Train Fast. Train Often. Be Safe. No Complaining.

I first started coaching youth triathlon back in 2009. At the time, all I knew was that we needed the kids to swim, bike and run fast and often, do it safely, and have a good attitude. Fast forward to 2016, working at Playtri. I know a lot more now. I have a lot more credentials. I've written articles, done podcasts, coached athletes to compete nationally and internationally, directed junior elite camps, and been a part of the development of what is now probably one of the largest youth programs in the country.

But I'm here to tell you - with all the knowledge I've gained, those things I believed 7 years ago are still what I believe. Swim, bike, run - at speed, and often (be specific and consistent). Do it in a way that is safe (age-appropriate, skills-first, listening to your body, have an intentional and multilateral strength foundation). Have a good attitude (simple rule at Playtri - no complaining, which by the way is NOT the same as giving constructive feedback). We can make this sport complicated, but the truth is, no coach has a special secret method to making faster athletes. We're all more or less trying to get our athletes to do what I was trying to get our youth team to do back in 2009.

Train fast. Train often. Be safe. No complaining.

As our youth elites head into Nationals this weekend, this is ultimately the foundation that we've worked to build for them, and that they have worked to build for themselves and each other. It is a team effort, and I am proud of the team these athletes have helped to build. We're not perfect, but we've overcome a lot individually and as a group, and that is what creates a team culture that can sustain. So we'll continue to focus on the basics.

Train fast. Train often. Be safe. No complaining.

We'll see you at Nationals. ROAR LIONS!

Race Day Nutrition

Race season is here, and it's time to think about your athlete's race day nutrition plan. Following are my general recommendations for different ages and distances - please keep in mind, this is general, meaning it might not be perfect for your athlete. It's a good starting place to build on.

Race ages 6-10 (100y swim/3 mile bike/0.5 mile run):

  • Night before: Light dinner, low on grease/unhealthy fats, low fiber, something you know will digest well for your athlete. Make sure they are well hydrated throughout the day before!
  • Race day breakfast: 1.5-2 hours before race start, 200-400 calories - primarily carbohydrates, low fiber, with 8-16 ounces of water.
  • Pre-race: Hydrate (put a Nuun or similar in their water if it is a hot day), and have a last 50-100 calorie simple carbohydrate snack IF they are hungry leading up to the race.
  • During the race: No calories, can have a water bottle in transition and/or take water from aid stations on the run.
  • Post-race: Eat 200-300 calories (primarily carbohydrate - healthy ones!) and drink 8-16 ounces of water within 30 minutes of finishing.

Race ages 11-15 (200y swim/6 mile bike/1 mile run):

  • Night before: Light dinner, low on grease/unhealthy fats, low fiber, something you know will digest well for your athlete. Make sure they are well hydrated throughout the day before!
  • Race day breakfast: 1.5-2 hours before race start, 300-500 calories - primarily carbohydrates, low fiber, with 8-16 ounces of water.
  • Pre-race: Hydrate (put a Nuun or similar in their water if it is a hot day), and have a last 50-100 calorie simple carbohydrate snack IF they are hungry leading up to the race.
  • During the race: No calories, can have a water bottle in transition and/or take water from aid stations on the run.
  • Post-race: Eat 200-400 calories (primarily carbohydrate - healthy ones!) and drink 8-16 ounces of water within 30 minutes of finishing.

Race ages 12-16 (375m swim/6 mile bike/1.5 mile run):

  • Night before: Light dinner, low on grease/unhealthy fats, low fiber, something you know will digest well for your athlete. Make sure they are well hydrated throughout the day before!
  • Race day breakfast: 1.5-2 hours before race start, 300-500 calories - primarily carbohydrates, low fiber, with 8-16 ounces of water.
  • Pre-race: Hydrate (put a Nuun or similar in their water if it is a hot day), and have a last 50-100 calorie simple carbohydrate snack IF they are hungry leading up to the race.
  • During the race: No calories, can have a water bottle on the bike (likely does not need to be full) with Nuun or similar (if the day is hot), and/or take water from aid stations on the run.
  • Post-race: Eat 200-500 calories (primarily carbohydrate - healthy ones!) and drink 8-16 ounces of water within 30 minutes of finishing.

