The popularity of endurance sports has exploded in recent years not only among adult athletes but mong the youth segment as well. This is positive news in a world where inactivity threatens the health of a generation of youngsters. Swimming, cycling and running are activities that many youth gravitate to naturally, so encouraging your children to join in your endurance-sports lifestyle can lead to years of quality family time and healthy living. There are several key points to keep in mind when introducing your children to the endurance lifestyle.
Keep it fun!
Adults speak ‘workouts’, but kids speak ‘play,’ and as long as fun is the main focus, young athletes will eagerly participate in physical activities. With a little creativity, any workout can be turned into fun and games. For example, turn cycling intervals (in a traffic free zone) into a game of Cops and Robbers. The ‘robbers’ have a head start based on need, and the ‘cops’ try to catch and pass them (yelling ‘Caught you!’ if successful). Both sides will get an intense workout and have a blast playing this catch-me-if-you-can game.
Head out to a local park and lay out parkour style laps to run. Jump small creeks, vault fallen trees or small boulders along the way, and repeat the lap after a rest. Trying to maintain or better the time it took to run a lap is something most kids find highly motivating. You can work on core strength together during a cool down by playing Duck, Duck Plank, a twist on the classic schoolyard game. Participants form a circle and hold a plank pose while the ‘goose’ is being chosen. Once the chase is on, the remaining players may rest from their plank pose. Kids love this game and will beg to play until everyone has had a turn (or two!).
Keep it Short
It’s important for youth to train and race at distances that allow for speed development, as this is a crucial skill to acquire during the adolescent years. While endurance is something that can and should be built upon over a lifetime, there is a specific window in which to develop optimum speed in young athletes. Shorter distances allow them to develop their skills, optimize speed, and race events at competitive paces rather than merely finish an adult distance event. Thankfully the growth of youth endurance sports like triathlon, cycling and running has led to many opportunities for racing at age appropriate distances. Base training distances off of these USAT recommended youth race distances:
6-9-year-olds: 100-meter swim, 5k bike, 1K run
10-14-year-olds: 200-300-meter swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run
Let the Child Own the Sport
Sharing a passion for endurance sports with your kids can be a wonderful bonding experience that allows for years of adventure and fun together. As you enjoy the sport as a family, take care to keep your competitive nature limited to your own training and racing. For a child athlete, nothing will kill the joy faster than a parent who is overly invested in their child’s athletic achievements. Let the child lead in terms of how much training or racing they are ready to take on, and then nurture their desire and support their personal goals.
It is the nature of children to be active and enjoy the outdoors, so no matter the endurance sport you participate in, you are setting a positive example they will be inclined to follow. Involving your kids in a youth version of endurance sports will enable you to reap many additional rewards as a family. Just remember the key points — keep it fun; keep it short and let the child own the sport. Doing so will allow you to reach the ultimate goal — having fun together while staying active in a sport that can benefit all of you for years to come.