YOUTH RUNNING: A BETTER MODEL
In the 1970s the alarm bells of childhood obesity started ringing. Health professionals, educators and government agencies across Canada and the United States jumped into action. Healthy kids became a top priority.
It was also in the 1970s when Canadian and American runners made the 26-mile marathon front page news. Almost overnight, running became a mainstream sport across all age groups. For those not fleet-of-foot, jogging became legitimate. Best yet, running became a means to get families and children moving, to be fit, to be healthy.
School-based running programs quickly became center stage with children running laps around playgrounds during recess or PE, some earning awards for miles completed. Kids logging miles in school programs were soon counted in the hundreds of thousands, some report the millions.
Yet, today, some fifty years after the alarm bells started ringing, the percent of children who are obese is twice that in the 1970s. Yes, children running laps around the playground does burn calories, but unhealthy eating and the lack of a desire to be fit make the battle against childhood obesity close to being a losing cause.
KIDS RUN CLUB
Now, we turn to the KIDS RUN CLUB of Nova Scotia, Canada, as a new model, a better model. One that goes beyond running laps and burning calories. It is causing children to want to be healthy, to be fit, to be active.
The KIDS RUN CLUB (KRC) model is built on creating a welcoming environment, by making being in the “Club” important, and finding a place and pace for each runner. And, most importantly, teaching running. Not just running laps, but teaching the mechanics, teaching pace and the importance of knowing which foods are healthy and which are not.
MAKING A “CLUB” THE CULTURE
Kids Run Club schools promote a club culture, one where belonging, being active, running, is the norm. A club, built on being included, being part of something special.
Central to the KRC is recognizing that some children may be disadvantaged in terms of opportunities for physical activity or simply have no interest in sports. Others may not be comfortable running, at least not laps around the playground where they see the fastest runners get all the attention.
KRC encourages children to start gradually by offering opportunities for them to simply enjoy being included, being part of the team. When children feel they belong it enhances their confidence and interest in doing what others are doing. With positive encouragement, most gradually begin running, even if just short runs. Soon, they may be running laps. Others will move to other activities that raise the heart rate, that work the muscles, that build confidence.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY TO SUCCESS
One of the factors that has contributed to KRC’s longevity is the flexibility for schools to create a program that matches their circumstances. The program can be adapted in terms of age/ability, format (extra-curricular vs during class time), and the length of program.
A PLACE AND A PACE FOR EACH RUNNER
KRC offers an inclusive program that encourages each school to tailor the program to best suit their students so that regardless of age or ability, all have a chance to experience the joy of movement. To allow all children the opportunity to improve, KRC coaches will often break runners into groups based on how much walking they do versus running --- a quarter, half, or three-quarters of the distance. The coaches then recruit volunteers or parents to work with the runners that are placed in one of the groups. The coach assigns each group the days “workout,” different from the other groups. One group may be doing short relays or running games while another may be running for time -- a ten-minute tempo run or short hills, etc.
Also, KRC coaches must deal with weather that is not entirely friendly to running outdoors year-round. On those days the young runners move from one exercise station to the next, either in the gym or even a school hallway. Stations, like step ups, wall sits, bench dips, lunges, burpees, create a challenge, with kids working on just adding one more repetition at each station over their PR. Each station lasts 60 seconds, with 30 seconds until moving to the next station.
TEACHING TEACHERS, COACHES AND KIDS
Kids Run Club is more than running. It is a teaching program, both about running and being healthy. Supported by an A+ teacher’s handbook, coaches help children learn about making good choices in eating, getting enough sleep, on running an even pace, running form, and about pick-ups and Fartlek. They learn what to wear and where to run, about running in cold and hot temperatures, about stretching, hill running, and even about homework runs (make-up or extra runs). These lessons are passed on to the runners at the beginning of each run, i.e., the Tip of the Week.
CREATED AND SUPPORTED BY DOCTORS
KIDS RUN CLUB was created in 2004 by Doctors Nova Scotia, the association that represents practicing and retired physicians, residents, and medical students. Program director Kerry Copeland and her team of volunteers and teachers bring KRC alive in more than 160 schools. KRC is now a program of the Doctors Nova Scotia Healthy Tomorrow Foundation.
The Journal of Youth Running is supported by the
MICHIGAN RUNNING FOUNDATION