Race ages 16-19 (750m swim/12 mile bike/5K run):

  • Night before: Light dinner, low on grease/unhealthy fats, low fiber, something you know will digest well for your athlete. Make sure they are well hydrated throughout the day before!
  • Race day breakfast: 1.5-2 hours before race start, 300-500 calories - primarily carbohydrates, low fiber, with 8-16 ounces of water.
  • Pre-race: Hydrate (put a Nuun or similar in their water if it is a hot day), and have a last 100 calorie simple carbohydrate snack (gel or similar) with water 15 minutes before race start.
  • During the race: Training races should always have a gel or similar (basically 100 calories of simple carbs) towards the end of the bike. A races usually should have no calories during the race, though the athlete should take water on the bike (with Nuun or similar if it's a warm day)
  • Post-race: Eat 200-500 calories (primarily carbohydrate - healthy ones!) and drink 8-16 ounces of water within 30 minutes of finishing.

Please let your head coach know if you have any questions!

Happy Tuesday,

Coach Morgan

Does My Bicycle Helmet Fit?

Parents, we spend a lot of time emphasizing the importance of proper bike helmet fit for our athletes - here is a great resource from Bicycling to give you the basics of how to make sure your athlete's helmet fits properly:

Wear Your Helmet Right

I will also add that you should be able to fit no more than two fingers between the athlete's chin and the strap - essentially meaning that it isn't so tight that it is pressing on their throat, but not much looser than that.

Happy Wednesday!

Coach Morgan

USA Cycling and Junior Gearing

With road racing season "kicking into gear" (I hope everyone appreciated that) I've had lots of parents asking me about junior rollouts and junior gearing. First, these two phrases are directly related. Second, you need to know that they only apply to USA Cycling events, not USA Triathlon, which means if your young athlete only plans to race triathlons this season, you do not need to worry about this.

Here's a short and sweet video about junior gearing and rollouts

Note: At most Texas races, they will actually perform rollout before the race begins. The distance for rollout at junior races here in Texas is 26' or 7.93 meters.

Also here to explain Junior Gearing is USA Cycling and friends:

Junior Gears

USA Cycling's explanation for Junior Gearing: "The main purpose of junior gear restrictions is to help the young rider develop a good pedal cadence and to avoid injury. Junior gear restrictions also level the playing field for developing juniors who may be at a disadvantage against rivals who possess physical advantages such as height and power."

Why don't we require junior gearing in Playtri, or triathlon in general? This is a source of some debate. I have two primary reasons why I don't feel junior gearing is necessary for my athletes specifically:

1. I strongly believe that proper coaching on cadence and utilizing a cadence computer (why I am such a stickler about this for our Gold 2 and up teams, for those who didn't know) are the best way to teach cadence and proper use of gearing. I don't feel that equipment is a solution for lack of good coaching, and a newer athlete could still be "mashing" (pushing too hard at a low cadence) even on junior gears.

2. Disadvantages due to growth? Gearing does not fix this. Also, this is life. Physical development and sport development are both processes, and sometimes you're going to be on the "winning" side, and sometimes not. However, if you're teaching younger athletes that it isn't all about the podium, then I feel like this is a moot point. It's hard to accept, but I think ultimately it pushes athletes to value process over podiums, and that's a win in my book.

So, we "block out" or "lockout" gears (adjust set limit screws on the rear derailleur to prevent access to the smallest/hardest gears) when we go to USA Cycling events so that we can comply with the rollouts there.

This is a handy chart that tells you how many gears to block on a young athlete's bike based on their gear ration (please note, really a 50T front ring will probably need the 14T rear cog blocked as well, even though it doesn't appear that way in the following chart):

Junior Gear Ratio Chart

Just a reminder - once you've locked out your gears, you need to remember to unlock them, too! I suggest parents and athletes learn to do this simple procedure themselves to avoid the hassle of relying on a mechanic for such a quick fix.

Have questions? Please feel free to email me at morgan@playtri.com.

Have a great Thursday!

Why Your Young Athlete Needs to Strength Train

Parents in our program know that I am a little obsessed with strength training and conditioning, especially during the off-season. Our owner, Ahmed, has had to order all manner of equipment at my request over the years, including (but not limited to) balance beams, medicine balls, mini hurdles, cones, Bosu balls and jump ropes. I'm always trying to find the most effective ways to get our young athletes to have a strong foundation for growth and sport development. I went very simplistic with our younger athletes this off-season, focusing on basic exercises like planks, push-ups, lunges, wall-sits, frog jumps, etc. that we could do over and over while developing proper posture and form for each exercise. My kids can sideplank like ninjas by now!

