Keeping it in the Family: What Age is Appropriate for Kids to Start Running Competitively?

Are you the only runner in your family? Did you start running because an older sibling got into it and because you thought anything they did was cool, you laced up to go run too? Or did you come from a family of runners?
family running
Everyone starts for different reasons and some fall into the sport (or get cut from everything else and decide to give running a whirl, like this girl!). If you are the only runner your family may just collectively think you’re crazy but allow you your quirk.

But if you come from a family of runners, or if your parents were runners, did you grow up naturally assuming that you’d get into the sport. A recent article in Running Times HERE got me thinking about families that are runners.

Lots of times when two really fast harriers get married (and there are no shortage of runner couples…us run-a-holics tend to travel in pairs…or groups) there are the obvious jokes, “Wow, you guys will sure have fast babies…get ready to watch them in the Olympics!” Genes play a part, sure, but it doesn’t guarantee natural talent, or that the child will ever have a passion for the sport. Heck, they may turn out to have a desire to get into curling!

Sure, when a running prodigy does pop up with a lineage of fast genes that’s all well and good too as there are cases of those.

My question rather, is that when should a kid officially be a ‘runner’ or follow the sport exclusively? Racing competitively and putting in those gut-busting, tough as nails workouts? Similarly WHY are they doing it? Is it because they love the sport or is it because of their parents’ passion for it, or their parents’ desire to watch them excel?

Both my parents were runners, but I didn’t have any desire to run until about 8th grade. I never thought I’d be a runner, I liked soccer and other sports where you were running to get to something not just in circles. But when I joined a local team in 8th grade it was a club that had all levels and there were itty bitty dynamos that could kick my butt…and they weren’t even out of grammar school. I’d see kids not more than 7 putting in more miles than I’d care to think about and doing bi-weekly track workouts.
boy runner
I’d see their parents yelling at them like the coaches of teams playing in the Super Bowl from the side-lines. Now, not all of the parents were like that, don’t get me wrong…but it seems like the younger the athlete the more intense the parents. Doesn’t that seem a bit off to you?

On the flip side I’ve been privileged to be around elite level runners, or previous record holders, who are now parents themselves. A great number of them actually tried to steer their children away from the sport of running and into other things because 1) they didn’t want other people putting pressure on them just because of their genes and 2) they didn’t want their kids to feel any pressure, real or imagined, from their parents to follow in their footsteps. The parents felt that if their children got into running that the kids would be the ones to find it themselves. If they then wanted guidance or advice from their parents they could come and ask for it.

I think that’s the best kind of attitude, regardless of how fast the parents are…and shouldn’t that apply to anything in general? Shouldn’t we all find our interests and pursue them of our own free will?

But back to running…it is a HARD sport both mentally and physically. Put that on developing kids and it’s a lot to ask; when is it too young to seriously start running? I’m not talking about casually tagging along with Dad on a mile or two jaunt around the block or popping into a kiddie run if Mom and Dad are at a local road race. I mean really vying for PR’s and consistently training?

My thoughts are that kids should be involved in sports of all kinds and stay active…try everything because you never know what they’ll fall in love with. The soccer, rugby, basketball and the like…keep them running around and instill the desire to MOVE. Then if they happen to want to get really into running around junior high or high school those years of sports set the stage for a great base.

I think that’s where I stand…and if you DO happen to be a family of all runners then that’s well and good! I just don’t think the sight of parents yelling, veins bursting from their temples, at their kids is right, regardless of the sport or pursed interest.
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PS- Just a heads-up that my BIC Bands GIVEAWAY will end Monday so if you haven’t entered yet and want to, mosey on over! :)
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1) When did you get into running? Were you really active as a kid and play lots of sports?
I played, and stunk, and all the usual sports.

2) Were your parents, or anyone else in your family runners?
Both my mom and dad, but that’s it.

3) What age do you feel is appropriate for a kid to pursue running exclusively or competitively?

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18 thoughts on “Keeping it in the Family: What Age is Appropriate for Kids to Start Running Competitively?

  1. I started running probaly about 8, my parents encouraged us…well made us do a sport all school year. I also did basketball, fencing, softball, and gymnastics.
    2. My parents are not runners. My dad was a wrestler and played football until he was 47. He was also a goodwill games fencer…my brother is a natural runner though. But he bikes more than he runs. But when he runs its not a challenge for him.
    3. To be perfectly honest, i started my nephew in gymnasts at 18 months. At about 22 months i would take him to the high school track where hed play in the the long jump pit and id put it a few. One day he asked if he could run. I said sure and jogged alongside him. I thought hed go a 100meters. He ended up running a mile. After he kept wanting to go, running in his diaper. He ran his first race at 3 and came in 5 against 3,4,5,6 year olds. I did check with his doctor and she said to practice good warmup and pay attention. He is 8 now and still a running champ and doing cross country and hates team sports lol

    • thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences! i do think that sometimes you get those kids who just fall into running right out of the diaper…lol! in those cases, so long as u’re smart with the training and health u certainly don’t want to damper a love of the sport! :)

  2. I was hideously inactive as a child. I have zero coordination which partnered with the fact that I was blind as a bat and didn’t get glasses until I was 11 made me pretty much the worst child athlete there has ever been. I was however, intimately involved with the library.
    I was the first runner in my family, now my sister has gotten into it as well. It’s nice that we can participate in races together even though we both train solo. I would definitely encourage my kids (if there ever are any little chickpeas) to be active, but there won’t be any pressure. I think a lot of my friends who played team sports had a lot more social skills with our peers than I did at a similar age and they seemed more sure in themselves as well. But hey, if they just want to join mum on a jaunt around the block then that’s fine too. I can always use the company :)

    • u and i are in the same boat when it comes to coordiantion! :P

      i think it is so lovely how u’ve been able to inspire fitness in both ur sister AND in the work that u do!! keep it up, even those who may not say it see u and use u as motivation. :)

  3. I didn’t REALLY get into running until my junior year of high school after being cut from the soccer team after playing it for 9 years. My mom never really ran that much and my dad played soccer up till college. My brothers both played lacrosse and swam. It wasn’t until after I started running that my parents got into it. Now my Dad is always asking me for advice. I think for a kid they need to choose for themselvs when they want to really put a lot of effort into any sport. I think forcing them to do anything is just not a good idea.

