contributions to the sport, so I’ll be brief here. I would be remiss, however, if I failed to acknowledge how inspirational they have been for me, first as a father trying to help his son navigate the triathlon scene and then as an author figuring out how to frame a book on youth triathlon.

Over the years, each has volunteered enormous amounts of time offering youth opportunities to learn about, experience, and fall in love with youth triathlon. On a personal note, they taught me a great deal about how the sport can and should be tailored for kids, my own included. Tom organized the first big race my son Phoenix ever did and has continued to sponsor numerous races that he enjoys. He also told me early on about John’s involvement in coaching and producing open water races for kids in Florida. Once I met John, it was clear that triathlon ruled his world. After getting to know John from the races he directed and working at one of his youth tri camps, I purposely arranged for him to be my first interview for this project. I knew our conversation would prepare me to move forward with my subsequent interviews.

In 2018 and 2019, my son and I got an intimate view of what it’s like to be part of a youth triathlon team, Triton Elite Multisport, passionately coached by Jennifer Hutchinson and assisted by Istvan Diego. Although the long drive severely limits our options to attend the weekly training sessions that occur in another city, we’ve enjoyed the espirit de corps that emerges from whatever clinics and race day sessions we experience. My appreciation for the youth triathlon community and my desire to advocate for the sport has been deepened by watching how this team’s coaches, parents, and kids support each other. That energy was on display most vividly when Jennifer, Istvan, and other parents rallied to provide emotional and generous practical support to Phoenix and his teammate, whose bikes were once stolen from a transition area overnight prior to a morning race.

From a writing standpoint, I owe much to Mark Malatesta, my supportive writing coach, who nudged me to broaden my analytic frame to examine youth triathlon in reference to youth sports culture more generally. Without his encouragement, I’m afraid I may not have ventured down the valuable path that led me to explore how youth triathlon both challenges and reinforces recent trends that mark an increased specialization and commercialization of youth sports. In addition, I’m indebted to Melissa Merson, who provided invaluable commentary on an earlier draft of this book that helped me better understand the organizational landscape of triathlon.

Another critical set of people that helped me execute this project includes the 15 students who served as my research assistants for several months at a time. In alphabetical order they include Ali Band, Matthew Blum, Kara Hall-Brown, Arika Carey, Marissa Cassaway, Elijah Gavarrete, Jacqueline Hoza, Tessa Melson, Breeanne Nastav, Hannah Neff, Heidi Neff, Erin Nelson, Mehrsa Razavi, Zane Wilson, and Aaron Winer. These students were meticulous in transcribing interviews, completing literature searches, securing data from national websites on select topics, editing my prose to make it more accessible to a general audience, and proofing the final drafts. In a few instances, they persuaded me to see how my insights about youth triathlon could be connected to themes associated with issues related to popular culture, health/fitness, and sports.

I’m also deeply appreciative of the many wonderful friends I’ve made because I got involved in the sport. Without question, Jay Blankenfeld is at the top of that list and deserves to be singled out. Jay is a fellow tri-parent who has been generous with his time and ideas about what youth triathlon means to him, his wife, and his three triathlete kids. He has become a trusted confidant eager to debate the challenges of shepherding kids through the maze of races and training. When I entered the sport as a parent, Jay had already accumulated some experience taking his kids to races and being part of a team. Over time we evolved into an efficient tag team, providing each other with information updates, commentary, cathartic and practical support, and much more. This partnership has taught me intimate lessons about the value of the youth triathlon community and a style of fathering that accentuates nurturance.

Beginning in 2018, our partnership produced a special ritual for our kids: an informal weekend training session (usually Sunday mornings at the crack of dawn) that incorporated our kids as well as some of their friends. They came to call themselves the Suncrew. The sessions, which initially began as running sessions, evolved to include cycling and were relocated from the track to my home and neighborhood. Occasionally, we extended these workouts to other days and times when we organized the kids for an open water swim at Jay’s quarry. The practices reinforced how sharing the suffering side by side with friends can be a huge motivator for many kids, even if they are not part of a formal team. Jay and I experimented with various schemes to motivate the Suncrew, including their use of a huge inflatable water slide that I had rented for my son’s eleventh birthday party the day before. Being involved in providing this energetic group of kids with opportunities to have fun practicing their triathlon skills and bonding has been one of the highlights of my journey into the youth triathlon world. I trust that this book will inspire other parents to create similar opportunities for their kids and their friends.