I think it's important that parents and athletes understand the need for this component, however, especially since it isn't sport-specific (fortunately no one is required to stop and do push-ups during a triathlon, though I do think that would be a great penalty). Strength training for young athletes, as you'll see in the following statement from the ACSM, can "increase motor fitness skills and sports performance...decrease the incidence of sports injury, [and]...play an important role in effective weight loss." 

Read more below:

ACSM Current Comment on Youth Strength Training

Have a great Sunday,

Coach Morgan

Your Young Triathlete's Best Transition

Parents,

As the off-season draws to an end, it's time to start looking towards race-specific skills again. At Team Playtri, we will begin to work on transitions this month, since our first team triathlon is March 3rd. The primary goals for young athletes in transition are:

  1. Self-Confidence (not needing an adult to physically or verbally assist)
  2. Neatness (having only the essentials laid out in an organized fashion)
  3. Smoothness (being able to get through transitions instinctively with little thought)

The following article will walk you through some things you can practice at home, and also introduce you to many of the concepts and skills we will be working on with athletes at practices in the coming month.

Your Young Triathlete's Best Transition

Happy Sunday!

Coach Morgan

Hello, Winter!

Parents,

In case you hadn't noticed, it got a bit brisk this weekend. Cold weather presents a different challenge for athletes practicing outside, and when you add precipitation proper gear becomes even more crucial. Athletes will get more out of practices and avoid unsafe conditions when they come dressed for the weather.

Following are some basic guidelines on what to dress your athlete in for various temperatures/conditions - while we always are able to bring athletes inside if weather is unsafe, we still like to get as much time outside when training for the bike and run, so athletes should always come prepared!

55-60 degrees and dry: Long sleeve technical shirt (or short sleeve with arm warmers), shorts, socks, shoes, possibly light gloves if athlete is extremely susceptible to cold.

55-60 degrees and wet: Same as above but add a light waterproof jacket.

50-54 degrees and dry: Long sleeve technical shirt (or short sleeve with arm warmers), light windproof jacket (bonus points if it can convert to a vest!), shorts, socks, shoes, light gloves, ear cover and leg warmers/toe covers if athlete will be on the bike.

50-54 degrees and wet: Same as above but replace the windproof jacket with a water proof one and the light gloves with something more substantial (and preferably waterproof)

42-49 degrees and dry: Long-sleeved base layer, short sleeve jersey/shirt, windproof jacket, base layer tights (bike shorts over tights if planning to ride), wool or other warm socks, shoes, cold weather gloves, ear cover and toe (or shoe) covers if athlete will be on the bike.

42-49 degrees and dry: Our youngest athletes will be moved inside at this point - older athletes should wear the same as above, but replace the jacket with a waterproof jacket, and make sure gloves are waterproof as well.

35-41 degrees and dry: Only ages 10 and up will practice outside in this weather, and they should wear a long-sleeved base layer, short sleeve jersey/shirt, windproof jacket, base layer tights (bike shorts over tights if planning to ride), wool or other warm socks, shoes, cold weather gloves, beanie (or balaclava) and shoe covers if athlete will be on the bike.

35-41 degrees and wet: Only Elite Team athletes will practice in these conditions, and they will only run, not bike. Generally on days like this we'll go back and forth between inside and outside. However, it's best to come prepared with the items listed above along with a waterproof jacket and gloves.

Always remember, even if it's cold outside athletes still need to hydrate - make sure your athlete comes with a full water bottle to EVERY practice. If you have an insulated bottle you can even fill it with a favorite hot (non-dairy) drink, which will taste extra awesome during a cold practice. (I like the Skratch Apples & Cinnamon flavor - tastes exactly like hot apple cider when heated up!)

If you ever have questions, just ask your coach! We want to help your athletes be ready to excel at every practice.

Have a great weekend, and stay warm!

