I have several recurring conversations with parents about kids and sport and one looks like this:
“My kid loves to run: what should I do to support her or him?”
I also talk a lot about kids and anxiety in sport, kids and development and kids and pressure, all wonderful topics worth exploring. But it’s Cross Country season here, so here is what you can do!
Over the last 8 years I have coached a few hundred runners in the elementary school system. Some of the most rewarding experiences have included the kids who simply show up, for every practice with a smile on their face. Running is perhaps the one sport they can do and feel good about, in a world of competitive sports that requires superior athleticism and hand eye coordination and ball and stick skills. In running, they are in sole command of the skills and the perseverance to get through a 10 minute race.
If your kid loves to run, all you have to do is support her! She doesn’t need extra training at this level, but needs to show up to practices and be a good sport to her teammates. Your job is make sure she has some flexible running shoes to run in, and get her to the races and back home again. If you can make it to the races, your job is to watch her race with a smile on your face and be there at the finish line to watch her finish.
If your child is in Grade 3, which is when they can start, she is only 8 years old and running should be simply fun. If your son is in Grade 5, he is only 10 or 11 and running races should still be more about fun than anything. Developmentally, children are all over the place with their physical bodies, and emotionally are unable to think or be like high performance athletes, so focussing on winning or placing is not a great idea and the pressure can turn kids off running for good. The kid in jeans with the longest legs can well win all the races in one year. The kid who plays hockey might win them all in Grade 5. These kids may or may not ever run competitively past Grade 8. The small kids who come well back in the 30’s might develop into middle distance track stars or Olympic marathoners for all we know, so please try and downplay winning and race outcome at this age.
Running is an individual sport, with a pretty straightforward pathway from start to finish line, only one kid can win and someone has to come last, but at the development level, running is a really about being a part of a school sport, testing yourself and running as fast and as well as your body can go. The Finish line does not exist to showcase the winning runner, but as a way for every child to find some personal success along the path.
When I am coaching kids, I focus on Fun, Skill, and personal power. My goal is that every child has fun, and finds a skill or skills to work on, and comes away with a new literacy around running that lasts for their whole life. In a nutshell, in four short weeks we work on:
After races, and at the end of the season, I always try to get kids to reflect on their personal experience: what they learned, what they found fun, what skills they would like to improve. These statements are probably more enlightening (and rewarding for me to read) than anything else, as to the experience of kids in sport. Often we, as adults, coaches and parents, put our own expectations on our kids and they are so way off base. We want them to have fun, but fail to listen to what is fun. We underestimate the power that sport experience has on small beings, and that for those that dare to toe the line (and I think it takes a huge amount of courage to toe the line in Cross Country) how they grows for taking that chance. As you read these statement below (all real, recorded by the runners at Sidney School at the end of the season), take note of the effort, the personal sense of agency (power to act), and the exhilaration around the experience. One of these kids might be your child:
I loved how many races there were and how it was on trail grass and road
I liked the middle of the races and how I had to try there
I liked running as a team
I fell down and got back up
Getting faster with every race and feeling that I was fast
I liked training
I appreciated that I could try over three races
I loved the sprinting parts
I like the big hill and how hard it was and how you had to try really hard there
I got healthier
I got faster at running
I liked watching my scores and placing ribbons
I liked participating in the training and he racing
I liked that I improved
I liked the feeling of running, especially the wind in my hair
I loved the feeling of being so tired at the end of the race you want to fall over.
What can you do to support your young runner? Let them run free and happy. Ask them what they like about running and racing, run with them and at the end of the day simply say:
I love watching you run!
Run For Joy!
March 4, 2016
Promoting running and physical activity one joyful heartbeat at a time!
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