Experiencing success is a strong motivator to get kids running
and to keep them running.

Do not just tell kids "you did great today” but tell them what they did that was great, like run an even pace or run as a team. Make it important and make it sincere.






What the experts on motivation have told us for decades is that the more motivated we are, the more likely we are to succeed. What they also should have been telling us is that success is, in itself, a prime motivator. According to Patricia Cunningham and Richard Allington, in their book Classrooms that Work, “Success precedes motivation and once children see they can be successful, they will participate; thus teachers must engineer success.” Although they are talking about 4th and 5th graders in a reading program, their message also applies to kids and running.


Real Success

When we talk about success, we need to be talking about real success, not simply telling kids they succeeded. Children who struggle to just finish a run and still end up far behind the pack know how they did. Most likely they will not be swayed, at least not for long, into thinking they did great just because a cheerleading coach or parent told them so. As adults, we can do better than being cheerleaders. We need to “engineer success” into every run so that children can walk away with a smile on their face, knowing they did a good job.


Start with Simple Goals

Engineering for success starts with setting simple goals; ones that young runners can easily achieve. This means adults must have realistic expectations and be ready to craft a program built on incremental steps, with opportunities for success at each step. Next, each run must be structured to help children meet their goals. For very young runners, teaching them how to run together, as a team, or to run a short distance at the same pace every time, or to complete an obstacle course faster the second time than the first, are simple yet effective ways to help them experience success. When the children can do these, then it’s okay to be a cheerleader. The difference is we now are cheering because the child did what he or she was trying to do.


Success is Seldom Found at the Back of the Pack

Engineering for success in every run is sometimes difficult to do. And occasionally, even when we try, the run doesn’t turn out as planned. This is okay, providing we don’t allow a run to become a negative experience or result in a feeling of failure by any child.


How does that happen? Well, just about every time kids run in a group, someone charges to the front and others follow. The field stretches out and, inevitably, the slower runners -- and mostly the same ones every time -- finish far behind the leaders. The consensus, at least as reported by runners who have been there, is that success and motivation are seldom found at the back of the pack.


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