Age Children Start Running/Athletics

Recently I've been wondering if we don't encourage children to take part in running/athletics at an early enough age?

My son is now 5 years old, and having watched me plod round at the back of our local cross country races last winter, he is desperate to take part in Athletics/Running as he thinks it looks like great fun.  But no local running or athletic clubs will take a child under the age of 8.

When you compare this minimum entry age to other sports such as our local football clubs most of whom hold Saturday morning sessions for 3 & 4 year olds, and our local Rugby club who start coaching on Sundays at the age of 4, I wonder if this has a detremental effect on our future athletics/running squads?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that we get children into running clubs or athletics clubs and have them doing lots of hard long sessions, but I do wonder if we could have them in at a younger age and work on their co-ordination (throwing and jumping events), speed, agility, and posture while letting them enjoy trying the different events?

Does ignoring children to the age of 8 or 9 mean that a lot of children join local football/rugby clubs at the ages of 3/4/5 and therefore not think of trying athletics/running until they get encouraged to try it once in the latter years of Junior school or younger years of senior school? By which time a lot of them have found sports, joined teams, and made friends in other sports and thus don't want to try atheltics/running? 

Just wondered what some of you think?



  • I think that your right, there does not appear to be a lot of information or clubs out there for young children.  My daughter of three has been asking to come running with me all the time, though I think she is still too young even for very very short runs, I did try to get info on when is the best time to start running and could not find very much!!  

    I know that when I was younger I was in a football club from a very early age and didn't really get introduced to athletics till high school and by them I had no interest due to football taking all my time.

    Its only now at a later stage have I started enjoying running, probably because my body can't cope with being kicked all the time, although I now wish I had been introduced earlier as I love it now!!

  • CindersCinders ✭✭✭
    Wondered that too Leighton.  Little C is 4 and has been having swimming lessons since 3 but can't run till 8.  I did find in the last few weeks a Kidz Fit N Fun class he goes to which is all about co-ordination etc.
  • Subject is very apt at the moment as i have just approached my local running club Thanet Road Runners to see if my 10 yr old daughter can attend a training session and or a summer open event coming up, i have found she has enjoyed the 1k fun runs at my 10k events aged 8 and 9 but now she is 10 but sets off way to fast on the 5k park runs and was walking by 2.5k then i'm left in a dimemna do i cajoul and encourage her (as i did!) to continue running? but I  felt like a bad dad for doing so.. my local club has some very experienced athletes and the advice i'm getting is 2.5k is probably the right distance and perhaps we need to attend a club session to evaluate our course.. i can recall at 4 she could run the full 1k distance of the koukanaris crescent shaped beach in skiathos much to our suprise completly un prompted! (i couldnt!) its the little "lets race dad" that has got me into running at 50! but i have avoided pushing her but I have  had the gentle jogs when she has asked "can i come running with you dad?" I think i have the balance right....
  • My club, Overton Harriers, has just started a Juniors Section and I'm one of the coaches. Whilst kids of any age seem to love running it is only when they get to Primary School that they can be coached, ideally key stage 2.

    At that age we can get them to pace their running, and start to teach them the technical skills for all the athletics events.

    Typical race distances for Juniors are:

    U9  1.5k

    U11 1.5 - 2.5k

    U13 3.0 - 5.0k

    There is also several competions such as Quadkids and Sportshall which are alot of fun; though the sound of over 500 kids cheering and screaming during a Sportshall event is something else!

  • I think you're right also. My daughter is now 9 and has been coming along with me for a lap (1.5 - 2 miles) of my local run since I started running (about 4 years ago), but has similar difficulty to Ricks as she can't pace herself and darts off very fast. But she loves it. However she only started doing athletics club at school last year and it only goes on during the summer term. It is a shame there isn't more concentration on atthletics for fun for kids.There is a running club at school but she tells me it is at lunch time so she misses her lunch or play with her friends so doesn't want to do it.

  • Dizzy,

    It takes about 12 weeks to get the youngsters to "understand" pacing. We make all the sessions fun; it's not a miniature version of senior training.

    What's interesting is that when we started it was obvious that some of the kids didn't want to be there; someone mentioned cheap babysitting, but after a few sessions even the "reluctant" kids found something that they enjoyed.

    We've done "mini Olympics" in the centre of the village which was great fun, getting passers by involved!

    Kids beating their Dads at standing long jump and their Mum's on the balance beam!

  • We have found at Benfleet Juniors Running Club that implementing the UK Athletics 365 program ensures all children, even the young ones take on board the importance of balance, stamina and technique at an early age, which will help them in all sports. Some were reluctant to start with, but now we have over half of our 80 regular children at Yellow stage, with the remaining at Red.