To play it safe, I will not try to list all those other parents and tri enthusiasts, past and present, who have partnered with me to navigate the youth triathlon scene. I do not wish to overlook anyone who I’ve met through the sport and who has made a difference in my life or in my son Phoenix’s development. If we’ve shared information about coaches, race venues, clinics, training sessions, equipment, play opportunities, eating arrangements, or travel plans, then you matter to me. Most importantly, if you matter to me, then I am grateful to you for influencing and contributing to my perspective on youth triathlon culture while inspiring me to write this book.

I welcome feedback on this book as well as additional insights from parents, coaches, race directors, triathletes, and others. Please contact me at:

July, 2019


Public debate about children’s dispositions, beliefs, and lifestyle choices is pervasive in our culture today. These debates often trigger related arguments about the best parenting, teaching, and coaching styles. Stereotypes of entitled or lazy youth abound, while critics comment on how and to what degree parents and other adults are being neglectful or overinvolved in children’s lives.

This book explores how adults can use sports to promote young people’s health and fitness—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Specifically, this book explores and champions an emerging sport, a slice of American sports culture—youth triathlon. When used effectively, adults can use triathlon to empower our youth and help them develop invaluable personal attributes and life skills.

Youth triathlon is a fun sport, but it’s also demanding and unique in that it’s a multisport. Most simply, youth triathlon, like the adult version, is a race that requires participants to swim, bike, and run specified distances in succession with transitions in between. In an era in which most sports focus on specialization, youth triathlon is a multisport that addresses significant concerns about overuse injuries and offers a more inclusive approach to sports in relation to talent and gender.

For adults who are looking for ways to help children develop their bodies, minds, and hearts, youth triathlon represents a timely and creative alternative for enhancing child development. Youth triathlon can cultivate vital life lessons for youth related to developing:

expressions of self-discipline,

paying attention to details and planning,

coping with unexpected circumstances,

grit and resolve,

creativity and experimentation,

time management and punctuality,

friendship, and more.

Some of the life lessons I highlight are tied directly to the multisport nature of triathlon and how it is organized; others are connected to the diverse venues that distinguish individual races. Many lessons emerge out of the esprit de corps that permeates the community of adults and youth who are intimately involved in youth triathlon training and racing. Triathlons for kids do not happen in a vacuum. They are affected by prevailing ideologies and discourses about child development and child-rearing practices. Thus, the cultural messages that target youth en masse are anchored to larger trends influenced by major social institutions related to schools, families, work, faith, and media.

Despite being a big advocate for youth triathlon, I make no claim that this sport, or any sport, is the only or the ideal path that all youth should take to learn the life lessons I discuss.¹ Kids vary widely in their dispositions, preferences, and aptitudes. Those who are not into sports, for example, can pursue other activities that will enable them to learn these life lessons too. Likewise, active kids who make wise choices for physical activity can be fit and healthy without participating in organized sports. I also don’t discount the possibility that some kids who invest too much time, energy, and emotion into youth triathlon may experience negative outcomes. But this can be said of kids’ involvement in all types of competitive activities. Participating in pressure-filled events can cause kids stress that prompts them to cope in unhealthy ways. Moreover, pressure from coaches, teammates, parents, and friends can exacerbate these problems. On balance, however, I make the case that the culture and sport of youth triathlon has much to offer kids and parents by way of fun, fitness, and personal development. This is especially true when kids pursue the sport with a balanced mindset and are socially supported without undue pressure.

My main goal is to educate and inspire adults who want to help children develop a set of healthy habits that they will practice throughout their lives. Some of these folks are parents whose kids have yet to participate in a triathlon race. Obviously, if parents are unfamiliar with the sport, they cannot encourage their kids to try it out. My solution is to take these parents backstage so they can see what the youth triathlon world is like and what it has to offer their children. If they come to see the sport as I do, many will seek out opportunities for their kids to explore it. I have also framed my message to appeal to people like myself who already have some experience with youth triathlon activities.

In addition, school superintendents, principals, and athletic directors are particularly well-positioned to make a difference in providing young people with more school-based options to pursue triathlon. Many have misconceptions about how the sport is likely to interfere with their other school sports programs. My mission is to show them how triathlon’s unique features are consistent with a school philosophy that seeks to empower students while encouraging them to adopt healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.

For all young athletes and parents, my book illustrates the life lessons and personal growth opportunities the sport can generate. Triathlon offers distinct challenges for young athletes as well as for the parents and other adults who support them. Even seasoned veterans in the youth triathlon world should benefit from what I have to share. Ideally, they will see in a fresh, broader, and sharper light the subtle and not so subtle ways their involvement with triathlon shapes what they and others have to offer socially, emotionally, and psychologically.

Ultimately, eight basic questions guide my quest to showcase the youth triathlon community and grow the sport.

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