June 8, 2013

Tri for Change?

What are we going to do about our sport?

It's competitive but it is also meant to be fun & enjoyable. For most of us this is our Sunday game, our version of a round of golf, our going down the pub. We look forward to our exercise and testing ourselves in our next race.

What happens when testing yourself becomes reckless?

Loneswimmer.com had a really interesting piece on preparing for OW swimming from which I have lifted this all important piece:

Just because an event allows you to enter with your limited experience means nothing. Some just want your money. Events which have real qualifications requirement are not elitist. The organisers are experienced and aware of the dangers and attempting to reduce risk beforehand."

via "How much do I need to swim for - x - open water distance?".

This is such an important point to make in the context of triathlon, where the sport as a whole has become a real bucket list item for people to do. As a business with vested interests in the growth and development of our sport we welcome this explosion in people who desire to become triathletes, however, personal responsibility has to be a factor in all of this.

There is no benefit to you putting your life in danger to tick a box. There is a staggering amount of people who can not swim that want to do triathlon and while they should be encouraged to learn to swim and participate in Triathlon, the dangers of open water swimming should not be underestimated.

I've been thinking about this for a while. I suppose the recent Regional Development meetings with Triathlon Ireland may have sparked off the thinking process. When you consider that this very young sport is heading for 8,000 members in 2013 and is developing as a participation sport for youths (our children are following us into triathlon in the same way that we would have followed our parents to GAA games).

That volume of members and continuing to grow year on year needs some structure.

Primarily, the key point is that I am not looking to alienate anyone, nor am I suggesting that newbies should be exiled til mature. The whole premise is to suggest a means of  making triathlon a participation sport for everyone that is safe and enjoyable.

Triathlon is definitely the sport of the moment. People from all over are drawn to the challenge of completing their first race, usually as a result of a bet, a dare or charity commitment. What they are not prepared for is the highly addictive nature of triathlon and the way it gets right under your skin and becomes an itch that needs to be continually scratched.

The training is varied and interesting, the races are varied and interesting, sure even the participants are varied and interesting!

It is this variety which leads to an imbalance in the level of the sport.

With the volume of people taking part and the rate of growth there is a danger of triathlon (in Ireland) outgrowing its own governing structures which is why I believe now would be a good time to reorganise. We have a new CEO who is listening. I've met him at the Regional Development evening and at a couple of events, so he is out there, watching, observing and gaining knowledge through feedback.

Thinking about it almost every other sport has a tiered structure with barriers to entry at all levels and people don't complain about this being 'elitist', so why should triathlon be any different? I mean, take tennis, your local LTC member is not going to play Wimbledon just because they want to. They have to earn the right through practise, experience, winning tournaments over years of participation.

But people don't die playing tennis, that's not a comparison.

Ok, your Formula 3000 driver haring around Mondello is not going to step into a F1 car and race with Jenson Button today or tomorrow in a Grand Prix. Years of training (XBox and PS3 do not count for training!) experience, preparation etc. etc .

Do you see my point?

I would propose a multi tiered approach to development of our sport which would serve to improve the level of participation and uptake by new comers, enhance the experience of racing for developing triathletes and reward those at the pointy end of the sport.


Simple enough.

You either join Triathlon Ireland or you don't.

My structure would see:

  1. You join a local triathlon club & TI simultaneously (existing rule anyway, join a club you must be a full TI member for insurance reasons when training)

  2. Your membership number is unique and is used as your race number & database of all your race records.

From here your 1st year in the sport is all about learning the ropes. You train with the club, you learn the lanes rules of the pool & road. You learn to respect the risks of open water swimming, you are coached in all three disciplines, you learn to ride in a group, eat in a group and so on. You race at club level in Sprint and Olympic distance races, building up your record, your database of distance and OW swimming.

Into 2nd year you now have a full season of learning behind you a record of your abilities and a proven OW swim capability. Through experience you will now know your limits, you will be aware of what conditions are risky, what conditions are safe, for you. You will know what tests you, what makes you uncomfortable, what you want to achieve.

If you desire, year 2 will be where you move up to middle distance racing at club level or Sprint & Olympic distance racing at National Series level, if you want to.

