Exercise is generally good for young people. Sadly, in most countries of the world, young people are doing less and less. That is one reason why levels of obesity are rising, storing up significant health problems for the future. Young people who exercise are more likely to do well at school and have more self-confidence and a better body image. Girls who run are less likely to suffer from negative images of their bodies; and are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
Do you need to start young?
Some sports – such as tennis or swimming – seem to need training from a young age in order to reach world-class status. This is not the case with endurance sports such as running. There is no evidence to suggest that there are physiological benefits to training as children that cannot be obtained by training after the age of 18. Indeed, the opposite is true: children who do well at school often don’t go on to perform competitively as adults.
How to avoid doing too much exercise
Young people themselves are usually good judges of how much running they should be doing. Generally, for people under 18, the best advice is to do what you enjoy and not to train too intensely.
Parents who are themselves keen runners, or who have ambitions for their children, should be careful not to push them too far and too fast. Create the opportunities for your child, but don’t put too much pressure on them.
As a rule of thumb, children should not train for middle distance races (e.g. 800 m and 1500 m) until they are about 13 or 14; and longer races (e.g. 10 km) should be put on hold until they are 16.
Running injuries occur in young runners as they do for all runners, especially when training levels are increased too fast. Like all runners, young runners shouldn’t increase their mileage too rapidly. This can be a particular problem for runners who train mainly at school or at college, if they resume training after a long summer holiday during which they have not run much.
The requirements of young runners
For young people who run occasionally, there is no need to buy specialist running shoes, but if they run more than 10 miles a week, then you should buy specialist running shoes from a specialist running store.
There are no specific dietary considerations for children who run: they need basically the same diet as any other child. While they should certainly not be eating a diet of high-fat, highly processed food, they should not be prevented from eating foods that are appropriate to growing bodies, including more calories and lots of protein and calcium. Because these often come from foods that are relatively high in fat, an appropriate diet for a young person may well have more calories and more fats than a health-conscious adult would eat.
Children are at greater risk of overheating than adults, because their ratio of body mass to surface area is lower, they sweat less and they produce more heat. So it is important to make sure that young runners drink enough to keep their body temperatures low.
Ten Guidelines For Parents of Children in Sports
1 Make sure your children know that – win or lose – you love them and are not disappointed with their performance.
2 Be realistic about your child’s physical ability.
3 Help your child set realistic goals.
4 Emphasize improved performance, not winning. Positively reinforce improved skills.
5 Don’t relive your own athletic past through your child.
6 Provide a safe environment for training and competition.
7 Control your own emotions at games and events. Don’t yell at other players, coaches, or officials.
8 Be a cheerleader for your child and the other children on the team.
9 Respect your child’s coaches. Communicate openly with them. If you disagree with their approach, discuss it with them.
10 Be a positive role model. Enjoy sports yourself. Set your own goals. Live a healthy lifestyle.