Running is a fantastic sport to be involved in at a young age. It brings many rewarding benefits for kids' physical, mental and personal development.
When children become involved in running it not only keeps them physically fit and healthy, it also provides many valuable life-learning tools that can harness the development of a child right through into adulthood. For example: better concentration for academic work, the building of confidence, time management skills, working towards goals and participating within a team and as an individual.
Talking from personal experience, I grew up with running as a child. It helped me significantly to challenge myself and to also believe in myself. Running is a form of meditation on the soul. It allows our thoughts and worries to float away and helps us to deal with life challenges with a more positive outlook. It allows one to be in tune with oneself and to believe that anything is possible when you put your mind to something. As children go through the growth stage, running allows the individual to build more self-esteem and confidence within themselves.
Getting the Balance Right
It’s important with anything in life to have a healthy balance of variety, not overdoing it to the point where you become injured or mentally drained by repetitiveness. It’s especially important for young athletes not to over-train as it can take the enjoyment out of the sport and lead them to giving up on sport altogether.
When children are very young, the emphasis shouldn’t be on competition or covering specific distances, but on having fun. However a bit of competitiveness is very healthy for kids to set and attain their own personal goals. Is more likely to keep them motivated.
How Far Should Children Run?
How far children should run is a difficult question to answer. Every child is different and it depends on age, physical development, fitness levels, type of running and personal preference. Although many children have naturally high levels of aerobic fitness, they are limited in their capacity to generate energy for high-intensity activities.
While children are experiencing major physical changes during growth, it is good to limit the volume and intensity of their training. During a growth spurt body parts grow at different rates. The feet and legs, for example, usually grow faster than the torso, causing many teenagers to seem gangly or awkward in their movement. These development changes may cause the runner to temporarily perform less well because an uncoordinated stride causes wasted energy, which can lead to fatigue or injury.
The aerobic system is not fully developed until children have passed through puberty. It’s important that your child does not undertake intense levels of endurance running as they are at risk of injuries, abnormal growth, malnutrition and psychological burn out.
Within many competitions there are regulations governing the maximum distance a child can run in certain age groups. This can help to give you a guideline, for example:
Under 9: Maximum distance: 3km
Age 9-11: Maximum distance: 5km
Age 12-14: Maximum distance: 10km
Age 15-16: Maximum distance: Half Marathon
It’s important that children follow the same injury-prevention strategies that adults do. Running on softer surfaces where possible, warming up, not running if something hurts and stretching afterwards will help them to stay healthy and injury-free.
While children are young it’s good to introduce good running technique. Running is a skill that can be taught and learnt. Childhood is the ideal time to learn it before bad habits have become ingrained. With the right technique, this can help children to run more energy efficiently and stay injury-free.
Enjoyment is the key in running, having fun and enjoying the freedom that running offers.