Edit: unfortunately whilst I have been drafting and thinking about this issue mloc123 posted a discussion on boards.ie Is triathlon too open? which is going to develop into a sizeable debate as it catches hold. I suppose it spurs me on to complete the thought process that I had been developing here and outlined there.

People need to realise that triathlon is not just a sport that the majority of people can just do. Yes, there are some who don't need to train hard to complete the events but the vast majority of people need months of training and knowledge in order to be ready for what the race throw at you.

If going the route of the club structure, as outlined above, doesn't suit you that is fine too.

So, lets say you've no interest in joining a club, you don't need the membership of Triathlon Ireland, you're only going to do one triathlon to challenge yourself and then move onto something else. No problem.

There are plenty of non-sanctioned events that you can do. There are no shortage of charity events and also out and out commercial events (Ironman for example) that cater for people who just want to complete a triathlon.

In fact a whole series of fun events could be developed for people who just want to participate in triathlon.

I grew up impressed by the Ironmen and women. They inspired me to do triathlon. Unfortunately the moves made recently by Ironman Inc to stick pontoons in the water and encourage rest breaks indicated to me that this organisation has nothing to do with the spirit of 'Ironman' and all to do with the pure capitalism of filling events with anyone and everyone with deep pockets.

Non-sanctioned races can then over compensate for the expected levels of preparation in their athletes and provide plenty of support boats for the swim leg, relax the drafting rules on the bike leg (considering most ignore the rules anyway) and essentially host 'fun' events that are safe and relaxed.

People who want to compete, go the club route with TI.

As always I welcome comments and your thoughts too.


LoneSwimmer said...

Thanks for the nod! Along with a lot of other distance OW swimmers, I feel pretty strongly about the substitution of wetsuits for appropriate training. And like others, should I should up for the swim leg of a triathlon tomorrow , I wouldn't be allowed enter because I don't wear a wetsuit. But Joe Blow who can barely swim 800 metres is good, because he's covered in rubber! Pre-qualification is how the open water world handles safety best.

amphkingwest said...

Thanks for reading Donal. Your own blog is a fantastic insight for anyone thinking about OW swimming in any form. The risks are so underestimated it is frightening.

Shansi said...

Great article. I am a beginner (female), joined a club and TI at the beginning of the year. I haven't entered any races yet (other than the local try a tri) and I won't until I am confident enough that I will be able to swim more than the required distance in open water without any problems. I am not a great swimmer (yet... ;)) and don't think people should take part in races unless they are showing proficiency in open water swimming for the distance they sign up for. And without the club I would be totally lost as how to train best in the first place. So I definitely agree that anyone who wants to do triathlons should join a club and TI. :)

amphkingwest said...

Thanks for your comment Shansi. The very best of luck in all your triathlon adventures!

Having come down the club route it is very much the way for someome to grow into the sport.

Thanks for reading.

Tim Chapman said...

While I agree with your sentiments I do not belive people should be made to join clubs or forced to see out a set time.
For one it is not always possible for people to meet at club times. Due to work family etc I have never been able to join clubs be it running swimming or cycling. I would like to put alas I can't.

What if I join but don't go. As I have been a member for a year I can still step up.

Its like any sport climbers always learnt of other climbers a passing on if knowledge.

I think the responsibility also lies at the hands of the individual. I knew my swimming was weak I went to the local pool and booked lessons. To say they let me do it is down to the recent culture of blame and sueing.

I also think what they are doing with iornman is a shame. It will cost them in the long run.

amphkingwest said...

Good points Tim, thank you for reading & commenting.

I think the fine details could address issues like that. It's not so much to 'force' people to join a club. More giving the route options with a choice between governance by TI or not.

I'm in the same position now as you are. I'm a club member in the literal sense but rarely get to club sessions. Having said that, I developed through a club structure and while I'm possibly a mature student of triathlon I still have access to a peer structure of information and knowledge.

It is this source of information, knowledge and guidance which is often missed by those partaking in 'fun' triathlon.

"What if I join but don’t go. As I have been a member for a year I can still step up."

This is a very valid point and ultimately will be up to the individual involved. After a year they would still have learned their craft at the short courses (hopefully), been ranked / tracked by TI.

Re Ironman, I agree. Its always been my goal to attain and its diminished in my eyes. I'll still do one, but possibly will aim more in the direction of the Challenge family.

Thanks again, appreciate your input.