Successful running programs for children are built on values that are important to children.

A good coach for a kid’s running program must know something about running and a lot about motivating. For children, getting them running and having a good time doing it is far more important than how far or how fast they run.



Having fun, being with friends, and having a sense of belonging are what kids want out of any activity, be it sports, in the classroom or in after school recreation programs. It seems almost too obvious. Yet most kids’ running programs are mileage or goal based with little regard given to putting fun, being with friends, and belonging as the top priorities. These should be the core values of every children’s running program. If they are, children will likely continue to run. Conversely, when these are missing, children may find something else to do.

Put Fun Ahead of Miles 

To encourage children to run or to continue running, parents, teachers and coaches need to put having fun ahead of what the kids will run or how far or how fast. The Eagles Running Team in Lansing, Mich., comprised mostly of young runners, is built on the principle that fun and running are synonymous. The measurements for success are simple. If kids are smiling and laughing and giving each other chest bumps and high fives, the program has succeeded. One mother reported her daughter “…cried when she had to miss a run.” A good guess is that she was crying because she missed the fun, not because she didn’t run the miles that others did.

Cultivate Friendships

Good coaches recognize the importance of friendships in building a running program, both old friendships and new ones. They form new groups or pairings with each run so children can get to know each other; they design team challenges that make the children depend on each other to accomplish assigned tasks; and they form relay teams made up of kids of different abilities and prompt each runner to cheer for his or her teammates.

Create a Sense of Belonging

Kids don’t need to compete to be on a team. All they need is to work together to learn simple tasks and to have fun. For coaches, this means teaching kids to run together, as a team, rather than everyone running at a different pace. It means building a team identity with a name, team colors, a team slogan and an emblem or logo for T-shirts. It means organizing special “team-only” runs, keeping team records like how far the team ran on a special night, and planning team parties or trips to the local swimming pool. And for special runs, like a kids’ Fun Run attached to a local road race, it means having the runners wear their team T-shirt. It will make the kids feel special, and allow others to see these kids are part of something special.

What High School Coaches Have to Say...

High School coaches were invited to tell the researchers at NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY what advice they would have for parents of elementary-aged children regarding children’s running. Here are just two of the many responses the researchers received.

Let kids be kids. Don’t make them grow up too fast. Getting too serious too soon will result in burnout and quitting, or not enjoying running when they get older.

Kids respond to the running culture that we, the adults, provide (Fun Runs that become races, age-group competitions, coaches for kids’ running, etc). We need to tone it down, especially the pressure we put on kids to perform.

The NOVA study, done in conjunction with the Center for Children’s Running, was the first of its kind. The purpose of the study was to determine how high school coaches view children running in age-group competitions and road races at distances once thought too far for children, and the impact these have on the child's future participation in running. Check out the survey results on the RESEARCH page!


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