GAMES, POINTERS, AND STRATEGIES FOR GETTING YOUNG ATHLETES HOOKED ON RUNNING!
Author: Sean Rivers
You know how it goes, parents. When you want your kids to sit still, it never happens. But when you want them to get moving, or more specifically, RUNNING, suddenly that endless energy seems to evaporate. Sure, some kids were born harriers–infused with an intrinsic drive passed on from some ancestral gene or perhaps a past life! For the rest of the adolescent world, running is BORING. But it doesn’t have to be this way!!
Running CAN and SHOULD be fun if presented and done correctly! Read below for our TOP 7 pointers for how to motivate and keep your kiddos running, jogging, skipping, and GOING BY FOOT!
1.) Do it yourself. Motivating through Modeling!
Did you know that simply lacing up your shoes and heading out yourself can be the biggest indicator of whether your child decides to run themselves? It doesn’t have to even be running! It can simply be walking or hiking! If children see adults participating and viewing these activities POSITIVELY, they will be much more likely to adopt those activities either in the near-term or even long-term. Remember, it’s not do as I say, but do as I DO!
2.) Games, games, and more games!
Running can be viewed as a chore more than a game when compared with other sports. Sometimes it’s used as a punishment for other sports! But it doesn’t have to be this way! There are so many games to make the miles tick by and kids love them! There are card games, relays, water balloon games, scavenger hunt runs, circuit/activity station runs, and more! If you need ideas on some of these, you can simply email us on our “contact us” links and we can send you ideas! In our running clubs and camps, it is very common for our athletes to complete 2-4 miles without even realizing it. They are so surprised after they are done when we tell them how far they’ve gone!
3.) Change of scenery: Trails, paths, and new distractions!
Like anything else in life, school, work, etc… we can get stuck in a rut. That includes were we run and what we explore. Try shaking it up a little by taking kids to a local trail or a bike path that is new and exciting. Some trails have a creek or cool tree or other natural feature that can be a good incentive to motivate kids to just get there. Don’t be afraid to STOP in the middle of the run if necessary to explore a cool nurse-stump or creek or wildlife given that the goal is to get them to LOVE running and not necessarily to get an uninterrupted workout for 30 minutes straight. Just getting out there and running a little bit is a huge deal for young athletes. When you are 30/40/50 years old, 30 minutes may not seem like a long time. But when you are a 8 years old or 10 years old, 30 minutes can seem like an eternity. Remember, ages and stages–germinate the love and watch it grow later.
4.) Positive reinforcement.
The stereotypical coach we see on television or in professional sports is that of a task-master and drill sergeant. No pain, no gain, the saying goes. But focusing on the POSITIVE instead of what they didn’t do well is CRITICAL for this age group. The goal is to create an environment where your young athlete feels welcome and associates it with feeling positive and confident about themselves. Example: Your athlete does the warm up but walks a lot of it and feels negative about the experience at first. Sticking with it and finishing is the goal at this point, so when you finish, try focusing on how far they’ve gone. “Hey, run or walk or crawl, you just went a half mile! Thanks for being here. Not everyone is doing what you’re doing right now!” Even if they grumble, you have no idea how much that gives them a glimmer of hope and that small feeling of accomplishment. If they feel BAD about that warm-up and the fact that they stopped, that feeling can snowball. Trust me, I know how frustrating it can be sometimes to motivate a kid that feels negative and unmotivated, but that’s where unrelenting positivity pays off. It’s our job to not let that snowball.
Kind of like gamification, incentives work if done sparingly, but with great follow through. Examples of incentives can be a special movie night, a special snack, a new pair of running shoes or socks or other small running gear pieces like gloves or hats, or even a game at the END of a workout! One of our favorite incentives with our camps and clubs is to set aside 10 minutes at the end of the camp for a special game of their choosing if they do a good job and work hard during the scheduled activities you have planned. We usually give them a couple options or let them all vote on the game and then look forward to that at the end. Usually the game is as simple as capture the flag or “Switch” or Sharks and Minnows. As long as the game isn’t too tough and focused on fun, that is a GREAT incentive. But if you would prefer to do the treat or item incentive, think small and something sustainable that they don’t need every single time. A smoothie (at a store or at home) or a chance to go to the store and pick out some gum or some playing cards can really motivate some kids!
6.) Obstacle courses.
This one is kind of like the GAMES section above, but I think they can be so fun, I felt like it should get it’s own category! Running does NOT have to be a traditional run around the neighborhood. Some kids LOVE LOVE LOVE obstacle courses and will keep doing it all day long if you let them. This doesn’t mean you have to set up mud pits and fire rings. Haha! It can be really simple challenges with some cones or chairs or boards. I’ve set up a simple obstacle course with my kids with some cones for them to slalom through, a bike for them to jump on and bike 30 feet, some boards for them to try to balance on, a bucket and a ball for them to have to make a shot from about 5-10 feet away, and a broomstick over a couple chairs for them to crawl under. Simply set a clock and have them complete them by themselves to see their best time. They’ll want to do it again and again just to compete against their OWN best time!
7.) Make it social, invite friends.
Similar to motivating through modeling, integrating a friendship base can make the activity social as much as physical. If you have a reluctant kiddo, try asking their friend or neighbor to join the club (or even just join for occasional games in the park nearby) and see if that makes a difference with them wanting to go. Sports can be a GREAT way to insulate your child socially as they navigate school and adolescence. If they find that running can be a place where they can talk and goof around a little bit, they will associate it positively throughout their life. Think about some of your best runs or races: Were they with good friends or family? If the answer is yes, then remember, kids are just mini-adults in training! Everyone loves a co-pilot!
About the author:
Sean Rivers is the owner of a chain of five running specialty stores in Portland, OR and Vancouver, Wa. and also the parent of three daughters who don’t always want to participate in what Dad does for a living. He helped establish Foot Traffic’s popular and low-cost youth programs 20 years ago and and has coached kids, and adults, ever since. He started running when he was 10 years old and competed at the collegiate level at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Want to know more about what Foot Traffic does? Send him an email here!