I love running, I think it’s the BEST sport in the World. But it’s a hard sport, mentally and physically. Like really hard. Running isn’t like most other team sports, there can be a fantastic team aspect, but ultimately running is a test of YOU against YOURSELF.
The rigors of training, hard workouts, are a lot to ask of oneself, us runners are quite demanding. Those demands should come internally and 99% of runners are the type-A, OCD personalities who tend to be their own harshest critics. THAT kind of drive and motivation is what separates runners from the slew of people making New Years Resolutions that don’t eclipse January. The traits that can make you the best can also suck the joy from your running if you’re not careful.
So my stance on youth running and seeing stories like THIS, a 13-year old racing a string of half-marathons, my initial reaction is to cringe. Again, I LOVE running, and believe there is a way to introduce youths to such a wonderful sport, the benefits there are enormous:
* Create a lifelong passion with exercise and fitness
* Improve goal-setting and hard working habits
* Boosted self-esteem
* Introduction to one kickbutt AMAZING community of runners
If they wind up setting any PR’s or being any good at the sport, cool beans, but that’s not the goal at that point.
When youth running can turn into a nightmare, often times it’s because TOO MUCH is being done. Too much mileage, too many workouts, too much intensity of workouts, too much pressure that’s NOT coming from within.
When a child is running more for a parent or coach, when that child feels like their own self-worth is tied up in that, THAT is when things are ugly.
It’s hard to pinpoint or assess, as with so many other things with running, the line between a healthy relationship with running for youths and one that is destructive is fine, unique to each individual, and a bit ambiguous to explain.
I’ve written a few articles on this topic, one HERE for Run, Blog, Run, and I’ve talked to many coaches and other athletes as well. In short:
* Professional, REALLY KICK BUTT amazing runners that become parents, most of them take the opposite extreme when it comes to their kids and running. They stand WAY back, get their kids involved in tons of other things, and if their child winds up going into running their parents can be sure it was of the child’s own desire. I think that’s how it should be done.
* Fun, fun, fun: The younger the kid, the more fun, loose, relaxed relationship with running they should have. We’re talking short runs, most of those just being totally easy and not even aware of the pace. Not running every day, and preferably in a group environment. Let them be with their friends, who cares about a ‘training regimen.’
* Plenty of Time: Running isn’t gymnastics, you don’t peak at 12 years old, it’s a sport that rewards the patient. When I say PLENTY of time, lots of amazing runners weren’t even serious until college. I liked the story Coach Dena Evans, who ran as a youth and was the Women’s coach at Stanford, told me. When recruiting two of the then top high school females, Katy and Amanda Trotter, the twins were struggling to decide between running cross country or playing soccer their senior years. “I told them, go, have fun, do the soccer with your friends, I’m not going to recruit you any less,” advised Evans. Incidentally the twins DID run cross country and Evans jokes, “Katy ended up second at Footlocker Nationals, so what did I know, right?!” But the point is: Dena Evans KNEW they were talented, had the work ethic, and that there was PLENTY of time for them to develop in college. She wanted to let them just keep it fun as long as possible.
* Parents and Coaches: For parents, the bottom line is whatever happens on the race course or during anything running related should be TOTALLY separate from all else the child does. Keep the two identities separate, don’t bring the running to the dinner table. As for coaching youth runners, less is more. From my article, Emily Sisson says it well, “It’s always important [for parents] to remember to put their [children's] happiness first…I attribute a lot [of my improvement] to the fact that my parents and coaches held me back a bit.” Eventually in 2010, Sisson lowered the 5,000m US High-School Record, after-which she’s continued to improve. “Running should always be something that you do because you love to do it. It shouldn’t become something you do to please someone else.”
Personally, despite both my parents being runners, I didn’t even test out running until about 8th grade. I joined a local club and thought running a WHOLE mile was amazing, didn’t run every day, didn’t even count mileage until maybe Junior year of high school, and my parents held me back when they needed to. I never lost my passion for running, not once.
Youth running should be dictated BY the youth runner. Meaning the passion must come from within, it should be THEIR goals. Ultimately any parents or coaches are merely there to guide them, following from behind. Often times that means holding back eager young runners and assuring them that LATER is when they can do more, more, more, and they’ll be much better off with patience.
1) Do you think there is an age that’s ‘too young’ to run?
Not an age, it’s more on the relationship the child is having. I LOVE seeing kiddies genuinely pumped about running.
2) If you have kids, are any of them interested in running?
3) Anything you’d like to say on the topic?