It is every triathlete’s job to recruit new triathletes. If there are more triathletes there will be more races, more consumers of triathlon equipment and media, more people to talk to about your number one hobby, and more people to destroy on race day.
Unfortunately, recruiting new triathletes isn’t as simple as wearing your finisher’s medal to the office on Monday and expecting everyone to ask you about it. Trust me, I try this at least 6 Mondays a year and it never works. How about flaunting your exploits in public? Nope:
Brought my Ironman backpack to the beach and not one person has asked me about it. Hard to believe a whole beach is pretending not to care.
— Dark Mark (@_Dark_Mark) April 4, 2015
If we are going to compete with the traditional powerhouses (running, cycling) and upstart athletic endeavors (cross fit, mud runs, etc.) we need to up our game. Modern recruitment requires a delicate balance of (mostly genuine) enthusiasm, truthiness, and (mis)information. There are things you can say that will surely capture a potential recruit’s imagination, spark enthusiasm, and spur participation; however, there are also things which must be left unsaid. They’ll figure it out for themselves when the time is right.
In order to help my fellow triathletes in their recruitment efforts I have developed a fool-proof, 6-step process. I have captured the process in this simple, easy to follow Flow Chart, and I’ve provided more detailed explanation of the process below.
Note: if you are not a triathlete you shouldn’t be reading this. If you insist on reading on, be sure not to read the sections that begin with “Don’t tell them”.
Step 1: Casually work triathlon into conversation
If they show any semblance of interest quickly jump to step 2. If they are not interested (I know, it’s hard to fathom) wait an appropriate length of time (2 to 5 minutes is a good guideline) before bringing it up again. Here are three examples:
Them: “Fine. You?”
You: “Great! I did a triathlon on Sunday.”
Them: “How are the wife and kids?”
You: “Good, good. They watched me do a triathlon this weekend.”
Them: “Somebody’s got to do something about ISIS.”
You: “Yeah… Hey, speaking of the middle East, did you hear about Gwen Jorgensen’s 15:57 run leg in Adu Dhabi?
Step 2: Establish the person’s background and work this into a pro-triathlon message
Most aspiring triathletes come to the sport with a background in at least one of the disciplines. You want to tailor your messaging to the discipline that they are most familiar with. Others come to the sport with no background at all. These non-swimmers/bikers/runner can be roughly grouped into two categories: “fit” and “fat”.
Tell them: Being a strong swimmer is a huge advantage! So many people struggle with the swim so you’re way ahead of the game!
Don’t tell them: Assuming they are a pool-swimmer, don’t get into the shitty aspects of swimming in open water with hundreds of other people. This includes getting punched in the face and swimming for half an hour with someone constantly touching your feet. Don’t mention that wetsuits negate some of their advantage and leave out the fact that the swim legs for 70.3 and 140.6 triathlons are disproportionately short.
Tell them: Being a strong cyclist is a huge advantage! Cycling is only a third of the disciplines, but it’s like half the sport.
Don’t tell them: Don’t bring up running at all. Don’t use the word “brick”. Don’t talk about drafting.
Tell them: Being a strong runner is a huge advantage! Bike for show, run for dough! The run leg is the last and most important leg. Bring up the 14:30 deficit that Mirinda Carfrae erased on the bike leg in Kona last year.
Don’t tell them: Don’t tell them about bricks. If they’re bragging about a 1:25 half-marathon, bite your tongue and resist the temptation to blurt out “Try doing that on tired legs, sucka!”
2.4 No background in swimming, biking, or running, but still fit:
Tell them: Being fit is half the battle! Their transition is sure to be almost seamless. Just think of it as cross-training.
Don’t tell them: That triathlon, and especially swimming, is probably the single thing that they are worst at in the world.
2.5 No background in swimming, biking, or running, and fat:
Tell them: Don’t worry! Lots if triathletes are just like you. You don’t have to be fast, they give you 17 hours to finish an Ironman.
Don’t tell them: It will probably take you 17 hours to (maybe) finish an Ironman, and 17 days to recover.
Step 3: Propose triathlon as the perfect fit for them
This is the most important point in the process. You’ve grabbed their attention, determined their background and offered encouragement, and now you need to propose triathlon as the answer to all their problems, the thing they’ve been waiting for, the sport that’s perfectly suited to them. Some example phrases are:
“You need do a triathlon!”
“You’ll love triathlon!”
“Oh my god, triathlon and you were made for each other!”
Notice the inflection, emphasis, and exclamation. There’s no such thing as “overenthusiastic” when it comes to selling someone on a life-long obsession.
Step 4: Quell their reservations
Pretty much everyone’s first instinct is “no” for everything, so at this point expect them to start coming up with excuses. It is important to identify and quash these reservations immediately and forcefully.