    Our youngest age is 7 years old, and our training sessions are built around the A365 tasks, which is similar to Judo as they get different Stage Colours after completion and we have had Coloured Wrist Bands made to award to those at the different colour stages.

    They all want to progress, and get their next level so it is a good focus !

    We also participate and organise Sportshall and Quadkids competitions, which also helps focus their enthusiasm.

  • Thanks for the replies, it's good to see it's not just me thinking that there is not enough information for children.

    I have let my son join me on my cool downs after a training run.  We jog along together, and I've made it clear that if he can't talk to me without getting out of breath then he is going to fast, and we jog/talk around the local park.  Some days we manage 0.30 miles before he is tired, but one day he managed 1.0 mile and I said that was enough even though he wanted to "run 100 miles!".  But every time he does a run with me he goes off and tells everyone and anyone about how far and fast he can run, and it's that fact that made me wonder why we don't encourage younger children to participate in running or athletics when it's so obvious that lot's of children love nothing more than to run, jump and throw.

    There's a local 1 mile fun run on bank holiday monday, so I might let him have a go in that.

  • I agree with many of the posts above, I think athletics clubs are missing a trick here.

    My son who is nearly 7years old is already a member of a hockey club and could either join the local rugby & football teams, at the moment he is showing a desire run and loves it.

    Our local club is South London Harriers, they won't take kids until year 4 which nearly 9 years old. By that time he will of taken up another sport.

    Its a real shame, his interest has come off the back of the 2012 Olympics

  • Mark, I don't know where you are in relation to SLH but I think Sutton & District may have sessions for younger ones. 

    Failing that, take him along to one of the local parkruns - Banstead Woods for example always has loads of kids running, some doing just the one lap, and it's a good place to chat to people about what options are available.  Some clubs will bend rules a little if a child is obviously keen on running.

  • Thanks  Dave

    We are located in Caterham, is the Banstead Park run multi laps, I think he may like that.

    I will check out the Sutton running club site.

  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭

    My local sports centre runs 6 week blocks of athletics coaching for 3.5 - 5 year olds.  It's just a 45 min session with some warm ups (seeing 8 3 year olds doing burpees is a thing to behold), followed by some hopping, skipping, running, standing long jumps and throwing foam javelins.

    The end consists of a "long" run, which built up from a quarter of a lap in week one to a full lap in week 6, and the aim was not to stop.  Most of them paced it pretty well.

    My daughter loved it, but starts school in 3 weeks so won't be able to go again. 

    I think it was pitched about right, and it means she's familiar with the track. I might take her down sometime and do some laps myself - I'm in need of some more miles.  See if she can do a lap quicker than I can do 2 or 3 (or 1 more likely.......)

  • MARK HAYMAN 2 wrote (see)

    Thanks  Dave

    We are located in Caterham, is the Banstead Park run multi laps, I think he may like that.

    I will check out the Sutton running club site.


    It's two laps Mark (well, near enough).  Quite a few newcomers (adults as well as kids) just do one lap to start with.  You won't get a time, obviously, but that's not a problem.  Some go intending to stop after one lap and end up doing the full thing.


  • I'm a teacher at an infant school and have set up a 'running club' for my year 1 and 2 children, which will start this September. It's reassuring to hear you all say you agree that this isn't too early to start them running! The children loved the idea of a running club. The session will last for 45 minutes and will consist of a warm up, some stretches and strengthening exercises, a running activity/game and finish with a 'long' run working up to a short distance around the village for the final session. 

    I'm also looking to hold a fun run around the village to get more children involved in running. It's a great sport for all! 

  • I know kids love to do Excersie and its finding places that they can do it. I would suggest signing them up to Spartan Kids Race. Its and Obstacle Race for both adults and Kids aged 4-13 and its a great way to get both parents and kids training together.

  • NayanNayan ✭✭✭

    my 5 year old has been taking swim class since age 3, and does ballet once a week. I've just started my younger one swimming at age two.

    I figure that plus whatever activities they gets ar school and socially are enough for now, and, if she show some interest, I'll try to bring in running at age 7-8ish. I think the first step will be kids cycling in the park while dad does an easy jog to be honest.

  • I live in Germany and kids as young as 5 are doing triathlon here! It's great to see the determination on their faces when they come out of the water and get on their little bikes, and when they come into the finish of the run. Of course the courses are very short, but they love it!

  • My boy's 4 and has run a few races, 1 mile and 1.5k distances. Many races have fun runs or kids k's attached to them and he does those - even wears our club running vest.

    I run the course with him (usually a good warm up!) as he needs to be paced otherwise he races off and stops after 50metres! We run at the back behind the older kids and he just enjoys the running with no pressure.

