Different? Not So Much: A View From the USAT National High Performance Youth Skills Camp


Posted by Coach Mark Turner

This past week I had the incredible privilege of attending the USAT National High Performance Youth Skills Camp in Kerrville, TX, as a CEU coach. The camp was led by Head Coach Shelly O'Brien and her staff: Christine Palmquist, Doug Fairchild, Lara Ruthven, and Manuel Delgado. It was an incredible experience on many levels. In some ways it was very different than coaching adults at a camp, and in others, it was exactly the same.

Anyone who has ever coached at any triathlon camp knows that the days are long, your own workouts short (if they happen at all), and the end of camp seems to come with stunning suddenness. I have had the privilege to coach a number of camps of various sizes for adults. Each of those camps made me a better coach as I learned from other staff coaches and the athletes themselves. This camp was no different.


Some of the obvious differences of coaching a kids camp versus coaching adults are logistical in nature. The coaching staff of a kids camp bear more responsibility for the care of the kids. When you work with kids you are afforded the precious opportunity to help mold and shape not just their physical abilities but also the character of young athletes. Since you are dealing with a wide range of ages and levels of maturity you must be a friend, motivator, mentor, sports psychologist, surrogate parent, disciplinarian, cheerleader, and a coach, often at the same time with the same athlete! With most adult athletes, the role demands on the coach are more narrowly focused in the areas of mental and physical preparation and motivation.

While there are clear and obvious differences between coaching adults and youth, the heart of the coach/athlete relationship does remain the same. If an adult athlete is not self-motivated, he or she simply will not improve no matter what the coach says or does. The same is true for young athletes. The drive to improve and excel must come from within the athlete regardless of his or her age. Coaches can create plans and set up a great learning environment, but in the end it is the athlete's own "inner will" that ultimately determines the outcome of training and coaching. This is the reality for adult and youth athletes. 


I have enjoyed in different ways every camp I have helped coach. But I have never laughed as much as I did at this youth camp, with the other coaches, with the athletes, and at myself. I have learned a lot from other athletes at camps I have coached but never as much as I learned from the kids at this camp. In fact, one of the campers, Eric Palmquist, taught me how to execute the flying mount in the most efficient manner. Another big difference with the youth is their focus on draft-legal racing. Coming from the world of non-drafting USAT and WTC races, it's so much fun to watch these fearless kids riding in packs during the grass drills and going eight abreast with one hand on the drops and the other on the shoulder of the athlete next to them as they negotiated a coned course.



Where adults often approach the various disciplines with a high degree of trepidation that sometimes is never overcome, the kids (even when they had obvious fears and concerns) took on each challenge with an enthusiasm that was infectious.

All that being said, there is a great deal that we as coaches and as adult athletes ourselves can learn from the young athletes. One of the best things about the young athletes is that they still get that triathlon is fun. Sure they are competitive (wow are they) and they want to perform well. But often I see adult athletes live in one of two extremes. Either they use language like, “I just want to finish,” or they are so driven by their metrics in training and races and focused only on results to the extent that they sometimes lose sight of the fun! Part of a coach's job when coaching kids is to let them have fun, and when coaching adults to encourage them to still have fun.

So is coaching kids very different or the same as coaching adult athletes? The answer is yes.

~ Coach Mark Turner

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