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Can Children Start Training to be Runners or Not?

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Children can be runners from 5 years of age and up.
  • Cultivate a love for exercise that will benefit the children, both in terms of health and personal discipline.
  • Older children who want to be runners can train for longer distances, but these should not exceed 10 kilometers, as their endurance levels have not developed farther than this yet

 

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Can Children Start Training to be Runners or Not?

When deciding whether or not to begin training or to support a child in running, there are a number of issues that must be considered.

Once a child begins walking, the desire to run will follow shortly afterwards. Encouraging your child to show an interest and engage in physical activities and fitness can enhance their enthusiasm and interest in these things. You can then channel those natural inclinations into continuing on with their running as they grow. However, this does not necessarily mean your child must start training as a runner or working on speed in order to compete. Instead, it is simply encouraging them to know how to exercise, cultivating a love for exercise that will benefit the child, and perhaps helping to enhance certain abilities that will help them in whatever specific sports they enjoy or choose in the future. Remember that all children have their own special, individual needs; this means they may not ultimately share your passion for running and may enjoy other sports instead.

Up until the age of 5, children should not start training in running,

as their body, walking gait, running ability and physical coordination are not yet fully developed. Instead, it is better to encourage children to play or engage in other forms of exercise as opposed to running. With all of the above, what parents must do first and foremost is to provide a safe environment in which their child can play.

Something to watch out for is that children’s bodies are more likely to, both, overheat and cool too quickly in comparison to an adult’s body. This is because their perspiration system is not yet working effectively and the ratio of their skin surface area to body weight is greater than it is for adults, which means that they can both gain and lose body heat very rapidly. Thus, whenever children train, parents and caretakers must ensure that they are wearing thin, breathable clothing; that the clothing can be removed or changed quickly and easily; and, very importantly, that the children do not train during the hottest time of the day. It is also important to ensure they drink plenty of water.

Older Children:

This age group refers to those aged 5 years and older. During this time, a child’s ability to control their running movements becomes more developed and improved, but their natural body form and tendencies remain. That is, they tend to dash forward and run quickly for short distances. Children of this age group may have trouble running effectively because their limbs are not yet proportional to their muscle mass. Therefore, allowing them to run while playing games and practicing their skills with a ball can help to develop their body coordination.

Elementary School Age Children:

Children in this group are experiencing accelerated growth, which can then lead to growth problems. Children who are particularly active may suffer from musculoskeletal disorders such as Osgood-Schlatter Syndrome, which can result in severe pain just under the kneecap area. This is caused by repeated stress on the growth plate (a layer of cartilage near the end of the bone where most of the bone’s growth occurs) at the top of the shin bone just under the kneecap. The condition will generally resolve on its own once the child’s bones stop growing, which is usually around the end of elementary school. At this time, children may be able to start running longer distances (up to 1 mile).

Adolescents (12–16 years):

This is an appropriate age for children to begin focusing more on running training. They can start competing in shorter distance runs (up to 5 km), and their abilities as a runner will be seen more clearly. It should be noted, however, that teenagers’ limbs tend to continue to grow very fast, sometimes causing them to look clumsier. At the same time, their brains are working hard to adapt and adjust accordingly, causing them to experience a perception gap. Focus should therefore be placed on training them to use good form in running. For young runners of both genders in this age group, their bones are continuing to develop and thus the risk of stress fractures remains. This risk can be reduced by training on softer surfaces, such as a grassy field or a sports stadium’s running track.

For children who actively exercise, attention should be paid to their eating habits and their energy levels. Your child’s energy levels will help to tell you whether he or she is eating adequately or not. Children need to receive enough protein from their meals (Medical research recommends 1.1 to 1.2 grams per kg of bodyweight per day as an appropriate amount) for both growth and repair. They also need enough calcium for bone strengthening, and plenty of a variety of vitamins to aid their metabolism.

Fully Grown Children (16-18 years):

Older children in this age group can train at much longer distances, but still should not exceed 10 kilometers as their endurance levels have not developed farther than this yet. At this time, they should focus more on races in the speed category rather than long-distance running.

Therefore, training for distances known as half or full marathons can begin at 20 years of age and onwards.

Referenced from:

The Illustrated Practical Encyclopedia of Running, by Elizabeth Hufton, Hermes House (Anness Publishing) 2009.


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