The kids are going back to school next week, my 8yr old will be attending 4th grade and my 14yr old will be entering 9th grade at the high school. It’s time to retrospect about what we set out to accomplish this summer and assess whether we achieved our goals.
There were 3 objectives I had in mind when creating my kids’ summer running programs:
- Improve speed and running form
- Demonstrate that hard work during practices yields positive results
- Make the running program fun
Speed and running form:
We worked on speed by introducing quality miles to our weekly program without increasing weekly mileage totals (important for young kids). Quality miles consisted of intervals on the track on Saturdays, informal 5K cross-country races on Tuesdays (run as a workout), and strides run barefoot on grass following a medium run on Thursdays. To put that into perspective, my 14yr old would run 6 days per week (one day off), and my 8yr old would run 4 days per week (3 days off).
We focused on form during many of our workouts. Longer runs would enable me to watch the kids (I would accompany them on the runs) and coach them “on the run” about correct running form. Emphasis was on upper body posture, particularly correcting the inevitable arm swings across the chest, and how to plant the foot to improve running economy and avoid injuries (moving from heel strike to landing on the ball of the foot). Intervals and especially strides are also good opportunities to work on form. It is important not to focus on too many things to correct so that the child doesn’t become discouraged and can achieve progress in one or two areas.
Demonstrate hard work yields results:
Many kids today desire instant feedback and gratification, unfortunately a result of the technology and media world we live in. The days when we would work an entire cross country or track season and accept that we may not achieve our personal best (PB) until the last meet of the season are gone. Both the intervals and the low-key, weekly cross country meets would provide short-term feedback that would be meaningful to a child and therefore would motivate him/her to keep going. On the final interval (e.g. the 8th interval of an 8 x 400 m set), I would let my kids empty the tank to find out if they could beat the previous week’s best time. During the cross country races we would compare the mile pace to the previous races to determine improvement. If a child has an off-day, or the weather doesn’t cooperate, it is important that the parent explains that things don’t always go according to plan and that it is the effort that counts. There is always another day and week to try again.
Making the summer program fun:
What motivates your kid to run in hot and humid weather (this the hottest summer on record in Connecticut since records were kept) while others are hanging out at the beach or pool, or keeping cool inside at the mall, or vacationing in Europe? Hopefully the personal satisfaction and improved self-esteem that comes from realizing you can set goals, work hard and achieve or even surpass those goals will go a long way to motivating your child. But making the workouts playful and creating a fun and supportive environment, both on the runs and also in the home, will further increase motivation.
Here are a few ideas that have worked for us:
- Be inclusive when planning your workouts. Outline what you would like to accomplish, provide the framework for achieving the goals, and then allow the kids input and some control over the specifics of the workouts. They will feel more ownership, work harder and have more fun if they participate in creating the workouts.
- Highlight the benefits of running. Many of the skills acquired in running translate to other life activities, including school, work, personal relationships, etc. In addition, if your kids participate in other sports, running is excellent cross-training and boosts aerobic capacity.
- Create a supportive environment at home. Talk to your kids about running during meal times, mention it when you have family friends and relatives visiting, watch televised marathons and track meets, describe the Leadville 100 mile trail ultra-marathon or mention that Kenya’s David Rudisha has broken the 800 meter world record.
- When the kids accomplish something special, consider rewarding them with new running gear or take them to a local track meet. Or do something else that is special for them.
I would be interested to compare notes with others who have created summer running programs for their kids. Please leave me your comments.