Hands up who remembers those awkward early teenage years? The ones where you were neither a kid nor a young adult.
Where your clothes still came from the children section, and seeing a 5 year old in the same top as you was mortifying.
You didn’t really know what to do with yourself, you were too young to go off on your own, but a lot of your old games felt a bit, well, babyish.
That’s kind of how I feel OCR is for the kids right now. Teenagers can start competing in age group at Spartan at 13, Nuclear, the host of OCRWC 2018 has their “Rookies” events for those aged 4-14, and at OCR World Championships entries start at 13.
But what about before that? Sure there are kids races, but that’s exactly what they are, kids races. They’re fun, and for the older ones, they’re easy. And speaking from someone who was a shy kid, I’m also going to say probably a bit embarrassing.
What 13 year old wants to stand on a start line that a 5 year old has just been on? Personally I would’ve felt like a baby.
Encouraging the Youth.
I think this where part of the problem stems from encouraging the youth into OCR.
Obstacle Course Racing is literally child’s play. It’s the stuff of dreams. Rope climbing, going through the mud, monkey bars. It’s stuff that children and young adults should excel at.
They should be smashing these courses without a backwards glance… and yet we’re seeing very few of them out there.
We’re lucky if we see one or two entrants in a 13-17 age group in the UK, making qualifications and podiums mean little…where’s the competition?
Yet, we see the children’s races jam packed full of laughter and enjoyment, and possible talent. So many of the adult entrants have kids of their own, or nieces & nephews, so where are they?
Missing the Mark
This is where we could be missing the mark, and where there’s a possible gap in the market.
How many of us had a hobby when we were young? I did Gymnastics, played the Violin, and Figure Skating.
Guess at which age I gave those up? Yep, roughly 11/12. I wasn’t interested anymore and wasn’t really making progress, so I couldn’t be bothered giving up Friday nights and Saturday mornings.
Do I wish I’d continued rather than get lazy and lose the skill? You bet. (although not the Violin I really sucked at that, always did. Not a musical bone in my body).
So imagine you’re a pre-teen. Your family goes to OCR’s, you and your little sister have been doing the kids races and you love them, but this year you turn up and it all just seems a bit… uncool. You’re running a course that babies do, why are you doing the same thing as a four year old?
You’ll do it but feel a bit embarrassed and a bit lacklustre, and next time a race comes around you’ll make your excuses. And it’s that easy, you’re out of a hobby. So when it comes to the time when you can compete in the age groups or run open what do you do? There’s a good chance you won’t be taking part.
And right there is a possible reason why we have so few young adult competitors.
Children Competitive Waves
Now, for 2018 Spartan UK introduced children competitive waves, like the adults you run alone with no help, but still on the kids course.
They’ve also introduced the kids Trifecta, which is pretty cool, but is it enough?
For the OCRWC, Young Adults can enter from 13, and whilst there are some good qualifiers out there, are there enough challenging races for them to run and get the necessary experience to have the confidence to take on the OCRWC? (Cause without a doubt, that course would be terrifying to a 13 year old).
So what’s the answer? Lower the entry age to bigger brands?
Well, I imagine there’s all kinds of insurance issues and costs involved in that, plus how young is too young to send a kid off on their own around a course?
Have a separate course for the in between ages? Well actually this would be ideal, but it’s not likely. Races struggle to make money as it is and putting on an “In-between” length would be tough.
The Future of OCR
There’s no doubt, children are the future of Obstacle Course Racing. Think how incredible some of the athletes are who have started at an older age are, imagine what we can see in the future with people who have been working towards this for years? Sure it won’t be for everyone, but the amount of children who it would be for would be incredible.
We shouldn’t be seeing nearly empty age groups, we should be seeing fierce competition. We should be seeing young adults who boss the obstacles because that’s what kids do: and I’m going to be harsh here, it shouldn’t be something incredible to see because THAT’S WHAT KIDS DO! Their natural ability for this sport is insane, and I want to see it blossom.
So how do we do that? Well, charity starts at home. If kids can’t race or feel shy to race, let’s get together to create training days for young adults, get them playing on the obstacles to get a feel for them. No one’s ever the wrong age to run, and running clubs exist everywhere. This can be a good way to encourage healthy competition and the drive to improve which many people need in order to keep going.
An All Inclusive Sport
Their goals are quite clear: to encourage children from primary years up until the end of high school in activity and sport. Making it an inclusive activity for all children, from the gifted to those with special needs, and understanding the over reaching benefits that being active and working together in sport can bring to a growing child’s mind and body, and to their future.
The great news is you can help, your entry to the Charity event at OCRWC guarantees a contribution to the cause, and whilst this is a UK based charity, there’s nothing stopping you from raising funds for a similar program local to you, and also doing your own community outreach and encouraging our young into the sport with activity days and training days.
We all want this sport to grow and develop, and there’s only one way to do that: to ensure it has a future. Our future lies in these mud covered tiny people, so let’s start working towards it together.