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How Young is too Young?

By Caitlin Chock for RunBlogRun

For every case of a Mary Decker there are thousands of age-groupers who are burned out before they even get to high school. But what really constitutes a ‘burn out’, is it simply starting too young? Doing too much too young, being too intense, too early? But then, what is ‘too young’?

Running Focus
Running is an intense sport; physically of course, but mentally too. Doctors and scientist can wage the debate on the effects of pounding on a still yet-to-be-developed body, but taking that out of the equation, training takes a steely, mental drive.

Hard work and dedication pays off in our sport, but at the same time all of that seriousness is a bit in contrast to what one typically would envision as children at play. Or more fittingly there is a line to be toed with young runners: bolstering their confidence and introducing them to some regular running is one thing, watching a parent pull them out to the track and shouting at them during each interval is quite different.

I’ve known parents who, as runners themselves, encouraged their kids to play a variety of other sports, even steered them away from running. Their reasoning was they wanted to ensure their children found the sport themselves AND that if they did they were at age where they had ‘had their fun’ and could handle the demands of training like a distance runner.

Parents and Coaches
The role of parents and coaches as they fit into a youth’s running career should be of support and guidance. The former more heavily swayed to the support end of the spectrum. This may be difficult with parents who double as coaches; navigating the minefield of that unique stress on the relationship can be tricky. It seems like it either turns out amazingly or the entire relationship may be ruined.

For parental coaches it is key to treat the coach-athlete relationship completely separate from that of the parent-daughter/son one. If something happens during training, the child shouldn’t be scolded over the dinner table. “It’s always important [for parents] to remember to put their [children’s] happiness first,” explains Emily Sisson, now running for Providence, in 2010 she set the US High-School Record for the 5,000m. “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.”
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