Family Running Survey: The Results

Every running parent – elite or beginner, sprint or endurance – wants their child to grow up fit, healthy and active. And of course there will be a bias towards running as a means to that end. But kids being kids, it’s never going to be straightforward. At RUNNER’S WORLD we often see threads with headings like Advice for a parent? and a few months ago we ran a special article about children’s running. It’s an area of such interest among our readers and our online community that we ran a survey to see what was going on in terms of family running. Is it popular? Is it easy? Is it worth while? Or is it a chore – a source of frustration, guilt or anger?

Nearly 600 of you replied, telling us about your children, who were pretty evenly mixed between five and 16, with a bit of a peak between seven and 13. But the differences in activity were staggering; while some ran in play for an hour a day or more and a further hour in other sports, others logged precisely nothing in play and a minimal 15 minutes in other sports. Generally speaking, a lot of parents were happy with the amount of running their children did, though one in three weren’t and there was a variety of reasons for that.

‘He’s far too keen to get a lift anywhere rather than use his legs,’ said one dad. ‘It’s hard to find the time to fit it into an already overloaded schedule,’ said another. Many parents made the point that their children didn’t get nearly as much general exercise as they did at the same age, and it was also clear that unless a child was involved in competitive sport, he or she was less likely to stay interested or involved as they grew older. Peer pressure and self-consciousness have much to answer for.

Sadly, while competitive children are encouraged at school, there seems to be little support for the ‘ordinary’ child. It’s not like it is for us grown-ups, who take to the roads regardless of our ability, age, shape or background. ‘Not enough encouragement at school; everything is too academically focused with teachers playing a less than significant role,’ was the comment from one parent, which will undoubtedly be echoed by many others. And how many mums will agree with this: ‘My once active daughter has followed the typical teenage girl model and stopped all sport. I would like her to do some sort of physical activity, but it must be voluntary.’

It’s the ‘voluntary’ aspect that seems all-important. And with 75 per cent of children apparently having NO compulsory running as part of their school day, it seems that ‘voluntary’ has to be the way to go. But there are clearly degrees of ‘volunteering’. Nine out of 10 respondents said they had tried to encourage their children to run – and while more than half of these did so because they wanted their kids to understand the enjoyment there was in running, one in five said it was because their child was overweight or unfit.

So how successful has that encouragement been? Well – the older they are, the less successful. So there may well be a lesson here: make running a normal part of life and something that mums and dads do and it will seem natural as the child grows older. We hope. The most telling answer to that question was: ‘Will tell you in 10 years!’

Running as a family isn’t quite The Thing, it appears. There were relatively few positive responses to this one, though the obstacles weren’t always the lack of ‘cool’ associated with running with mum and dad. There were plenty of cases where logistics made it difficult, children of differing ages and parents of differing abilities being quite common.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Three-quarters of our parents said they thought their child would continue with their running after they left school or went into the sixth form. Who knows if that’s related to the little darlings’ attitude to the running habits of their esteemed parents? We asked what they thought of your running. How reassuring to see that 37 per cent were ‘proud of you’, and it made 31 per cent of them ‘want to run with you’. Only 2 per cent said they embarrassed their children, with an almost as insignificant 4 per cent who found their parents ‘amusing’.

It was interesting to discover parents’ fears for their children’s fitness futures. The anxiety ‘that political correctness, a child’s “human rights” and a belief that competitiveness is bad mean that a whole generation of children never discover what they are truly capable of’ was echoed one way or another several times. Even more common was the fear of the sofa and the computer game, the TV and the bottle.

The key thing for us at RUNNER’S WORLD – and one that we will address in a future article – was the desire for information about running for children. When we asked parents what questions THEY wanted to ask, we found common themes in:

  • Nutrition
  • How fast, how far and for how long?
  • Shoes
  • The difference between parental pressure and competitive coaching
  • Suitable races
  • The likelihood of injury and the development of young bodies
There were a number of questions that we will be putting to our experts, and we shall be bringing you the answers in a feature soon.

Until then… think about their fun, think about their health, and perhaps, maybe, if it’s appropriate – think about their winning.