  • I'm reading with interest the comments.I'm an Endurance coach who started a Under 11 Monday night training squad at Sutton Arena,we initially started with year 4,5 & 6 but parents came along with their younger ones and were having trouble keeping them still,so once we got more people qualified as coaches we took them on.We do an hour each week and all the younger ones as young as 5 do smaller sessions and distances and they love it.We work on the England Athletics 365 programme.I now do this as an independant coach having resigned from Sutton & District AC (cant say why)so any enquiries are welcome. 

  • I'd be really interested in a running club for my 6 year old son; he's really keen and runs at every opportunity. I'm not a runner myself so I don't have the faintest idea where to take him. I'd really like to encourage him now while its what he wants to do (and importantly enjoys). I'm based in Croydon but have noticed on-line that the south London harriers don't accept kids under the age of 8. Is there anywhere in the Croydon/south London area that I could take him?
  • I'm really keen to get my 3 and 5 year old into an athletic club but like you all say, there isn't one! My 5 year old has ran the local 5k parkrun this morning in a fab time of 43.57, she loved it.  My 3 year old has a lot of energy an loves running and jumping.  Athletics would be ideal for them both, and its something they can do together.  If I knew what to do I'd set one up myself!! lol

  • What about using it as a way to spend time with your children and run with them?

  • StiltsStilts ✭✭✭

    Took my 10 year old for her first walk/run yesterday, our goal is Junior parkrun which is 2k. Nice recovery running for me after VLM and and after a wobbly start (stitch etc) she calmed down and we had a lovely time.  Her conclusion - "it's not as easy as it looks"!!  Bless ...

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    When my son was younger, he appeared to be a good runner. Then he ran a race where he was up against kids who'd been football training since they could walk. He didn't didn't do very well.

    He was an 'ok' runner, but couldn't compete. The problem I see with kids age group (school year basis) is that only the best are happy to run and race. For the rest its just a lesson in humiliation. Its why most drop out of athletics.

    In my son's case, being born in August he (I) thought his age would let him compete during the summer as, say an under 15, since he wouldn't turn 15 until after the leagues had finished. No chance. Due to his school year, he had to run in the under 17's. 

    Up against these big kids running low 4's for a 1500m, he was nearly lapped. No wonder so few kids go through the ranks into the seniors.

    Running in general is fun. But for kids its really about competition. Once they realise they can only ever lose, they stop.

    My son stopped running. And I'm not sorry or surprised. Instead he plays golf. Have you ever seen a kid of 100 lb's hit a ball over 300 yards?

    Quite a sight. And the handicap system levels the field.



  • We see all types of kids at the Junior Parkruns. Fast and slow. We have seen those parents that run with their kids do return (either due to parents or due to kids) and have seen improvements.....and happy kids when they have beaten their previous times (parents encouraging kids to look at their times rather than who they've beaten).

  • I cannot agree with you more RicF, I cannot help but think that GB has top athletes despite 'the system'.

    When I was at school you had to be good at football as far as PE was concerned. My PE teacher 'tried out' for Milwall and oh boy did we know about it image

    As you can guess I was s**t at football, so I was scum.

    I would love to show him my sporting CV, but I suspect he is dead....

    I did not know what to say to a young girl who seemed close to tears because she -only- came 32nd (I think) out of 160! (And it was her first Parkrun) other than you have done very well!!

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    I agree in turn Sideburn. The GB does have top athletes despite the system, though try telling those ; who are part of the system, this reality and they'll fight their corner every bit of the way.

    My club once had an 'extraordinary meeting' to discuss the lack of young runners coming through. My own observations were swept aside as varying factions fought to prove that their administrations of the product were better to none.

    I suggested that by the time they look up; having executed the process, they'll be no one left to advance. Overruled by internal politics.

    Personally, while at school, I'd be around 12th out of 40 runners. 40 years later I could comfortably thrash all of those, and comfortably dish out the same to just about any other runner in my particular year group. For the whole of Britain.

    In the long run. Literally.

  • Oh SideBurn - that is so sad. Did her parent run with her?

  • From my own perspective, I think young kids should just be encouraged to run but not pushed into competition too soon. My father was a fairly good local runner and never pushed me into running, I just asked one day if I could go with him on his evening run and of course he took me out on a short lap around the estate. I was 11. That was the beginning of my love affair with running. I did run track for a while as a teenager but didn't do very well, switched to orienteering with my Dad, loved it and raced 4 times in the Swiss 5-days, a massive competition with over 5000 competitors from around the world. Got into road running in my twenties and now aged 64 can look back on 45 completed marathons and over 20 years of triathlon - am registered in 5 triathlons so far for this year.. Stopping sport is not on my horizon!

  • That's why I think parkrun junior works well when parents are running with their kids....even in the 5K parkruns, we have parents running just a part of the course with their kids. The kids seem to enjoy it.

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