To keep young runners healthy, put your focus on getting them excited about running instead of just counting the miles they run.

If you see a runner losing form or slowing way down, have them stop. Let them help you or maybe do some other kind of exercise. If a runner tells you he or she is hurt, believe them. Have them stop what they are doing immediately.  



Remember, it is the coach’s job to keep every child safe. Know where they are every minute and know what they are doing. And always have a cell phone with you in case of an emergency.


Is running good for kids? You bet it is. Running gets kids outdoors; builds strong bodies; improves endurance; develops their cardio-vascular system; increases energy and, so important today, is instrumental in maintaining healthy body weights for children. But are there any health risks? Sure there are.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and others have issued warnings about the risk of young children running beyond what their bodies are ready for. The concern, according to Lyle Mitcheli, M.D. and director of the Division of Sports Medicine at Children's Hospital in Bos
ton, is that “…bones are still growing and the growth cartilage at the ends of the bones is softer than adult cartilage and more vulnerable to injury.”

Other health professionals cite similar concerns about the issue of bone growth, but most stop short of suggesting any age or mileage threshold for serious running. Yet others point out the intensity of the run and the running surface should be factored in. A jog on soft grass is a lot easier on immature bones and cartilage than is training or racing on asphalt. And then there are those who disagree completely and cite that there is no research that supports the claim that children are at risk of being injured by running, no matter how often or how far or how fast they run.

Jonathan Beverly, Editor of Running Times and author of Kids Going Long [RT, June 2011] offers a great perspective on how far kids can or should run and the risk of injury. He says everything must be put in context, with each child having different thresholds. If the child has good mechanics, runs because he or she simply enjoys running, has been gradually building up their mileage and runs easily, then they probably can handle running longer distances. This makes good sense. If any of these are absent, then stick with shorter distances, focus on good technique, and build strength.

Heat and Humidity

One health risk on which everyone agrees is that running when it is hot or humid is dangerous. This is true for adults, but even more so for children. Coaches and parents need to recognize the warning signs of dehydration, cramps, heat stress or heat exhaustion and know what to do if they think a child is at risk. There are several good websites, like WebMD, that offer excellent information on this subject.

The best ways to protect children from overheating is to not expose them to extreme heat and humidity; to require them to drink plenty of fluids when running on hot and humid days; and to be proactive by changing where or what they run if needed.

When it gets hot, schedule your runs in parks that offer lots of shade or start a run a short distance from a pool or local beach and finish with a swim. On other nights get out the garden hose and spray the kids down each time they pass by. If you see a child who looks overheated pull them out and get them drinking water -- not soda or fruit juices -- just plain old water.

Parental Responsibility

When a new child joins the Eagle Running Team in Lansing, Michigan, the parents are required to read and sign a Health and Safety Agreement that clearly states that running involves some inherent risk. The injuries most common with children runners are twisting an ankle, tripping or falling. On occasion this could include cuts or contusions and possibly injury to a ligament or tendon or a broken bone. Only in very rare instances are running injuries catastrophic.

This is not a waiver of liability (most of which have almost no legal weight today) but simply identifies the risks and establishes the need to have rules and to enforce these rules. It also puts responsibility on the parents to inform the coaches of any reasons; medical or otherwise, suggesting it is not healthy for their child to run.

Because it is an evening and weekend program that uses different parks for each run, most parents bring their children by car.
Parents are expected to stay at each practice and be available to deal with any situation, medical or other, that involves their child or children. They
are asked, and reminded each time, to report any situation they see as a risk to their children. Fortunately, no one ever has.

To help minimize the risk of injury, parents must have their child or children wear proper footwear for each practice. Children wearing
sandals, flip-flops, Crocs, or soft pull-on shoes, or any other shoe the coaches consider unsafe for running will not be allowed to run. Parents also must have their child or children bring a full water bottle to each practice.



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