How to teach proper running to kids


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My new pic taken from my wedding

Do you ever notice how some kids run like the wind-and others like they were knee high in mud?

A lot of coaches think that running style is inherited and there’s not much you can do other than to get in better shape. So coaches in youth sports have their athletes run and run and run.

They are wrong on both accounts. First, there is a lot kids can do to learn to run with better technique. And second, by doing a lot of slow running incorrectly, kids learn to run slowly incorrectly. And worse, they end up hating to run.

In this article I’ll point out some common mistakes kids make on technique and how to correct it. Then I’ll provide some tips on how kids should train to run faster.

Here are four common mistakes kids (and adults) make when they run.

1) Over extending the lead foot. This is in an effort to try to cover more ground. The result though is the athlete continually stops and starts which is very inefficient.

The best cure is to place the foot directly under the hips instead of extending forward. This will result in a much faster and smoother turn over of the legs.

2) Another big mistake is leaning forward at the waist. This prevents efficient use of the leg muscles. It also leads to the athletes running on their heels instead of the forefoot.

To correct this, have the athlete stand tall; ears, shoulders, hips and ankles in line. The knees are slightly bent. From this position, the athlete will lean forward at the ankles so that the heels are barely touching the ground.

This is the angle they should run at, and also where the feet should strike the ground. Have them begin running from this position and maintain the forward lean from the ankles for 20 to 50 yards.

3) A lot of athletes waste energy by swinging their arms or bobbing their head when they run. The previous drill will help with the head position.

To teach the arm swing have the athletes practice “hip to pit”. The hold their arms at ninety degree angles and swing them from the shoulders. The hands will swing from the back pocket up to the hips. Perform some slowly, then increase speed. Finally, add it to the previous drill with the forward lean.

4) The fourth and final fault is trying to push off the leg for distance. They think that by pushing off hard, they will cover more distance. Unfortunately, what happens is their foot stays on the ground for too long.

Teach your athletes to run with a very quick lift of the foot. As soon as the forefoot touches the ground, the heels will lift up towards the hips. The foot will swing forward and touch the ground directly under the hips.

By spending five to ten minutes working on these drills and running technique your athletes will get faster without having to waste a lot of time with long slow runs.

Here are some ways to apply running conditioning to your workouts.

1) Keep distances short. Twenty to fifty yards at the most.
2) Have athletes run at percentages. Easy, medium, fast for younger kids. Older athletes can go at percentages; 70, 80, 90, etc. Athletes should not run at 100%. they should always have a little in reserve.
3) Encourage athletes to always run relaxed at every speed.
4) When their form goes or they are exhausted stop and let them rest. Continually running when tired or with poor form will lead to injuries. It will not make them tougher or faster.
5) Sport athletes need to have a slightly greater knee bend than track athletes. Sport athletes need to be able to accelerate, stop and change direction quickly. Keeping the knees bent will allow them to respond much faster.

In conclusion, running well is technique dominated just like dribbling a ball or shooting a basket. Spend some time teaching it during your workouts and you’ll have a much faster team…and more wins!

UPDATE: This blog posts gets more reads and comments than any post I’ve ever done. Thank you dear readers. For more great articles like this, please go to CoachRonUsher and AthleticSkillsforKids

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About Ron Usher

Coach, teacher, and parent specializing in helping parents and their kids become fit and healthy.
This entry was posted in Coaching, kid fitness sports, Performance enhancement. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to How to teach proper running to kids

  1. pearl says:

    Thanks, my little boy runs so slowly, and he throws his arms around like wild.. lol this article helped me to try and teach him to run properly, it makes him faster when he can remember to do it correctly.

  2. Andrea says:

    THANK YOU! My 12 year old has always run flat footed with her head swinging side to side and arms all over the place and I can’t seem to help her. She puts so much ienergy into going nowhere it’s painful to watch!

    This is a great tutorial!

  3. Paul says:

    I coach lower league junior football. (AKA Soccer). A few of our young players need some specific help with their running. Until I read this blog I couldn’t actually see what the problem was. I just felt some of them looked awkward when they ran. Know I know what to look for and I have some basic steps to help them improve. I’ll let you know how I get on. The first thing will be to time them over a short distance so I can show a measured improvement. Then I might even use my phone and video their current running style so they can see for themselves what’s happening and what they need to work on. Thanks, Paul

  4. gabriel says:

    oh wow it works …..

  5. Marnie says:

    I love running and want to teach my children to run. Proper form and technique is essential to joint health, and developing a life long love for this sport! Thank you!

  6. Jose says:

    Well and concisely written. My son has already begun his improvements. There are videos that go well with this article illustrating exercises that can be done in the home. Together he will succeed!

