Kids inspired by one of the world’s fastest-growing sports tell Kelly Crane how training and competing in biathlon and triathlon events helps build more than just stamina and muscles
Beyond the playing field, the life skill of self-confidence that kids gain from competitive sport can be tangibly translated into improved academic performance and better relationships with friends and family.
Dubai-based Warren Van Der Merwe wholeheartedly agrees. Managing director of Super Sports Academies Dubai, a collective sports company offering lessons, training and events for little (and big) people, Van Der Merwe believes he is privileged to watch youngsters in action.
A particular favourite is the triathlon series. The sport is getting older and more popular in the UAE but the competitors are getting younger.
“Seeing juniors cross the finish line in first or last place is a priceless feeling,” says Van Der Merwe. “It makes you feel proud that you have been able to put on an event which allows them to participate in something they enjoy doing. For them to wake up so early on a weekend it takes a lot of dedication, so it is a humbling feeling knowing you are organising an event and so many juniors are turning up.”
Many of the races start at 7am which means setting an alarm for around 5.30am on a Friday or Saturday morning after a long week in the classroom.
“It’s a great feeling and I am proud so many of them make the effort,” he says. “All you can hope for is that they continue to exercise in the years to come and look back at all the events with fond memories.”
Anybody can be a triathlete or biathlete, if you prefer to skip one discipline, especially in the UAE. For kids it means working on the basics – running, swimming and cycling – things most kids are taught early on as a rule. Don’t be put off if your sprog never requested a bike for his/her birthday, hiring is easy and economical.
No grotty public swimming baths or giant hills to climb either, the UAE boast fabulous conditions for open water swimming, riding and running.
Triathlon opens a window into another world of challenge, competition, achievement, exercise and maybe a few tears, for kids and adults alike.
Super Sports run events open to people from as young as eight to 98 and November’s installment takes place on the 9th at 7am at Madinat Jumeirah’s Mina A’Salam hotel beach.
The Super Sprint is 200m/375m swim, 2.5km run where those 12 years and under will swim 200m and those above 375m swim. Sprint is 750m swim and 5km run and Olympic is 1.5km swim and 10km run. Team relay is open in all categories.
“So often events are only tailored for adults and their children have to sit on the sideline and watch their parents participate,” says Van Der Merwe. “Our events encourage the whole family to get involved – whether they are doing the event for the first time or are seasoned campaigners, there is a distance or event for all ages to compete in.”
Forget the intimidation, lose the worry and have faith in those good old runners. Why not sign up with the your little athlete?
A gradual build up of stamina but mostly confidence, those keen can effortlessly fill every weekend until next summer. A jam-packed schedule from super-sprint to Ironman distance, the UAE boasts near-perfect conditions for both training and competition.
Whether sprint (750m swim/20km bike/5km run), Olympic (1.6km swim/40km bike/10km run) or Ironman races (3.8km swim/180km bike/full marathon), those starting out, starting again or breaking records, triathlon is accessible.
You don’t need all the ‘gear’. In fact a swimming costume/trunk, sports t-shirt, swimming hat, goggles, towel and a household washing up bowl (to fill with water to rinse your sandy feet) is all you need to get started.
Forget the idea you’re on your own, the triathlete community is a big family. No matter if you’re competing locally or elsewhere in the world, the community is lending support.
“In every race there is a junior improving on their last performance, which is great because you get to see how they develop over the season,” he says. “The excitement in their faces and body language when they set a new personal best is priceless.”
Unlike academic work or the arts, sports are usually played in groups, which provide social support from teammates, family, friends and even fans.
Father Stuart Parker, 42, says his two sons started competing aged six and nine and both haven’t looked back – unless it’s to see who’s on their tail in the race. “Nothing builds confidence in kids better than sport,” he says. “It gives them something to work towards and focus on. But better than that it gets them outside in the fresh air. They are keeping fit, experiencing healthy competition and interacting with nature and the environment around them. That is important, especially in Dubai.”
The experience of watching other athletes excel also helps kids to build up a mental imagery of success.
Distances are shortened at Super Sports events to accommodate everyone.
“We make them accessible,” says the South African. “That way it gives them a sporting chance. We also offer age group categories relative to their ages in two year increments so that they also have a chance of winning an age group category and need not worry about the older kids or adults.”
Safety is paramount and as children have a habit of not being fully aware or switched on about the ins and outs of a new sport, everything is covered at a briefing.
“Children may not fully understand all the complexities or consequences of their actions when participating in an event with many others out on the course at the same time,” adds Van Der Merwe. “So it’s important they are briefed before each race and if they have to make way for older and faster competitors then they need to do so.”
Overall, kids and triathlons or aquathons are a great combination.
It’s the best feeling when a 10-year-old comes up to you and says “thank you for today’s race, I had a lot of fun”. That makes it all worthwhile.”
Meet the sister triathletes…
Australian sisters Siena, 13, and Angelica Gordon, 11, say they never miss a race!
What age did you do your first race? 10
How did it make you feel? Exhausted!
Were you proud? Yes, mostly proud that I finished.
Is it hard to get up so early in the morning? It was at first, but I’m used to it now. It’s worth it.
Does taking part give you more confidence? Yes, it’s improved my swimming, riding and running.
Would you like to start competing professionally? Yes. I’d love to do the Kona Ironman in Hawaii one day.
What’s the hardest part about an aquathon? The transition, because you’re tired but your know you have more to do.
What age did you do your first race? I was eight.
How did it make you feel? Really tired – my Dad says I complained all the way around the course.
Were you proud? Yes, because I found it quite hard and that means you achieved something good.
Is it hard to get up so early in the morning? No, I usually wake up early normally.
Does taking part give you more confidence? Yes.
Would you like to start competing professionally? Yes, that would be great. I’d love to go to the Olympics and maybe qualify for the Hawaii Ironman.
What’s the hardest part about an aquathon? Finishing the run and realising that you still have to swim.
Find the right sport: one that engages and excites your child. Motivation, commitment and personal development will then follow.
All the gear: the right equipment/clothing reduces the risk of any outdoor or sporting activity. Appropriately-fitting running shoes are paramount.
Have realistic expectations: nobody likes the sulky parent at the finish line who screams because little Johnny isn’t winning. Don’t expect a pro in a month – or ever.
Reward effort and outcome: sincere praise is important as sense of self-worth will increase. However, excessive encouragement is ineffective and will only destroy your credibility.
Ban the negative: no taunting and ridiculing. Instead encouraging teamwork and support for all.