  4. This is an interesting question, and speaks to getting kids into any competitive activity that mom and dad love, I think! I’m not a parent, so it’s hard for me to imagine where the line would be between encouraging a kid to learn new things and pursue activities vs. letting them take the initiative. My cop-out answer, I guess, would be that the desire and motivation can’t be one-sided :)

    • good point, as i’m not a parent either so i can only take a guess. but i agree that getting too serious about anything too young isn’t such a great idea. :)

  5. Ah, this is a very tricky subject and I’m not a good person to look at it objectively because I was one of those young runners that you referred to (in another state, of course). Running was just something that my entire family did together and was a way of life. Yes, I ran competitively from an early age. Yes, we had supporters at road races and we had people who called it child abuse. Yes, there were days I didn’t enjoy running – but that holds true for me now as well. But at the end of the day, I am immensely grateful for my years of running, for the discipline it taught me, for the friendships and camaraderie I developed with other local road race competitors.

    Are there things I would have changed about my childhood running experiences? Yes, of course. Am I scarred from it? No, I don’t think so. I still love running and all of my siblings still run to a certain extent. I don’t train as competitively as I use to but these days I have athletes to coach and their training means more to me than my own.

    Also, my dad (as my main coach) pushed us like any coach will do but he never berated us or yelled at us after bad races. I still see those types of parents at races and am embarrassed for them – it’s just a race.

    • thanks for ur perspective!! i think u make really points that a parent/coach would have to have two different hats, the dad hat and the coach hat…the coach hat as to be able to push the athlete. from there, it’s a matter of how well they separate the line between to the jobs. :)

  6. Hmm…good questions, Cait! My dad was a short-time runner, but I didn’t find out until years later. I was totally active in all sports at school and loved to run. I ran recreationally when I was 18 and kept it up on and off until 22. Then ran just sporadically until I hit 40. I’ve been running regularly for 15 years now! I THINK competition at a young age is good IF it’s the child’s choice. But I also think that’s where it gets really tricky. I guess like most things, it’s an individual choice :) (cop-out answer — ha ha).

    ❀Barbara❀
    My Running Shortz

    • thanks for sharing ur story!! i luv hearing when people rediscover the sport (or anything!) later in life! :) i agree that healthy competition is able to teach kids a lot of lessons in all areas of life. it’s a tricky balance! hehe

  7. Great post! No one in my family runs but as a kid I was told to try as many sports as possible before ten. I played soccer, baseball, tennis, gymnastics, swim team, dive team, dance. I loved soccer but ended up competing in gymnastics and then dance. I started running last year to try to lose muscle in my legs and found it does a lot for me. I do miss those hard swimming and soccer daily workouts and intense competitions. I loved competing. I wasn’t great :) but I liked it. I wish I’d run even just a little bit when I was young but I hate seeing kids pushed and screamed at for competitions. Competitive sports are a hard lifestyle and if you’re not mostly self motivated to do the work then it’s just torture I believe.
    Age is a tough question! I’d say 8 or 9 but I’ve seen, heck, I started competitive swimming when I was 6 or 7 and I was soooo into it. Wow I forgot that. I’d say encourage but not push before 10 years old.

    • “encourage but not push” i think that one is the perfect way of summing up how i feel! u’ve got so many awesome points there and about all competitive sports in general, gymnastics is totally like that too…gutting it out and putting in the hard work is a necessity so finding that line is tough because kids CAN get sooooo into it they are begging to do more.

  8. Found your blog while wrestling with a problem, albeit in another sport. We just found out our 6-yr old son is ranked in the top 10 for his age in another sport and has been invited to the national championships, which are being held a few hours drive away. We haven’t even told him yet (we didn’t even know that they had rankings for kids that young). On the one hand, it could be a lot of fun. On the other, we’re worried that competing in what could be an intense environment might take the fun out of the sport for him. I’m not worried about us as parents yelling at him or pushing too hard, and he’s pretty mature for his age, but just wonder if it is appropriate to introduce him to that aspect of the sport at this age. So far, we’ve just encouraged him to race against the clock and see if he can get better. It is clear that he does have pretty competitive streak in him. Any thoughts?

    • thanks for stopping by Allison and sharing your story with me! i understand ur predicament and the situation is a little tricky…first of all i do commend you for being a parent who DOESN’T try to push their kid too hard and is aware that at times it might be better to hold them back a bit. that said, i’m a little confused as to which sport your son is participating in? is it running or ‘albeit in another sport’? either way though, my feeling is that even though he is doing it for his own love of the sport and doing really well, having age-rankings and super intense competitions at such a young age isn’t the best environment. and to be realistic, lots of the under 10 or even junior high level kids who are winning national champs so early on don’t always keep up the same dominance come high school or in the long term. my advice: let him keep having fun where he’s competing now, race the clock (which is a heck of a motivator too) and let him get into the more competitive scene once he’s a little older. :) best of luck to him!

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