Coach Morgan

The Way of the Silent Coach

This post from the Drowning in the Shallow blog effectively outlines the direction I am trying to move as a coach, and the direction I want all of our youth coaches to move in long-term:

"The Way of the Silent Coach" (Drowning in the Shallow)

Ok, so why is this way better than another? I recently started implementing this in our McKinney Silver and Gold 1 swim practices with incredible results - parents who have been there have probably observed that I have moved to a heavily whiteboard-based instruction technique. At the end of every set, I am completely silent until the kids have one hand on the wall, heads above water and eyes on me, and I won't show them the next set until this happens. I honestly didn't know what to expect the first week I did this - would they just horse around for 20 minutes until I finally gave up and yelled in despair? Would we get in and out of the pool 15 times until everyone got the discipline part right and we didn't do any actual triathlon practice?

However, the actual results were awesome - the first couple of times kids were a bit confused, but instead of just telling them why we were doing it, I asked them to tell me why. A few got it right away, and then started explaining it to their teammates. By the end of the first practice, the ones who got it were marshaling the others at the end of every set so that whenever it was time for instruction I had a row of eyes quietly waiting to be told the next set. The last two weeks have been some of the most productive swim practices I have ever coached.

But this still doesn't answer why this method is effective - to answer that question, I have to fall back on an article from Sports Coach UK about self-determination theory that explains the three key components to a quality youth sport experience that this method provides:

  1. Autonomy - Athletes feel like they have "control over their own actions," which let's them take ownership of the experience.
  2. Competence - Athletes feel like they "possess adequate ability," and that as the coach I trust them to play an active role in the process of training.
  3. Relatedness - Athletes "feel like they belong," and are an important component of the group, because we don't start a set until everyone is ready to listen and cooperate.

More on self-determination theory another day. I think it is key to creating a team culture that creates and sustains great athletes and people!

For now, I think we can all try out the "Silent Coach" method to help our kids own their sport experience and have the ability to make mistakes and learn from them.

Have a great Monday,

Coach Morgan

Training a Mindset to Get the Job Done

At every level of ability our programs have certain physical competencies that we expect athletes to achieve during their time with us - we call them skills goals. They could be something as simple as not breathing on a breakout stroke in the pool, or keeping eyes forward on the run, or something more complex, like taking a turn in a pack at speed on the bike. At the end of each session, we look at each athlete and we find that some have achieved the goals and some have not. For some it may be because they have less of an athletic foundation, or because they had to miss practices due to conflicting obligations - but invariably, I would estimate that 90% of those who did not achieve the goals failed to achieve them because of their mindset.

It's a reminder for us all that physical skills and fitness improvements come at a price. We had a good talk at our Gold 2/Elite swim practice this past Saturday about how cutting corners is a slippery slope. Be lazy in one area, and you open the door to give yourself more leeway in others (I had noticed that most of the athletes were being consistently sloppy on their flip turns and streamlining during our sets that day). That leads to not finishing the interval at the wall, which I think eventually leads to a mind that is wired to be more likely to give up during a finishing kick in a race than one that pushes through to the finish line.

I give much thanks to T3 Multisports Coach Boris Robinson for sharing the following article with me this morning:

The Difference Between Winning and Losing (Changing the Game Project)

What does that "three inches" look like to you, or to your athlete? How does it matter to their goals for the sport? I think of this less as a competitive mindset (as it explains in the article), but more of a "get the job done and get it done RIGHT" mindset. One of the biggest red flags I look for in competitive athletes with big goals is the propensity to cut corners. Cutting corners in practice, in maintaining equipment, in tracking training to me indicates that the athlete probably doesn't have the "chops" to make it at an elite level.

The top athletes I've coached have gotten that way because they obsess over getting each workout right, over discussing their metrics with me, over teeny tiny little ways that they can shave 0.5 seconds off their transition times - at this level, the coach/athlete relationship becomes a partnership where the athlete provides feedback and ideas and the coach provides an objective viewpoint and organization of load and goal-specific training. This is where the magic happens, and this is also where I think the athlete feels the most satisfaction.

Let's make the magic happen this week.

