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FUNdamentals of Youth Running

The Road Runners Club of America promotes the following guidelines for youth running. These guidelines are based on the 10 developmental principles that guide training and racing for young distance runners outlined in the book Training for Young Distance Runners written by Larry Greene, PhD and Russ Pate, PhD, published by Human Kinetics.

Make Running Fun

First and foremost, running should be fun. Do not use running as a punishment. Encourage children to participate and try their best.  It is okay for children to walk if they are participating in a running activity or event. 

Emphasize good technique

Teach youth good form early and help eliminate bad habits such as excessive arm movement, twisting of the upper body, or over striding.

Focus on participation and self-improvement

In grade school, running should be about participation and developing a healthy lifestyle, not about being the fastest kid in the school or program. Save competition for middle and high school aged students.

Consider individual differences

Avoid a one size fits all running program.  Accommodate for differences in abilities within the group. Children mature both physically and emotionally at different rates, and this will factor into their ability to participate in running. If children love running, let them run a distance they are comfortable with over a 30-45 minute time period for grades K-6.  For some children this may be 2-5 miles during that time period.  Keep in mind children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day to maintain a healthy body, and running is the perfect form of exercise for children.

Limit systematic training and competition before puberty

Before puberty children are rapidly growing and changing. Excessive (over 60 minutes), systematic training may interfere with normal growth and cause injury in a child, especially if pushed beyond their own limits by an adult.  Between the ages of 3 and 9, encourage regular exercise, which can include organized running for fun as outlined in the Kids Run the Nation program guide. Around the age of 8–12, children may enjoy participation in a more organized running program that has a more systematic training environment that lasts 2–3 months. Around the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, key developmental changes will enable students to slowly increase training distance and duration leading to participation in a systematic and competitive training environment. 

Increase running workload gradually

Running workload includes volume (distance), intensity (speed or effort), and frequency (number of days a week). Just like with adult, running training, children should start a running program with a low volume, low intensity, and limit frequency to a couple days a week. Workload should increase over the duration of the program, but should remain appropriate for the individual student.

Participate in age appropriate running events

Running in a kid’s fun run or youth track event can be a great experience for kids. For children 5 and under focus on “dash” events that range from a few yards to one mile. For children 5 and over, kids fun runs that are a ½ to 2 miles long may be considered, but allow for a combination of running and walking. Children ages 6 and over may want to participate in a 5K run/walk.  Be sure to allow for walking in a 5K and let them go at their own pace.  Children ages 13 to 15 and older may want to participate in a 10K to half marathon event. Children 18 and older may want to participate in a marathon or further distance.  These are general guidelines and the distance a child can physically and emotionally tolerate will depend on the individual, however longer distances (10K and over) should wait until after puberty.

RRCA Criminal Background Check Guideline

The Road Runners Club of America has a guideline encouraging the practice of criminal background checks on anyone working with minors such as coaches, assistant coaches, volunteers, or employees engaged in working with youth (legal minors) or handling funds on behalf of a club or event.

Criminal background checks should be performed on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The President of a running club or event or a duly authorized official should manage any criminal background check procedure on behalf of the club, event, or youth running program. The results of the criminal background checks should be kept strictly confidential and only people authorized individuals should have access to the reports.

If a background check discloses a criminal conviction for a violent crime against a person including a sex offense within a 20-year period, this person should be disqualified from working with youth.

Parents should ask program directors if their coaches and volunteers have been screened or if the youth program has a written policy on background screening for coaches or volunteers.

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