Getting Women into Triathlon

According to Triathlon England membership figures, only 28% of people who participate in triathlon are female. I’m passionate about working to increase this to 50%, so I was excited to be invited to the ‘Getting Women into Triathlon’ workshop last weekend at Chessington World of Adventures.

The workshop hosted by Jenny Vincent (National Lead for Women’s Participation and South East Regional Manager) and Carol MacDonald (East Regional Manager), was a place to discuss and debate the barriers which prevent women getting into triathlon and how we can overcome these. 

We began by discussing some of the common fears and misconceptions around getting involved in triathlon. Some of the most common barriers were:

– I feel I will be judged
– I don’t have the confidence
– I won’t look the part
– I don’t know where to start
– I don’t have the time
– I have ‘first time fears’
– It’s too expensive
– It’s too public

Many of the women in the group related to a fear of open-water swimming, which is definitely a common barrier for newcomers. It’s important to know that there are plenty of pool-based triathlons available- to become a triathlete you actually never need to swim in open-water. 

Something I had not personally considered was the use of ‘jargon’ and how that can be off-putting to beginners. One woman shared how she had misunderstood the term ‘super-sprint’ believing it to be the fastest and most scary triathlon distance! In fact, a ‘super-sprint’ is the shortest race distance and ideal for newcomers. It inspired me to work on a jargon-buster for my own blog, as I’m aware that some of the terms I use might not be familiar to everyone. 

Certainly the way we talk about the sport and the images which are presented shape people’s perception of what triathlon is all about. 

The idea of not looking the part was another fear for beginners. Sport England have done fantastic work with their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in showing that women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability can enjoy sport. We all agreed that ‘This Girl Can’ images and case studies really help to break down stereotypes of what one expects a triathlete to be. Triathlon England linked up with ‘This Girl Can’ to produce this inspiring video at Tri Liverpool:

We discussed how ambassadors for the sport can be used to spread the message that triathlon is accessible, achievable and enjoyable for all women. 

Another topic which was discussed is the obstacle of finding comfortable, flattering and stylish kit to race in as a female triathlete. Much of the kit available is boring, poorly fitting or incredibly expensive. This is an area of particular interest to me, as I’m actually launching my own range of female-specific triathlon clothing next year. I’m very excited about my concept and the ladies on the workshop were equally as interested in my plans. I think I have my first customers lined up already! 

We reflected on our own reasons for getting involved in the sport. The majority of us took up triathlon as a new challenge, coming from a background as a runner or cyclist. Finding new friends was another common reason- it was lovely to hear that so many of the group had found strong friendships within their triathlon clubs. I certainly related to this as I couldn’t be without my friends from Havering Tri!

Go Tri is another initiative to make triathlon accessible to beginners. Events are local, reasonably priced with manageable distances which have been purpose-designed for beginners. Go Tri aims to follow a similar format to parkrun, with regular and timed events with a community feel. They also offer training which gives you the tools to improve in all the triathlon elements at a local leisure centre. You don’t need any equipment to get started and you can choose sessions that suit you. Indoor cycling, treadmill running, pool swimming and conditioning, are all available to get beginners triathlon ready. 

I must admit I wasn’t too familiar with Go Tri, so it was interesting to discuss how we can promote the initiative to females on a local and national level.  

We then debated the need for female-only triathlons, considering both sides of the argument. For beginners, a female-only triathlon may be less intimidating, with a more nurturing and less aggressive male-dominated race environment. Events like ‘Race for Life’ and ‘The Moonwalk’ provide a safe environment for women of all abilities to run or walk, but are these type of events needed? Would a female-only triathlon encourage more women to get involved in the sport? As a group, the general feeling is that we want to train and race alongside our male counterparts and we particularly enjoy overtaking them!

As well as participants, triathlon is also lacking in female officials and coaches. With just 29% of coaches being female and 37% of officials. Personally, my barriers to become an official or coach was partly due a lack of understanding of what it involves. After chatting to some of the women on the workshop who officiate at events, I’m actually considering it as an option for myself. 

The workshop was a inspiring and thought provoking morning, where I had the opportunity to meet women as passionate about triathlon as I am. Hopefully it will be the beginnings of a network where we can work together in future. 

Have you tried a triathlon? What stops you from getting involved? Would you prefer a female-only triathlon?

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