Happy Monday,

Coach Morgan

Why Kids Leave Sport... and Why they Stay

A fellow high performance team coach shared the following article, which outlines the 6 top reasons why kids leave a sport (specifically swimming, in this case):

6 Tips for Swim Parents on Why Swimmers Quit (SwimSwam)

Since we want our kids to continue being involved in triathlon and sport in general as long as possible, here is my response to this article - 6 reasons why kids STAY in triathlon (or any sport):

  1. Being with their friends - and they have bonded with the other athletes on their team. Triathlon is an individual sport, but we spend a lot of time during practices teaching athletes to work as a team, to respect each other, and to have fun together.
  2. Getting the RIGHT amount of parent involvement - in other words, the kid owns their sport experience and decides on their own goals and commitments, but the parent requires them to live up to the commitment that they have made to achieve their goals.
  3. The drive home - when you build them up, find the things they did right even if their overall performance wasn't what they hoped for, and encourage them to keep pursuing their dreams for the sport through passion and hard work.
  4. Being able to see personal improvement - because they understand that improvement doesn't always come in the form of increased speed, but just as often in technique, commitment and strength that lays the foundation for future and long-term performance.
  5. A reasonable school schedule - not having 6 hours of homework every night, meaning they have the opportunity to embrace/enjoy hobbies outside of that environment. Having teachers who are focused on learning more than paperwork.
  6. Their coach does his or her job - meaning he gives each athlete the same amount of consideration regardless of ability. She makes each athlete feel valued. He makes the sport fun - not just work. She recognizes improvement. He sets realistic expectations, and tells the athletes how to achieve them.

The long and short of it is - we ALL play a part in the athlete's success in and enjoyment of triathlon. Let's create an environment together that sets kids up for a lifetime of healthy activity in this great sport.

Have a great Wednesday,

Coach Morgan

Developing a Well-Rounded Technique for Draft-Legal Triathlon Swimming

Parents and Athletes,

This post is geared towards our athletes working towards short course elite status, and those who think they may want to participate in the USAT Junior Elite Series when they get older.

One of the things I love about Playtri is that we are constantly experimenting with new things, which means we stay on the cutting edge of coaching strategies as the sport develops. One area that we are particularly interested is how open water swimming differs from pool swimming, and I personally am focused in on how we can be most effective in the swim for short course draft-legal races.

Right after I finished the following article (which I would also consider a taste of what we'll be teaching at our Holiday Training Camp in December, for those who are interested) I saw a very similar piece written by former short course pro and elite coach Sara McLarty that was published earlier this week (though in contrast to her opinion, I think the kick becomes more important in this particular race style). This just tells me we aren't the only ones to be taking a step back and re-evaluating the value of a traditional pool swim technique in our sport, and athletes who are trained only in the pool swim technique will eventually be left behind by those who embrace a more sport-specific approach.

Draft-Legal Triathlon Swimming Technique

I hope this makes you think, and gives you some insight on why we do things the way we do on Team Playtri!

Have a happy Friday, and a Safe and Happy Halloween Tomorrow,

Coach Morgan

Gearing and Shifting on the Bike

Parents,

It's a windy day in North Texas today, which means cyclists are having to cycle through lots of gears during their rides. While we always take practice time with our youth teams to review and teach gearing and shifting skills, sometimes it's nice to have some general guidelines in case you notice your young athlete being challenged in this area on a family ride or at a non-team race. 

I did this article for USAT a year or two ago, but the priniciples still apply! Check it out if you want to be able to give your child some good tips on utilizing their gears in training and racing.

Effective Gearing and Shifting

Have a great Wednesday!

Coach Morgan

Ready to Race and Roll

Hopefully everybody has Aaron's Race and Roll 5K and 1K on their calendar by now - this is a phenomenal event and fundraiser for three different charitable organizations.

Check out this article about the 2014 event, and make sure to join Team Playtri on November 14th to support this wonderful race!

What Boundaries? (from The Dallas Morning News)

Click the following link to get your athlete (and yourself!) registered:

Aaron's Race and Roll

Have a fantastic Monday,

Coach Morgan

What Can We Learn from Conner Stroud?

Since the national youth & junior triathlon season has wound down, I have had many conversations with other high performance coaches throughout the country about the current state of youth triathlon and youth sport in general. I've also gotten to have conversations with individual parents and athletes about their athletes' experiences over the past season, and where we saw positive growth and where we need improvement. Now is the time to ask questions and consider solutions. How, as a youth and junior elite coach, do I teach athletes (and parents) that short-term performance and success can be fleeting, that it's more important to be a decent person and a good leader, that long-term success in our sport is not guaranteed just because you're a "fast" junior? Does the culture we have developed, not just in triathlon, but in youth sport in general, allow for that conversation?

