Athlete Participation Spectrum

Have you had a change in circumstances, and now have the potential to do more training or do you have a change that means you need to consider your investment in Triathlon? Have you attained your goals and wish to make a change or try something new?

Over the years I have had this conversation many times with athletes, sometimes it is good news (e.g. goal achieved) and it is a case of what now or moving positively on to the next adventure. Sadly at times, it is a forced change, for example, a change in work commitments or a change in family or personal situation that directly affects the athletes time and ability to commit to training and racing.

Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at the 

athlete development pathway

 that British Triathlon has recently released. The pathway is centred around first exposing, then exploring, before enhancing and excelling in Triathlon performance.

Graphic obtained from BTF Athlete Development Pathway

To a lot of athletes, this pathway seems like a one-way street. If you don't get to the end of the story you could perceive this as a failure. This can be the case in particular for goal orientated athletes, so that means all athletes then. In my experience change is often the most difficult thing for an athlete to adapt to, it can be an incredibly stressful time. There is little guidance out there as to what to do at a time like this and this simply adds to the stress.

Below is a proposed additional spectrum for athlete participation that has a little more focus on the AG Racing part of triathlon. Perhaps it doesn't place as much emphasis on needing to see the athlete development pathway through to its conclusion.

Which of these types of athletes would you say best describes your position?



  • Unsupported Athlete

  • Social Athlete

  • Club Athlete

  • Training Plan Athlete

  • Coach Supported Training Plan

  • Coached Athlete

  • Full-Time Age Grouper

  • Pro Athlete

Real life factors, such as those mentioned above, that result in a change in your circumstances can cause a change in your position on this scale. It is important to remember that moving up or down the scale doesn’t make you a failure, or equally it doesn't mean that you don't care! You do care you have just made a choice about priorities. Balancing the scales.

If you are currently at a point where you are having to take stock, the critical thing to do is to recognise the change and revisit your goals and expectations. 

Examples of change can be a change of job, increase in stress from work, increase in family stress, increase in financial stress, decrease in work stress, change of location or the million other things that happen on a day to day basis. 

It is perfectly ok to step back from things a little and become a club athlete for a little bit and just train with friends and stay reasonably fit to race for competitive fun. Equally, it is ok to become a social athlete and do it purely for fun, this may result in a change in times and a lot more soreness the day after a race but that is absolutely fine if your expectations match this.

I would also add for those athletes near the top it is sometimes important to recognise daily stresses when the other important elements of your life conspire to force a change of plan. We know that consistency really does make a difference in training so if life conspires against you and that 90-minute Fartlek run at pace needs to become a 30-minute fun run with a friend; so be it.

You still ran, you still stayed consistent.

The key difference from the top of the list to bottom is the environment the athletes have around them. Is it conducive to performance? This is a huge advantage the pros have! Professional athletes tend to live in a bubble created around their performance. As an age grouper, we have many other demands on our time and it is important that we work with this rather than against it.

The first step in this is making sure that our expectations, commitment, goals for sport and goals for other aspects of our life match up. 

Think about where you sit on the scale and whether or not these elements match each other and you will be on the first step to a stress free and enjoyable approach to Triathlon.

Coach Alan Ward