Why is it so hard to get kids running? Most of us were introduced to running as a form of punishment. How many of you still shudder when you hear a coach or athlete mention running “mountains” or “suicides”? Why would anyone want to do something that's packaged so negatively?
Today, American youth are in worse shape than at any other time in history. The rates of childhood obesity and associated health issues are not only at record highs, but are accelerating with no signs of slowing down. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In fact, in 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. We can blame all sorts of things: video games, poor diets, less physical activity in school, etc. But rather than point fingers, let's do something to turn things around. One of the best things we can do is introduce our kids to healthy lifestyles—and live those lifestyles ourselves.
Running is an excellent way for our children to grow and develop healthy daily and lifelong routines. The physical benefits of running include stronger immune systems, reduction of type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profile, a stronger cardiovascular system, and increased bone development. Even more, studies have shown that regular physical activity heightens focus and alertness, improves blood flow and nutrient distribution to the brain, and improves academic performance. Kids benefit emotionally from regular exercise as well. Running eases stress and anxiety, reduces tension, lifts mood, alleviates depression, increases self-esteem, improves sleep, boosts energy, and even improves a child’s ability to cope with difficult situations.
We need to introduce running in a positive light. Here are some ideas to help make running a fun and fruitful endeavor for your child.
Make It Fun | One of the first things we need to do is change the stigma associated with running. We need to make running fun. Finding games that are running-based is a sneaky way to get kids into running. Games like tag and “Red Light, Green Light” are a great way to introduce running in a fun, exciting way.
Team Up | Find a friend or group for your kid to run with. Relays are a great way for the kids to help push each other and pass the time. Make up different relays and keep track of records. Vary the distances and games to keep it interesting. Running in a team atmosphere helps kids push more than they would push themselves if they were running alone. Studies show kids will work harder for the group than for themselves.
Log It | Keep track of what they did and how they did. This makes it fun to look back and see personal improvement. Not only will they be able to see all the work they've done, but they’ll also be able to see how much they're improving.
Join In | Don't be afraid to join in the fun. Make it a family affair. Kids love it when their parents join them. We can’t hop on the soccer field or basketball court during a game, but a on run or in a race? Those are easy. By being there for them and supportive their efforts, we can help solidify the chances that our kids will see healthy activity as a lifelong lifestyle.
Be a Tourist | Find a race or place to run that's new. Even being a tourist in your own town is an excellent way to get your kids excited about where running can take them. Races like color runs or 5Ks at places like Six Flags or the zoo are so much fun for children. Find a race to enjoy as a family and make a day out of it. What better way to explore?
Kickstarters | The Fleet Feet Kickstarters program is designed to introduce children ages 5 to 10 to a lifelong love of running. Our 6-week, non-competitive, “open track” program gives kids the opportunity to experience running in a fun, friendly, and safe environment. Participants will learn good form, build strength and endurance, make friends, and experience how improvement is the result of consistent effort.
Tim Cary is Head Track & Field and Cross Country for Lindenwood University at Belleville and the former Fleet Feet Assistant Training Manager. Over his more than two decades of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors. Click here to subscribe to our blog.