TRENDS IN SPORTS: Why Running Track is Good for Your Child in So Many Ways

In what has become something of a tradition on NYC Marathon Sunday, I like to spend an hour talking on the air with long-time running coach, Joel Pasternack who is based in northern New Jersey. Joel is a veteran of many marathons, having competed and done very well in his races back in the day.

I like to talk running with Joel because he always seems to touch upon topics that I, for one, would never think about. And if you’re a sports parent, and your son or daughter has shown some interest in running competitively, these are some key points that Joel made on the show this AM:

There are lots of studies that show that track and field is by far the most popular in HS all over the country.

When I asked Joel why, he immediately pointed out that, unlike the current national obsession to have kids try out for travel or club teams in other sports, when it comes to running track, there are no cuts from HS teams. That is, if your youngster wants to be on the team, then as long as he or she goes to the practices, then they’ll be able to compete in the races and meets.

Of course, they are timed by stopwatch and run against other runners, but in this day and age of super-competitive sports at increasingly younger ages, it’s reassuring that any youngster can still go out and be on the HS team.

Running is, of course, one of the least expensive sports. 

There have been a lot of reports recently that elite sports in this country are increasingly becoming more of a divide between families with money and those that don’t. But with running, the major cost is purchasing a pair of running shoes. There are no travel team dues or other major equipment costs.

Running can be a family sport.

Joel reports that one of the best ways to encourage your kids to run is by letting them see you run, and then inviting them to run with you. Start with short races – maybe just one lap around the track. But then start to encourage them to run with you in local 2.5 or 5 kilometer races. And if they can’t run or jog the entire distance, that’s okay. Let them know it it’s okay to slow down and walk when they get tired, and then to run again when they refreshed. As the parent, stay with them and encourage them along the way.

A caution about marathons and bucket lists.

Joel did say that for a lot of adults, being able to run a marathon is on a lot of bucket lists. He warns people that running a marathon is not only not easy, but it can be devastating to one’s body and legs and knees if you’re not fully prepared. To that end, Joel says it takes probably 3 years to progress to the point where you can run in a marathon and walk away unscathed. Too many people feel that they prepare in a just few months, and Joel feels that could be dangerous.

He also cautioned that kids under the age of 18 – even if they are in great shape – should also not run in marathons. His feeling is that they should wait until their 20s as their bodies are still too young and developing to deal with the punishment that a marathon means.

Get your kids involved at a young age.

Joel is a big proponent of getting kids into youth running programs, and the good news is that there are lot of them. To find such a program close to you, go to USATF.org and find the state in which you live for a complete listing.