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The next generation swimrunners – How do we involve the youth?

Any development of a sport is hinged on the constant inflow of new participants and for a sport to really grow steadily over time, this inflow has to consist of foremost younger participants. Currently swimrun is growing fast, both when it comes to participants but also formats for how to swimrun. Compared to the “old days” in the 10 year-or so young sport, with only few races, today a participant can chose from a variety of distances, race environments in different climates, but also chose to go solo -racing à la Ironman. However, with the introduction of solo racing we expect to see an upsurge in number of participants, foremost among older age groups. To attract the youth though, and thus make this sport development more embedded in the overall and already existing sports system, something else needs to happen.

So how do we attract and retain the youth in swimrun?

For more youngsters to pick up on swimrun and stay in the sport, the concept of the sport need to differentiate itself from other sports, foremost regular swimming, running and triathlon. By doing this, people will understand that it is a sport of its own, and not a complement to other sports. For this to happen, there also need to be an organisational infrastructure in place, to accommodate these people.

A well-known fact, coming from other sports, is the concept of having a developed and organised local structure to harbour participants, like smaller athletic clubs, associations or nowadays Facebook or similarly linked social media groups. These in turn are embedded under the umbrella of a wider regulatory governance structure, like regional or national association. A better and more coherent organisational system, from local level to national level creates conditions for easier management and financing of further development of the sport, which in turn can attract more participants. Hence, with organisation comes development and spread to a wider audience.

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But why is this important then, can’t we just keep swimrun as it is now?

Of course swimrun doesn’t have to grow but as more people join the movement, interest is spread, attracting younger participants who more than often find themselves engaging in a sport which doesn’t have an environment designed for their need. For younger participants, especially those still growing, it is recommended to exert some caution as to what they are getting themselves into, especially to avoid both danger and risk of injury. On the other hand, the structure should not be too risk adverse and restrict too much the youth participation. Foremost, the regulation must be evidence based, not just copied from traditions borrowed from other sports. The structure should be swimrun specific, not just an add-on to another existing Federation to whom swimrun is just a way to attract and control more people and increase their financial base. In essence, the structure should be swimrun specific, by swimrunners for swimrunners.

Swimrunning is good for young people

In general, youth sport has the potential to accomplish three important objectives in children and teenagers’ development: improved physical health, psychosocial development and motor skills acquisition. In addition, to provide a framework and a sustainable routine over time for a youth to relate to, together with friends in one’s immediate environment. Also by creating a solid sound foundation for longer-term educational attainment, that early regular physical activity helps establishing good habits for life. Early life sport engagement also provides basis for an active lifestyle, which can help in preventing and reduce risk for many chronic diseases now affecting people at younger ages e.g., cancer and diabetes, and chronic conditions such as obesity, but also hypertension and depression.

In essence, doing sport early is good for you, and being active is equal to being happy. And what better way to do this than by exploring both land and sea, under your own power, learning to play with the elements, than doing swimrun?

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But it all starts in the home

Any foundation for a person’s sport engagement more or less start at home, through the parents and wider family. At a later stage, friends’ influence also becomes important. Consequently, the immediate environment around a person creates the long-term basis influencing decision-making processes for which sport a person will finally chose. Many people try various sports but most of the time end up with one, or perhaps a few. The other aspect mentioned above is the organisational format to which a person is engaging in when choosing a sport. If only a random race exists but no organised training opportunities, through a club or likewise, it will be hard to retain that persons’ engagement. But if there is a coherent structure in the form of a club, the likelihood of engaging this person long-term increases significantly. However, this is still not enough, as research has shown us. It is the people inside the organisation who matter in the next stage, and foremost the coaches. A children’s coach plays a critical role in positively or negatively influence their sport experiences, and this is where the real anchoring of engagement and commitment to a sport takes place, through those who lead the activity.

What is needed from the swimrun community?

As we see more examples of swimrun for kid races popping up in the swimrun community, we at WoS also call for better structural organisation and more dedicated leaders to capitalise on this positive development. The swimrunning community needs race organisers, forums, internet sites, but also leaders attached to the local development of the sport and its youth base. They are the future of the sport.

For those of you who are interested in this specific development and want to read up on this topic we suggest you have a look at this recent publication

Sports Policy and Structure of Funding in the UK: Place, Potential, and Possibilities of Specialist Children’s Coaches to Improve Participation Experiences for Children and Young People During Periods of Transition (2018). Juliet Paterson

Which can be found here

/The WoS Team

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