Running: A Great Sport for Kids
Running comes easily to kids. If your child loves to run, it makes sense to explore the sport of running. It’s a great way stay fit. For kids who run competitively, the challenge can be to avoid overtraining, which can lead to injuries such as tendonitis, shin splints or stress fractures.
“Kids under 8 years old really should stick to running around in the backyard,” says Dr. Kathleen O’Brien, MD, a pediatric sports medicine physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital in Wilmington, DE. Competitive and longer distance running should wait, or risk possible chronic overuse injuries.
Dr. O’Brien recommends that runners take a least one day off from training per week. On non-running days, kids should exercise with activities such as swimming or resistance training.
To avoid overtraining, Dr. O’Brien recommends young runners:
- Start with small distances
- Stay within the guidelines of your age group
- Don’t increase mileage by more than 10% per week
- Take rest days
Hydration and Weather
In addition to overtraining, parents need to help kids regulate their fluid intake and be mindful of weather conditions. Children don’t produce as much sweat as adults do, so it’s harder for them to recognize when they’re hot and thirsty, says Dr. O’Brien. Make sure they drink water before and during a workout to avoid dehydration and heat-related injuries.
In addition, kids’ bodies retain more heat than adults when it’s hot, and lose heat faster when it’s cold, so make sure they’re dressed properly for weather conditions. Avoid running in temperatures above 90 degrees or below freezing.
Other Running Benefits
Rosalind Russ-Tobias, President of the Omega Track Club in Sicklerville, NJ, finds that there is a connection between running and academic success. “In my opinion, sports help with school,” says Russ-Tobias. Specifically, running helps with time management skills and teaches discipline, she says.
Other track coaches across the area also note the numerous benefits of running for young people. Don Robson, head track & field coach at Sts. Philip & James School in Exton, PA, says running is a good sport for kids because it allows them to see their
improvements in very measurable and tangible ways, boosting self-esteem. “They can really see their efforts pay off,” he says. And running doesn’t require much equipment. “No pads needed,” says Robson, “just a good pair of running shoes.”
Track workouts are at once a social hour and a chance to get some thinking done while running alone for a stretch, notes Kim Chitty, director of Girls on the Run Delaware, a program in New Castle County that incorporates running into empowerment lessons for girls. “Running can be a peaceful time,” she says. But the girls seem to really enjoy the camaraderie of the team, says Chitty. “They can get some exercise and talk with friends about their day,” she says.
Although running programs are available for kids as young as five years old, “You don’t want to put too many miles on the little guys,” says Robson. “The emphasis is on fun.”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.