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How we're a different type of triathlon team [and why?]

Triathlon is too often an independent pursuit for athletes, as the sport’s federations and professional and amateur teams search for a model that works. Over the last 25 years, Martin Spierings has been professionally involved in triathlon as an athlete, team member, coach, manager and owner of endurance sports clubs on three different continents. Drawing from these experiences, he’s created a vibrant amateur triathlon team, the TCMTriSquad. Martin’s goal is to use the dynamics and support of a team environment to bring out the best in each athlete. 



Background

After graduating university in Australia in 2000 and the obligatory Aussie European backpacking trip (with a triathlon twist), I accepted a position coaching H.A.C. Triathlon in Le Havre, France in 2001. This was a hands-on coaching role in a traditional club environment. The club was part of the same organization as the city’s professional Division 2 soccer team.


Following a move to the U.S. in 2007, I started my own online personal coaching business, as that became an increasingly popular and convenient way for athletes to gain knowledge about the sport. While online coaching was effective, I also noticed its limitations compared to being in-person, pool and track-side with a group of athletes. I noticed that other coaches would often unnecessarily isolate their athletes due to feeling pressure to create precise workouts for each individual. It’s hard to find social training partners if you’ve been mandated to run 8 miles at exactly 8:45 min/mi pace. Way to suck the joy out of an easy long run! 


A Biopsychosocial Approach

As my coaching career has progressed, I’ve realized that the psychosocial aspects of the training are as, if not more important, as the physiological content. It doesn’t matter how beautifully constructed your 12-week plan is for an athlete, if their interest in the sport ends at the end of those 12 weeks - they leave the sport far from their potential. As my roster of coached athletes grew, I started to put together a team as central to my coaching business.


I know for myself as an athlete, I train harder, I'm more motivated and I perform better in a team environment. Plus, I knew from my coaching in Europe that athletes stuck with the sport longer when in a fun, supportive, and competitive club environment. To be good at triathlon you have to be in it for years, not weeks!


Team Competition

Triathlon clubs are less developed than other individual sports such as swimming and cycling. Many triathlon pros, particularly in the U.S., are not part of a team at all. The challenge is the lack of serious team competitions at both the pro and amateur level. Although there are signs of change with Superleague (now called supertri), mixed relays in the Olympics and an increasing interest in the age group TriClub Challenge at Ironman events.  In Europe, team classification and prizes are common and in France, clubs are organized into Divisions like professional soccer, with the best competing in the French Grand Prix series. 


I’ve discovered that athletes perform better and find competition more rewarding when racing for something bigger than themselves. So, TCMTriSquad puts an emphasis on events with team competitions, where we can find them. While clubs in the U.S. will sometimes have a list of “focus races” in an attempt to gather their members socially at the same events, we take it a step further by having competitive team goals for each season and we provide incentives for the squad to turn up en masse to team events. Everyone on the team is recognized as contributing to our success with their performances. By targeting triathlon events and series that host team competitions, we hope to encourage a competitive club culture in the sport. 


TCMTriSquad Coaching and Team Structure

For triathlon clubs in Europe, there’s generally a coach and perhaps an assistant coach if the club is big enough. This is standard among most cycling or running clubs and teams. For triathlon, however, things aren't as straightforward, largely I think, due to the prevalence of 1:1 online coaching and the multidisciplinary nature of the sport. Local triathlon clubs might spread group training sessions over a few coaches and sometimes these are single sport coaches with little to no coordination between them. Members might also be receiving personal coaching and have to juggle how to incorporate their club’s group workouts into their schedules. Some online coaches might be reluctant to integrate group training at all into athletes' plans for fear they’ll be exposed to opposing ideas from other athletes or coaches and lose a client.


At TCMTriSquad, we’re constantly evolving to address the challenge of how to integrate valuable group training opportunities with an athlete’s personal plans (if they’ve signed up for 1:1 coaching). To meet this challenge, TCMTriSquad employs only qualified triathlon specific coaches to coach our members. Our coaches bring their own style of coaching, while offering cohesive group training opportunities (both in-person and virtual) to our athletes' programs. We also welcome self-coached athletes or those with existing outside coaches, creating an inclusive team with many options for coaching and training. Unlike many other coaching services, TCMTriSquad encourages each member to take advantage of the social and psychological benefits of being part of a triathlon team.


Team Race Kits 

It’s not controversial to make an Under 8 softball team wear the same uniform during the game, so it shouldn’t be controversial to have the same requirement for a triathlon club, right? With a lot of personal style and brand preferences, some triathletes may resist the idea of wearing a team kit. At TCMTriSquad, we’ve taken the unusual step of making it compulsory to wear our team kit at races. When an athlete joins our squad, they are issued a high quality Jakroo tri suit at a subsidized 35% off cost. Why? We want to support the members of our team at races by identifying them easily. We also want to honor our commitments to our sponsors who have invested to be represented on the kit (just as they do to be on the back of the Under 8 softball team t-shirts). 


One peculiarity of the club system in the U.S. is that you are allowed to be a member of multiple clubs simultaneously - a symptom of a disorganized national teams organization at the federation level. To account for this, TCMTriSquad members are welcome to join other clubs, but are required to race for us by registering under our club name and racing in the kit. 


A Team of Amateurs, Run Professionally

Some triathlon clubs joke that they are a social club, with a triathlon problem. We are proud to be a triathlon team first and foremost, that runs in a social environment. We have a second, unique requirement that members commit to doing at least one triathlon during the upcoming race season. We’re a triathlon team! We regularly welcome members who are preparing their first triathlon. In all the team competitions we target, no one is penalized by participation or performance, so even the novice member can contribute to the team's success.


Another distinction of the TCMTriSquad is that of our sponsor selection. Offering “20% off” a product does not get a sponsor-level partnership with TCMTriSquad. We seek out genuine marketing partnerships with a small number of brands or companies, that we can provide real and ongoing value to.


Recently, we have begun the search for a Title Sponsor who would take over naming rights of our team, in a similar vein to a professional cycling team. I, along with our coaches, would retain management of the team, oversee goals and the day-to-day operations while our Title Sponsor would own the brand. 


Performance Rewards

Amateur cycling races often have prize money awarded, but for age-group podiums at a triathlon, it’s very unusual to receive prize money (or even a bottle of wine). Typically, age group winners receive an extra medal or plaque (along with their participation medal) or a couple of thrown together sponsor items. At TCMTriSquad, we want hard working triathletes to be rewarded for competing in what’s become an increasingly expensive sport. Members who make the biggest contributions to our established goals increase the exposure of our team and sponsors. We’ve come up with the TCMTriSquad Ironman Points Rewards program which this year, offers $1,000 in cash and prizes to reward our best performers. We also offer ongoing incentives and support for athletes who compete at national and world championships, through our sponsor partnerships.




A perusal of the Ironman Global TriClub Rankings shows an interesting mix of coaching services, apparel brand ambassadors and local triathlon clubs. TCMTriSquad disrupts the current norm by being a triathlon team first and a coaching/brand ambassador/social club second. In the end, our goal is to keep athletes in triathlon for longer by creating an enjoyable, healthy, social, and informed environment to do the hard work and get the results that each individual is capable of.  



To learn more about the benefits of joining TCMTriSquad, click here.


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