Posted by: Dean Hebert | May 27, 2008

Youth Running: keep it simple, varied and fun

A reader named Tracy with a 12 year-old son asks the following question, which our Coach Dean Hebert returns to answer:

I was wondering if you could pass along some advice for running with my son. He will be 12 in a week and I want to get him running with me a bit and then entered into some 5k runs over the summer. Any practical advice for a kid this age, do you think he’s too young? I’m pretty slow at a 10:30/mile pace so he should be able to keep up.

Being able to share mutual interest is one of the most enjoyable things as a parent. And better yet for running, toss most of the “how-to” guides out the window. The reason is because the simpler you keep it the better off you are. And, no, he is not too young at all to run! I could write volumes about each point below but I’ll keep this succinct and hopefully not lose meaning or impact. The first two have to do with the psychology of kids and sports and the others on the physical training elements.

1. One of the most rewarding things is to be able to share something that you both have an interest in have in common. Be sure he is doing it because he wants to, not you. If he isn’t in the mood, don’t force him.

2. The preferred competition should be with himself not everyone else. The object is to have him be the best him he can be. Self-efficacy, sense of mastery and competence are important. These are built through seeing success and progress in workouts not just in races. Minimize social comparison – though some is inevitable. Make racing about bettering his own time/distance not beating other kids.

3. He needs running shoes not cross training shoes. Do not spend top dollar for them it is not worth it. Expensive shoes will not make him a better runner nor will it protect him more. However, running shoes are constructed for running and should be used (not basketball or tennis shoes).

4. Run with variety in mind. Adults more than kids seem OK with ruts. Children do not have the attention span of adults nor do they typically have the mindsets to stay interested in only one activity for too long. Change venues, courses, distances, paces and play games (like non-stop tag, follow the leader, run through a park and use parcourse/circuit course exercise equipment or monkey bars – be creative – let him choose how/what to run).

5. Run shorter faster. Children thrive on short fast running. Infuse track running – 100, 200, 300 meter fast repeats with walking 50 or 100 meters for instance. If you don’t have a track, alternate running fast and slow between telephone poles. You’ll be surprised how much you will benefit from this not just him!

6. Long is a relative term. Certainly to run a 5k he will need to become comfortable with running continuously for that distance. It’s OK to intersperse walking until that endurance is built up.
7. Children in general should not be running every day. It’s better to run short, run hard, do lots of other activities (soccer is a great choice) and get rest.

So, in the end I would recommend the following to start:
a. Run three times per week.
b. Run one workout with faster interval-type repeats on a track (or see options above).
c. Run one workout in a variety of paces and terrains like a park or trails, etc.
d.Run one steady state “long” run. Start with running and walking and gradually increase the running percentage. Build up to 3-4 miles.

If you want more excellent programs on how to nurture the young athlete go here: Youth Sports Psychology

Good luck and have fun with him!

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona
Special to Running Advice and News


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