It's easy to find articles, blogs, social media posts and others asking "What is wrong with youth sports?" It's a bit disheartening that this is such a common question, and everyone has an opinion. I have a few myself. But it doesn't fix the issue, though I do appreciate that it opens up the door for the conversation to start.

That being said, I was reading the following (incredibly inspirational) story about a young man's experience as an athlete, and I thought to myself "what exactly is inspirational about this story?" 

Conner's Story (courtesy of the Charlotte Observer)

Is it his Number 1 ranking? His world title?

It's really not. As a coach, and as parents, I think the things that inspire us are his perseverance, his positive attitude in the face of adversity, his ability to find joy in challenging situations. You could take the other stuff out of this article, and we would all still be blown away, and want those things for our own athletes. So why are podiums and rankings so important? Even when we say they aren't really... they still are. Brushing off a "bad" performance or a "bad" year seems to be increasingly difficult (putting aside the fact, for now, that those are actually the best performances and the best years because the athlete and the coach actually learn something from them). But it shouldn't be. What if our focus switched to reflect the things that are really inspiring from Conner's story? What would that look like for our athletes, for our teams, for youth sport throughout our country?

Let's change the conversation from "what's wrong with youth sport" to "how do we get more of what's right?" Let's have a conversation about this after practice, or the next time you drop by the Playtri store. Let's take a break from talking about performances and discuss our athlete's well-being, their mental and emotional development, their other hobbies, and how we can use triathlon to make them into a leader in their community. Let's talk about how triathlon can make them a better and happier person, and how we as their coaches can be a part of that journey.

Have a fantastic Friday.

Coach Morgan

 

Sports Nutrition for Youth Athletes

Parents,

It's time to turn to one of my favorite nutrition gurus, Coach Bob Seebohar of eNRG Performance and Teens that Tri. 

I wish we had more time to talk about nutrition at our team practices. There are so many components to developing healthy athletes, and nutrition is one that naturally happens primarily at home. I hope that the following article will give each of you some practical guidelines to help your young athlete in this part of their journey.

"Sports Nutrition for Youth Athletes" by Bob Seebohar

I also highly recommend Bob's book Sports Nutrition for Young Triathletes, which you can purchase at your local Playtri Store. This is a practical guide for young readers (probably age ~11 and up if they are reading it on their own) on how to create good nutrition habits that will benefit their current and long-term athletic performance and general health. 

Do you have healthy recipes that you love for fall and winter? Make sure to share them with your coach so we can post them to the team Facebook for the whole team to enjoy!

Happy eating,

Coach Morgan

Quadriceps, Hip Flexors, Adductors - Oh My

It's Fall, which means I've had an influx of private run lessons recently. Run coaches will tell you - every once in a while we see something unusual from athletes (kids and adults), but 99 times out of 100 it's the same things over and over again. What is really frustrating is that oftentimes the problems we see can be easily prevented with a minimal amount of prehab strength and flexibility work.

Today I want to focus on three key areas that I see causing trouble for a lot of young runners - quads, hip flexors and adductors. Read the following article to understand their importance, and how your young athlete can take care of them, especially during run-heavy seasons!

"Stretching your Quadriceps, Hip Flexors and Adductors"

Have a fantastic Friday!

Coach Morgan

Hydration - It's Not Just for Summer!

Parents, I know we're all excited that the cooler temps have finally arrived - kids have more energy at practices, and are excited to get outdoors again. However, along with cooler temps comes the potential to neglect hydration, which gets lots of attention in the summer when kids are aware of their thirst, but less in the fall and winter when kids don't "feel" thirsty as often.

Make sure your young athlete stays hydrated for health and performance this off-season, and check out the following article on the importance of year-round hydration:

Dehydration in Sports: A Year-Round Concern

For more resources on hydration for youth athletes, check out the Moms Team Sports Hydration page, and ask your coach for suggestions on what kind of fluids they want your child bringing to practice.

Want something other than traditional sports drinks to replace fluids and electrolytes? Try options like Skratch and Nuun with zero dyes and less sugar, available at the Playtri Stores.

Have a great Saturday, and remember to stay hydrated!

Coach Morgan