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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.
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 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.
Many young runners struggle to keep motivated for their sport with new life distractions. It can be a challenge to manage time during the final years of school and throughout – where exam pressure rises and your social calendar gets busier! Here are some tips to help you stay motivated to keep up your enjoyment and interest for running.
It is useful to keep a training diary. You can use it to log in your times from your training sessions, and keep note of how you felt in the session. That way it is easy to look back and see your improvements and keep you motivated to reach your goals.
Have your eyes set on a goal and you will therefore be more determined to achieve it. Your goal could be a particular race, or improving your times in training. That will help to keep you motivated as you will be focussed on one goal rather than many.
Quite often, there are times when you will have to run on your own, which some people find tough to stay motivated. Having a watch will help you keep track of your training. For training sessions, you can set the watch to certain time intervals, so there is no need for someone to help time you. This way it is easy to complete a session solo. Record the pace and distance you run, take note of it in your training diary and see your progression as the season goes on! Another useful feature of a watch is a heart rate monitor. This will give you an idea of how hard you are working. Keeping track of your heart rate is also useful for noticing when you are under the weather, as there will be a slight increase in your heart rate, so you know then not to push too hard.
Running Watches and Monitors »
Joining a university in an area you are unfamiliar with is a daunting experience. Joining the university athletics club is a great way to meet new people with common interests. It will provide you with people to train with on cold winter nights and also people to socialise with, which really helps the team to bond, creating great team spirit.
Make sure you have a balance between sport, work and socialising. It is challenging to keep focused with so many distractions, such as exams and parties. By managing your time you are more likely to keep on enjoying your sport. Keeping a diary will help.
Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy yourself. Enjoyment alone will see you from junior to senior level. Good luck!
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