Would you give your child 15 ml of Tylenol when only 5ml is recommended?
The same concept- the minimum effective dose- applies to training young runners.
The Canadian Sport for Life's Learn to Train stage (ages 8-12), advises that children could be introduced to more formalized training methods. It's during this stage, that kids acquire athletic skills by participating in 2-3 sports, through which biomotor skills are developed. According to the research presented by the CS4L, training should take up 70% of the schedule, with competitions filling up the other 30%.
So what does a minimum effective dose look like for young runners?
The following is an example of what training could look like for a young runner that wanted to prepare for a USATF Jr. Olympic event or other youth contest. The sample session follows the line of thought that young children should work at the foundational extremes of basic endurance, basic speed and basic strength while leaving more specific work for later in their careers.
Training at this developmental level should be balanced, incorporating all five biomotor skills (stamina, speed, strength, skill and suppleness).
a. 5 minutes of walking, progressing into jogging (stamina)
b. 2-3 Dynamic movement drills (suppleness)
c. 2-3 x 10 meters of skipping drills (skill)
d. 2-3 x 20 meter sprints (speed)
e. Water Break
f. 15 minutes of unstructured Fartlek training alternating jogging or walking with 1-3 minute runs at child-selected speeds. (stamina)
g. Body-weight strength exercises; choose 1 upper-body, 1 lower-body and 1 "core" exercise and perform 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps (strength)
h. Light stretching (suppleness)
i. East a snack and rest
This session might take a 60 minutes, which is the Center for Disease Control's recommended amount of exercise for children and includes spices of stamina, speed, strength, skill and suppleness.
Fartlek runs are used in place of continuous runs, because they are much easier for kids to complete and can easily be progressed to continuous runs later in their running careers. Walking is fine- and maybe even preferred-during the recovery portion of the fartlek runs.
Most importantly, however, is that any session with young kids needs to be fun. Be prepared to cut an part of the session short- or even substitute the session with another sport or game.