Runners World Articles: Archives
Mold the Next Generation
Todayís kids are less physically fit than ever before. Why? Perhaps
adults are to blame. Have you ever encouraged a child to exercise?
As a young parent or babysitter, did you encourage long hours of
TV and video games in order to have some peace and quiet?
Though we may be partly at fault, we can do something abut it.
Children naturally enjoy running games. And if they gradually increase
the amount they run, with rest days in between, their bones, muscles
and cardiovascular systems will improve quickly. With your help,
children will see that running brings positive rewards-if they pace
themselves and have fun.
To inspire this younger generation, try some of the following suggestions
from coaches and parents who have the best qualifications of all:
they have raised children who, as adults, love to run.
Say "youíre a runner." When youíre around children
who are playing tag or other running games, compliment their natural
ability. Remind them how good they feel during and after running.
Mention that running is one of the few activities where everyone
can win. Communicating this to youngsters may instill in them the
belief that they were meant to run.
Have fun. Ensure success by staging short runs
on fun courses. Offer positive remarks and rewards. Have a fun run
around the block, for example. When your child starts to huff and
puff, walk for a while, then pick up the pace again when he or she
is ready. Celebrate with a frozen treat such as a fruit smoothie.
This postrun reward tells the youngsters theyíve earned it.
Consider team sports. Kids who play team running
sports from an early age will develop strength, endurance, confidence
and coordination, which will provide an athletic advantage by junior
high school. Also, team activities take the pressure of competition
off while teaching cooperation. You may have to sample several different
teams before your child feels at home.
Donít emphasize winning until age 13 or older.
Very few children who set age-group records in youth track stay
with running into adulthood. Often the talented ones who could potentially
challenge the Kenyans in years to come are tired of running by high
school, and they seldom run in college.
Even when a coach or parent isnít pushing, competitive rewards
can drive kids to burn themselves out. Plus running is a particularly
introspective activity, which very few children have the maturity
to appreciate. So until they hit their teenage years, itís best
to focus on the accomplishment of participating rather than winning.
Try high school running teams. High school track
and cross-country teams provide a positive outlet for the competitive
and social instincts of teenagers just when they are beginning to
appreciate performance, time goals and pacing. Of course, the social
benefits of a team are usually more rewarding than the competitions.
The distance and middle-distance runners usually run and stretch
as a group, which inevitably involves joking around and having a
lot of fun. In the process, girls and boys get to know and respect
one another while becoming better runners.
Run with your kids. In addition to encouraging
running, planning family running events will help you bond with
your children. As our two teenagers move into more independent activities,
my wife, Barbara, and I appreciate the two or three times each year
that all four of us can enter the same event. Every January, for
example, we visit the Disney World Marathon, where we catch Brennan
and Westin finish farther and farther ahead of us in the family
Make a difference. Even if you donít have children
or young relatives, you can still do your part. Most schools, YMCAs
and recreation programs welcome volunteer coaches or phys ed, track
and cross-country. By giving some of your time, you can help mold
the next generation.
World, May 1998, p. 38
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