Youth Running: Keep it simple, varied and fun

A reader named Tracy with a 12 year-old son asks the following question:

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: Kids Sports Psychology and for parents go here.

Good luck and have fun with him!

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Youth Running: Keep it simple, varied and fun

  1. jim says:

    excellent comments. I will add my 2 cents worth, showing 2 contrasting examples. My former boss is one of the best runners in our area. He has a son who he has never been pushed into running, although that could have been the easiest thing to do. In fact, he almost tried to get his son interested in every other sport. He played soccer, football, baseball, and did some kids track events also. Over time, as he grew older and moved on to be a freshman in highschool, he slowly moved towards running as his main sport, and has become the best on his team, He was never pressured, always supported in whatever sport he tried, and just gravitated slowly towards running as his main interest. That is the positive end of things.

    On the negative end, a runner I know has a daughter the same age as my friend above. And he and his wife did exactly the opposite. They pushed her into running, road races, track meets, anything and everything that was out there, and this was done at an early age. of course she had success, and won everything in her age group for years. Then came the injuries, the lack of motivation, the continued pushing by the parents, and finally total breakdown. Needless to say she doesnt run anymore.

    I guess there are lessoned to be learned from each of these examples. ( of course my friend from the first example is now worried that his son will be beating him soon, which opens a whole new series of problems.)

  2. Awesome and vivid examples.

    I know of another 12-14 year old some 25 years ago who set age group “records” in the marathon (2:40s) and then burnt out… did nothing in high school or college. I don’t know if it was his own doing or parents but it highlights this issue of having kids pushing or being pushed too much too soon.

    Relax. Be a kid. Enjoy your sport.

  3. Pingback: Youth Running: Coach Dean looks at how much to run and how hard « Running Advice and News

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