Being a great triathlete requires being an athlete first. Too many people get caught up in the linear, repetitive actions of triathlon for 12 months of the year and forget to spend time developing other athletic skills.
The latest research in youth athletic development shows that sports specialization should not happen until you are into your double-digit years. It is a better long-term strategy to become a well-rounded athlete before you fully commit to one individual sport. There are several reasons for this. The first is that engaging in different activities gives you a broader physical skill set. Even though you may end up playing hockey, it’s still important to learn how to throw a ball. The second is that it keeps sport fun. Specializing too early can lead to burn out. Kids need to be engaged in different ways as they grow in order to keep progressing as athletes. Finally, kids will attain a higher sense of body awareness if they learn to move in different ways. Body awareness is crucial for success in any sport. This is why “play” is so important for kids- physical, unobstructed, random play develops a great deal of the movements that are essential to becoming a great athlete.
What does this all point to? It points to being an athlete in general before you are a specific kind of athlete.
The same is true for adults. The trouble with being an adult however, is that we spend less time playing. We get “into” certain things and we forget to play. When we get into a sport like triathlon later in life it essentially becomes our play. This is not a bad thing entirely but it’s still important to spend time working on being a well-rounded athlete. Now is the time of year to explore different things. Join a hockey league, play some soccer, pick up a tennis racquet or go bowling. Do something that challenges you physically and mentally in a different way. You will realize all the same benefits that kids realize when they don’t specialize too early like body awareness, a broader skill base and mental freshness.