A New Era of Collegiate Triathlon: A Varsity-Level Coach’s Take on the Future of the Sport

Marymount University is making waves in the triathlon world by creating a varsity-level program at the institution; a first in a sport that currently revolves around club programs at the collegiate level. Marymount has hired Zane Castro as head coach of both teams. Castro brings with him to Marymount 15 years of experience coaching triathlon at both the national and international levels. YoungTri caught up with him to learn more about the collegiate triathlon world, how it’s changing, and about the Marymount program.

Why collegiate triathlon?

The simple response is that the collegiate years are the obvious hole in elite development in the US triathlon system. Very few people realize it, but Junior (under 19) results do not project success at the elite level. Our country created this sport, but right now we are the weakest at the elite level, and we shouldn’t be, given our resources. So we need to encourage real, effective development of the sport during the collegiate years.

marymount triathlon

Marymount Triathlon Header – http://www.marymount.edu/athletics/Triathlon

Until recently, the norm in the United States has been for athletes to get serious about triathlon after specializing in one of the three disciplines first. Why should a great runner or swimmer come to your school to do triathlon rather than running or swimming in college and then re-focusing on triathlon afterwards?

We are entering a new era in triathlon, so the old model isn’t going to work. A great swimmer may develop their swimming in college, but they will likely come out lacking run development… the same can go for runners. Many collegiate athletes on scholarship don’t have the freedom to work on the other two disciplines, even if they know how. Like some other sports that aren’t well-developed at the high school level we can take athletes who haven’t necessarily been involved in triathlon before, but have a significant running and swimming background and develop them.

How will NCAA triathlon be different from the current collegiate club triathlon model?

The current club triathlon model may or may not have supportive knowledgeable coaches. Club programs also have limited funding (athletes have to pay out-of-pocket to compete). Here at Marymount, about three-quarters of all competition costs will definitely be covered and we will be looking for more funding. NCAA teams are run by knowledgeable coaches with support from the school.

NCAA_LogoSince there are so few NCAA teams, who will you compete against?

Currently, we will compete against clubs and funnel into the current national system (Junior, U23 or EDR) depending on the ages of our athletes. Once triathlon becomes an NCAA sport, our competition will be the other NCAA schools—the first 10 schools to sign the petition.

The NCAA has made it pretty clear that triathlon will be added as an emerging sport for women. But, given Title IX, how can up-and-coming male triathletes be certain that collegiate triathlon will be a viable option for them in the future?

First off, the emerging sport mandate is thru Title IX, so, yes, it’s technically for women. But the mandate doesn’t have any bearing on whether a university chooses to get behind a program and support it for both men and women. Right now, a collegiate-development avenue is a great opportunity for male triathletes, regardless of whether triathlon is “technically” an NCAA sport. Specifically at Marymount, we have full support from our president and AD, so we will be able to offer development—to both men and women—regardless of what happens with the NCAA mandate.

Stay tuned for more about Marymount and other college triathlon programs in upcoming features!

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