twctara1Spectating Triathlon


We love to feature guest bloggers and our friend, Tara Newman, of the familysportlife blog is certainly no exception.  Tara has written a great piece for us on how to make spectating a TEAM sport.  Considering that she has two darling kids, who I was fortunate to meet at Rev3 Quassy, this article is a perfect fit.  Enjoy, educate yourselves, and be sure to check out her blog….


Tara and Sherry getting together at Rev3 Quassy.


A long standing joke of mine is I train so I can spectate at my husband’s triathlons.  The shorter the course, the more running around you do.  The longer the course, the longer you are on your feet.  Throw kids into the mix and spectating has become it’s very own endurance sport!  Well, Motherhood is an endurance sport so maybe spectating triathlon with kids is an ULTRA endurance event.  It’s not all bad.  In fact, the few times that we have had the kids with us, we had a lot of fun. Last year was the first year my kids (a.k.a “The A Team”) watched their dad race.  At 7 and 5, they were old enough to watch races that didn’t call for a 3:30 am wake up call.  We were very selective in the races they attended.  The longest race was the MightyMan Montauk 70.3.  We turned it into a weekend getaway culminating with Dad’s race and a celebratory lunch at the local pub.

twctara2With Kids

The “A TEAM” with their dad.

The kids had a blast and it was a huge success.  Setting yourself up for success starts LONG before you even get to the swim start. As a family, we value the concept of TEAM effort and often use TEAM concepts to provide context to our family values.  I thought it would be a good way to share what works for us when we are spectating a triathlon with kids. How to Make Spectating a Triathlon a T.E.A.M. Sport: Talk:  It is important to communicate what your little spectators can expect at a race.  The more I spectate the more I add to my list of things to cover. My recommendations would be:

  • What they might see and hear – kids can have anxiety in unfamiliar settings and races can be overwhelming especially to kids who are sensitive to loud sounds.
  • Explain the swim, bike, and run.  Give some basic information and an estimated time for each event.  If your child doesn’t understand time yet you can say, the length of a movie or two episodes of their favorite show.
  • Let them know it is going to be a long day with a lot of walking so they are going to rest up the night before (just like Dad).
  • Explain safety on the course as a spectator.  For example, they can’t run on to the course.
  • Talk about personal safety procedures.

Essentials:  I like to be prepared.  REALLY prepared.  It’s a long day and anything can happen.  I use my car as home base and pack a giant tote full of stuff that we would need through the day.  Then, I have a day pack that I fill with what I might need for a few hours.  I can always go back to the car and swap things out.  Here are some of my essentials:

  • Giant Tote for home base.  I like Land’s End Extra Large Zip Top Tote for this.
  • Day backpack – Eddie Bauer makes a great fold up one that can be easily stored in the larger tote when not needed.
  • RoadID’s for the kids.  If we get separated, they just need to find a volunteer and have them call me.
  • Sun Block and lip balm.
  • First Aid Kit.
  • Clothes for EVERY season. The swim start at Rev3 Quassy this year was frigid!  We were playing in the water park by noon.
  • Don’t forget wet weather gear.  LL Bean makes a great rain jacket for kids that fold up into a pouch.
  • Sunglasses and/or hats.
  • Snacks. Snacks. Snacks.
  • Cash
  • Camera.

The A TEAM enjoying Rev3 Quassy.

Action Plan:  As you get closer to the race, you should put together an easy action plan of how you will be spectating the race.  Make sure everyone knows when and where you will be watching for your athlete.  This is a good time to discuss some more expectations. Both, what the kids can expect at the race, and what you will expect from them in terms of behavior.

  • Review personal safety procedures, including designating a family meeting spot if you get separated.
  • If you’re kids are old enough, I would talk about sportsmanship and cheering for the racers.  Give them some examples of how to cheer someone on.
  • Explain that some athlete’s are going to have a great race and some may be disappointed and some may even get injured.  My kids were very unsettled watching people be taken from the finish line to the medical tent.  They were near tears when someone passed out from dehydration and taken away in an ambulance.  In hindsight, I wish I would have prepared them for that and I will always do it going forward.
  • Communicate when meals and snacks will be (that’s all they really care about anyway!).
  • Remember, it is an early wake up for everyone and children may need to ease into the day.  Find a place to relax and have some breakfast after the swim start.
  • Review expectations for behavior, what it means to be a good spectator.
  • Review personal safety – point out the volunteers, remind them of the family meeting spot, and if they are too young to remember your cell phone number, write it on a piece of paper and put in their pocket.
  • Make sure you plan PLENTY of bathroom stops.  I let them know during the times we are watching for their dad, there are NO bathroom trips.  So, basically go now or hold it!

Motivate:  As the head spectator, you are the leader.  You are in charge.  It is your responsibility to marshall the troops and keep them engaged!  The best leaders know how to motivate their followers. Here are some strong motivators you can use:

  • Use the carrot not the stick:  Reinforce the positives and provide little rewards for following the plan.  For example, when we spectated Rev3 Quassy, the BIG reward was spending the afternoon in the waterpark.  I bring the mini packets of M&M’s to use in a pinch.
  • Create a sense of belonging:  We like to think of spectating triathlon as a team sport.  Everyone is there to support the athlete, we all have different roles/responsibilities, and we have a team name.  For example, The A Team are responsible for going through the checklist the night before we leave to make sure everything is in their dad’s transition bag.  They do it together and it makes them feel included.
  • Autonomy:  Autonomy is power or control.  It is an important motivator and seen as a reward for people to have control over their schedule, their work, their goals, etc.  Children are no different.  Giving your child control over appropriate aspects doesn’t mean a loss of control for you.  When planning out the spectating, engage the kids, let them make a contribution to the plan.
  • Acknowledgement:  Give them praise and a hearty “good job” throughout the day.  It’s a long day and they are most likely doing the best they can.  Make sure the triathlete gives them a proper “thank you” when the race is over and explains to them how it made the triathlete feel knowing he/she had people cheering.


    Cheering dad on at the run at Rev3 Quassy.

Here are some final thoughts on DO’S and DONT’S:

  • DON’T forget to manage your own expectations!
  • DON’T sweat the small stuff.  My kids show up to every swim start in their PJ’s and then I change them later.  No big deal!
  • DO take care of yourself!  Hydrate and eat.
  • DO have fun making memories that will last forever.
  • DO consider taking a day for yourself after the race.  I do this and it has made a huge difference.

Please leave a comment below with your best tips for spectating triathlon with kids.  I would love to hear them!

twcTara headshot 2Hi!  My name is Tara and I am a Performance Coach.  I help individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and athletes leverage key strengths to achieve greater success in their personal and professional lives.  My blog, Family Sport Life, focuses on personal leadership, productivity, organization, healthy living, parenting and triathlon.  I hold a Master’s Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and 15+ years experience in Corporate Leadership Development. I am a skilled life juggler, a mom to “The A Team”, and a proud Sherpa Wife to my husband (and co-author) John.  As a passionate life liver, I enjoy running, reading, skiing, paddle boarding, travel, organizing pretty much everything, and game night with my family.