  7. teresaelisan says:

    Thank you, you gave me some great ideas. I teach PE at a small Christian school and I am looking for ways to motivate the students to run.

    • Ron Usher says:

      You’re welcome. Running is a great exercise and activity. As long as it’s fun, kids will do it…and get in shape!

  8. Jerry says:

    Thanks for the info. My son is a big kid for just turning 12. He is 5’6″ 165lb. He is a good athlete, but very slow. We started running today because he has to run an 8 minute mile as one of the criteria to make the middle school basketball team. I noticed in our first mile run, he was a very noisy runner. By noisy, I mean his feet shuffled. I believe he is running with his upperbody way out front. In addition, I think his legs bend very little. Is there a training program you can suggest to hit all these areas or will the items listed above suffice? Thanks for the great info!!

    • Ron Usher says:

      Hi Jerry. The noise is usually from extending the legs too far in front. So make sure he lands under his body. He probably is not lifting his feet enough…most middle school kids I observe do not. Two thoughts…1. Work on one or two things at a time. Don’t try to do it all at once. 2. Don’t run miles. Keep the distances short. Think “form, speed, distance”. That might be controversial…a lot of coaches think that distance comes before speed. I find that for most kids, speed is easier to get…it’s neurological not conditioning. I think the article is a good start for you…let me know how it works and if you need more help, I can send my running ebook to you.

  9. JT says:

    I’ve had a hard time finding specific guidance for kids’ strides, so thank you for posting this. My son is very athletic, loves playing every sport, and will run all day. It appears to me, however, that he takes very short strides. He appears to plod along with a high cadence while other kids blaze by with long, graceful strides. I’ve thought about doing some bounding to have him feel what a longer stride is like, but it really just guess-work on my part. Is it possible that his stride is shorter than it should be, and, if so, how would you lengthen it? I’ve read a lot online about lengthening one’s stride is generally not advised, so I’m cautious about meddling with his natural gate.

  10. Terry says:

    Hi there,

    This is a great article. One of my two sons is terribly slow and I think his self-confidence suffers as a result, so he is reluctant to play sports with his friends. When he runs his body is all over the place – feet kicking out to the sides, arms flopping around, etc. We will try these drills.

    I do have two questions:
    1) At what age is it appropriate to start these sorts of drills ? My youngest is 6, the one who is really slow is 8.
    2) Do these tips apply equally for sprints and long-distance running ? Are techniques the same in both ?

    Thanks so much.

  11. Letitia says:

    I have a three year old little boy that I would love to train to learn how to run for track and field. I’m not sure if I’m wanting him to learn to early; since it looks like nobody in North Carolina State trains for track and field before junior high/high school. I figure, though, if they can teach kids at an early age to play soccer and t-ball, then why not get my son to like running early. I have no idea how to train him considering the fact that I am no longer fit enough to run like I used to. I figure this would be a good opportunity to get us both in shape. If anyone knows of any kind of info that can help me train or a good personal trainer that could get me and my son to love running please let me know

  12. rahul says:

    my daughter, 6years old hops while running.It seems she puts less weight on her left leg thus jumping more rather than running making her run slowly and at the same time looking very odd while running though she walks properly.

  13. Collis Brown says:

    Please look at my website and watch the video section. My invention Colliseum promotes proper running mechanics a d the slide helps to maintain the muscle memory by not coming back down the stairs. Up stairs toe Dorsi Flexion Knee 90 degrees Arms Pendulum swing Down stairs Toe Plantar Flexion Knee 45 degrees Arms do nothing also dangerous to come down stairs while fatigued and eccentric forces can cause damage to ligements and joints. Your feed back would be appreciated. Kids as young as 5 are training on it

  14. Jay VanWagner says:

    Hello, our son is 6 and very tall for his age, and has long legs. He has very short steps and short strides, and that making him slower then most other kids. Can we get some suggestions of what to work on with him or as a family?

    • Ron Usher says:

      Sometimes it takes a while for tall kids to catch up to some of the shorter ones. Assuming it’s not a balance issue (because of the short strides), then try to have him do a lot of different movement skills; jumps for distance, jumps for height, skipping, hopping (one foot) for distance, galloping (one foot stays in front of the other), bounding (super exaggerated long steps). Make a game of them and do them frequently for short bursts. The running drills in the article may help, but I think he needs more of these movements. Hope that helps and good luck!

  15. AMI says:

    My daughter just turned 4 last month, and she won’t run. The closest she gets is speed-walking in a heel-toe motion with a lot of swaying in her hips and very little bending in her knees. She has quite a pronounced knock-kneed stance (i.e., her hips-knees-feet form an ‘X’ shape), though they say that’s somewhat normal for her age. She also tires very quickly when “running”.

