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September 05, 2013

Tips For How to Involve the Kids in Running

Written by Dena Evans
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You run, maybe even every day.  Perhaps it took until adulthood to catch the running bug, or perhaps running just became a convenient exercise option when time became scarce amongst the demands of work and family.  Everyone benefits when our kids are healthy and participate in regular exercise, but we know we can’t invite five year-olds to come along for our weekend 20 miler or set the alarm for a pre-dawn, 5:30am 30 minute run.  Many kids associate running with a dreaded weekly mile in PE class, trudged around the school track, but we hope they can learn to see running as the rewarding activity we have found it to be. How can we involve children in the running process and introduce them to the sport as a fun endeavor?


Practice positive talk about your own running

If our kids hear us talking about tomorrow morning’s run with dread, or getting down on ourselves about the challenges and hurdles we face in our running, they are going to begin to associate those emotional results with running.  Why would they want to try something that seems to only make their parent(s) feel bad?  On the contrary, we can be mindful to talk freely and regularly about the productive results of our running: a clear head, a sense of accomplishment, healthy competitive attitude, good health, and more.  When our kids are given the opportunity to run, they’ll at least be hopeful for these results, rather than anxious in anticipation of the pain and struggle.


Introduce them to some heroes of the sport

Many kids can name their favorite basketball, football, or baseball player, but how many have a favorite runner?  Think back to your own childhood and the heroes you tried to emulate in sports, in the arts, in music, and more.  For running, we seem to subsist on the Olympics every four years to build a following among our youth, but look carefully, and there are plenty of great role models out there to follow and emulate.


If you’re in a race with professional athletes out front, remind your family to pay attention to the amazing feats going on in the lead and have them do the math to figure out how superlative some of their performances really are.  Many times, local pros and emerging elites are more than happy to talk and completely accessible after a race.  Ask for a picture at the awards ceremony and follow that athlete as they progress to the national or international level.


Check out your local college cross country or track and field meet and cheer for the hometown school.  Support your local high school at their meets or look out for the state meet if near you.  Again, many of the top finishers there will be stars in college and beyond, and ample video and other online content about them can likely be found on sites such as Flotrack, Runnerspace, and more.   A lot of these athletes didn’t know they would be standout distance runners, or even go out for their teams when they were younger.  Someone had to plant the seed.


Look for appropriate opportunities to let kids race with you

Many road races these days have kids’ races at age appropriate distances.  These are a great way to get the whole family looking forward to race day, and are also a great way to teach a sense of personal accomplishment, win or lose.  Mom or Dad comes home after a big city marathon and the kids ask, “Did you win?”  We chuckle at this, but the question reflects a perception that winning is the best and primary goal, whether they realize it or not.  We can model an effort-based approach, and kids’ races are a great way to encourage them to follow suit, as well as a chance to enjoy the fun extrinsic benefits like ribbons and medals, just as we adults do at the front of the pack or the back.  Kids’ races are also a good way to de-mystify the process of racing or pushing oneself.  Many kids dread the PE mile, because they are nervous whether or not they can run that far or about how they will feel if they push themselves.  Once that feeling is no big deal, and they learn they can run and make it to a finish line that seemed far away, they can enjoy the process a bit more.


Deliberately involve your kids in your daily running routine

Again, no one advocates banging out a set of repeat miles with your pre-schooler, but encouraging your kid to run a lap around the block with you for the first or last couple minutes of your run can get them to start to see themselves as a part of your pastime rather than a spectator in Mom or Dad’s activity, and can get them looking forward to spending those extra few minutes of one on one time.  Go to the park and include a bit of running as one of the things you are going to do – play structure, fountain, throw a ball around, bike riding, and maybe a couple of races to the tree and back, skipping, hopping, running, kicking a soccer ball, obstacle course on the play structure, or anything related.  Even in such a small sample, any association kids can draw between running and “fun” will help the make the same association later.   Separation between “play” and “running” now can reinforce that divide later.   On the other hand, pairing those two can help build a foundation of running as an activity not to be feared, but embraced as natural.    Running can be enjoyed as an individual pursuit, but can also be enjoyed as part of a team sport .    The important thing is to keep our kids active and including healthy exercise as a non-negotiable part of their daily lives.  We never know when a positive moment can plant a seed that will put kids on the right path towards making those choices for themselves.  Take advantage of all the opportunity running gives us and leave a trail of seeds for them to find!

Last modified on November 29, 1999
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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