4.1 Swimming Reservations:
Tell them: It’s the shortest part of the race. Wetsuits are awesome (basically just streamlined life-jackets). No worries!
Don’t tell them: For the love of god don’t mention that every year a few people die in the swim leg. If they happen to know this remember that those were all old guys with pre-existing heart conditions. If you are recruiting an old guy with a pre-existing heart condition change the subject.
4.2 Biking Reservations:
Tell them: That the safest time to bike is during a triathlon. Courses are often closed and/or controlled and you are in a large group. Protection in numbers!
Don’t tell them: That bike courses are pretty much never closed and people do crash and get hit by cars (usually while training).
4.3 Running Reservations:
Tell them: Everyone hates running. It’s okay to run-walk. Take the time to make friends on the course.
Don’t tell them: They don’t need to know that running off the bike is 1000% worse than just running.
Note: If one of their discipline-specific concerns is valid or otherwise insurmountable (ie. a legit phobia of swimming), there is always the option of what I call the “Relay Save”. Bringing up the option of the relay negates these “genuine” concerns and saves them as a recruit. There is also the “Duathlon Save” option.
4.4 Time Reservations:
Tell them: That most people are in the same boat. You train when you can and let the rest take care of itself.
Don’t tell them: That if they want to be any good they’ll need to train at least 7 hours a week.
4.5 Cost Reservations:
Tell them: It’s not that expensive.
Don’t tell them: It is that expensive.
4.6 Reservations about Douchebags:
Tell them: Most triathletes are laid back, supportive, humble, cool people.
Don’t tell them: Most triathletes are complete douchebags who are very, very proud of themselves.
Step 5: Validate their motivating factor
Now that you’ve resolved their concerns you need to identify their motivating factor. Are they interested in triathlon because they are looking for a way to have fun while doing exercise? Are they hyper-competitive and looking for ways to test themselves and impress their friends and co-workers? Or, are they just looking for a way to get into great shape?
Tell them: People in this category want to be enthused, so enthuse them. Tell them about all the neat people they’ll meet, the cool places they go, all the time they’ll spend out in the fresh air getting exercise.
Don’t tell them: Don’t mention that it’s pretty much impossible to have a social life when training seriously. Don’t bring up the hyper-competitive douchebags.
Tell them: That triathlon is super-competitive. Depending on your relationship with them, or their relationship with some other triathlete, you can spark their competitive spirit: “Did you hear that Barb finished 3rd in her Age Group last year?” You can also use reverse-psychology: “I don’t know. You probably wouldn’t be interested. It’s pretty tough.”
Don’t tell them: That a lot of triathletes are laid back and will not match their intensity. Also, triathlon exploits don’t impress anybody who matters.
Tell them: Triathlon is a great way to get in shape. It’s organic cross-training, easier on the body than doing any one form of exercise, and sure as hell beats toiling away at the gym.
Don’t tell them: Similar benefits could be enjoyed with almost any athletic pursuit, most of which are cheaper and less time consuming.
Step 6: Close the Deal
You don’t want to get all this way and not close the deal. What you’re looking for is commitment and the best option is to propose an actual race. This gives them a tangible, specific, time-based goal. But first, you need to get them in the mood for saying yes, so ask them a question, tailored this to their motivating factor, that they pretty much have to say yes to. Some examples:
Recreational: “Do you think you could handle this much fun?”
Competitive: “Would you be up for a challenge like that?”
Fitness: “Do you want to be in the best shape of your life?”
Alright, so here’s the big moment: propose a race. There are a lot of different ways to go with this, so use your gut. Here are a few guidelines:
- If your recruit is a female motivated by recreation or fitness, proposing a female-only super-sprint is a good way to go.
- If you had to use the “Relay Save” you can bite the bullet and offer to do a relay with them, or better yet recruit two others and then do the triathlon solo and destroy the team. The “Relay Save” can also be used to rope the recreational athletes, as the idea of completing a triathlon with other people might appeal to them.
- Remember their reservations from step 4. If open water was an issue, propose a pool swim. If cycling scared them, don’t propose an X-Terra. If they hate running, cap it at a sprint distance.
- For a competitive person you can be more ambitious and less specific. Just go right out and say “You could be an Ironman! Most people couldn’t, but you could.” If they’ve seen Ironman coverage on NBC and are familiar with Mike Reilly’s finish line calls, hammer it home by leaning forward and whispering “John/Jane Smith, you…are…an…Ironman…”
I hope that you will find this guide useful as you ramp up your recruitment efforts this spring. Print out a few copies of the Flow Chart, distribute it among your fellow triathletes, and lets get some more people excited about the best damned sport in the universe.