    She’s a naturally cautious child, but it seems as if she’s actually afraid to run, and I’m not sure whether that fear comes from being afraid to fall (i.e., letting both feet leave the ground to run freely), but I get the sense it’s developed into a fear of trying because she recognizes that she doesn’t move like other children do.

    I’d really appreciate any tips on how to boost her confidence and comfort level with running, and to help her loosen up a bit so she can hopefully start to run and not just speed walk.

    • Ron Usher says:

      Hi. This sounds like a more serious matter than just running technique. I’d be glad to talk about this privately if you’d like. My first concern is how is her balance? Can she stand on one foot without any support? I’d have her practice balancing, jumping, and hopping. She will probably need two hand support to start with. A typical progression is: two hand, one hand, holding on to a finger, child holding on to a rope or string, and then holding on to an “invisible” string.

  16. Joie's Ma says:

    My 7yr old dtr loves to run and always has. She has an athletic build and is quite tall for her age. (She’s in 1st grade, but is as tall as most of the 5th graders.) I appreciate the tips you gave to promote good form and I plan to give them a try. Do you have any tips for breathing techniques? She has decent form and speed (for her age) when running short distances, but she’ll be running a 2 mile race this spring. What would you advise her to focus on, as this will be significantly farther than she usually runs?

    • Ron Usher says:

      As a swim coach, I have had students who hold their breath when swimming…even very good swimmers may do this and it can make longer swims difficult.

      Here are some tips to try:

      1. Make sure she is not holding her breath.
      2. The most important part is the exhale. Have her try to make a loud “whoosh” sound when she exhales.
      3. Just like in swimming the lips/cheeks need to be relaxed.
      4. Encourage her to run relaxed in the face, arms, hands and shoulders.
      5. Run/walks will help her build up her endurance. If she can run a mile non-stop, she should be able to make the two miles without difficulties.

      Best of luck, and let me know how it went!

  17. TS says:

    My son runs with a very short gait. almost like his knees are connected. He tries real hard but is very slow and gets tired easily. He is almost 5 and I worry for his development for the long run not just athletics but playing with other boys. Any advice on his problem?

    • Ron Usher says:

      Thanks for your comment. Are there any other developmental issues? The areas I would look at first would be: Balance
      Flexibility/Range of Motion

      For instance can he go up/down stairs and take two steps? When he’s on his back can he do a bicycle kick? Can he stand on a single leg and swing the other leg? Is he able to ride a bike/trike? All of these questions could lead to activities which would help him. If he’s not able to do them, an occupational or physical therapist might be able to recommend some options for you as well.

  18. Krista Grimmett says:

    Great article! My son is 6 and tall for his age, but can’t seem to use that to his advantage. I’ve heard that he needs to run on the ball of his feet, but I’m not sure how I can explain that to him. Do
    you have any suggestions?

    • Ron Usher says:

      Here’s two great drills to work on a good foot strike…
      1. Stand about two feet away from a wall. Fall forward at the ankles (not the waist) and support yourself with both arms against the wall. The heels should barely come up off the ground. Do this drill a few times and then go for a short run.

      2. Stand on the left foot. It’s ok to use a wall for support. Cycle the right foot as if he was biking. The ball of the foot should scrape the ground (not the heel) just along side the other foot. Do a few cycles with the right leg, and few with the left and then try running a short distance.

      These are great drills because they are easy, don’t take long, can be done anywhere and they work. Have fun!

  19. De Juan Byndom says:

    Hello, i have a problem with my nine year old son. He is an normal size kid but he run like a weights a thousand pounds. He run with is legs stiff and do not have a full rotation. But when he is playing around, he will run in perfect form without him realizing it. What can I do to help him?

  20. Ron Usher says:

    This is a great question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I would try having him run with something else to do. For instance, throw a ball and he has to run to it. Or have him carry a ball or something and run, trying to take his mind out of overthinking his technique.

    Let me know if this works or if it’s appropriate. If his running is horrible in game/practice situations it might be because he’s tightening up because of the game. Then it’s more of a psychology problem (and I would go with different advice).

    • De Juan Byndom says:

      He does play football, left corner back, so he does run with the ball at practice but not in good form. I did take him out yesterday to the track and I followed your advise which is in the article. First, I had him to run full sprint ,for 30 yards or so, so I can see his running form. I discovered that he lean from the hips at about 30 or 40 degrees causing his feet to hit the track in front of the hips. That’s the reason for the knee pain. We did some drill and after that I had him to walk beside me with good form. Than we jogged setting up straight and with heels up, we ran medium speed, told him to relax. After a couple of times, he finally got it running with good form with hips up and knees up. What are some things that we can add to the work out?

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