One great way to get kids excited about running is to make the "work" of training as fun as possible. These seven ideas for workouts disguised as games not only train young bodies, but score high on the fun factor as well.
Sharks & Minnows1 of 8
This popular swimming game is easily adapted for runners. Mark off a large rectangular area with clear boundaries (it could be half a football field or soccer field) and start with one runner as "it." That runner stands in the middle of the field and acts as the shark, while the other runners play the minnows and line up on the far end of the play area or field.
The shark calls out, "Come minnows, come!" Then, the minnows sprint across the field to try and reach the opposite boundary line without getting tagged by the shark. If the shark tags a minnow, they become an additional shark and help try to tag the minnows on the next round of play. The last minnow to be tagged by a shark is the winner.
Value: This is a great team-building activity with some speed work in disguise.
Solve the Puzzle2 of 8
This game works well when you want kids to try a longer run, but need to keep them close to a home base. The coach takes a puzzle (a large floor puzzle works best for younger kids, or a puzzle with under 40 pieces) and separates the pieces into several envelopes, placing the envelopes various distances away from home base.
On the "go" command, the team runs together to find and retrieve the first envelope, then brings it back to home base before heading back out to retrieve another envelope. The team returns to base each time an envelope is found. Once all the envelopes have been retrieved, the kids open them and work together to complete the puzzle.
Value: The kids get in a longer run, with the added bonus of working together as a team to put the puzzle together. The first time the game is played, the coach can time the team, and then repeat the game later in the season with the goal of trying to beat the original time.
Last Runner Out3 of 8
This game was originally developed by Michigan State University cross-country coach Jim Stintzi. Runners run a set distance off the track in a looped course (could be 300 meters, a soccer field, the loop of a parking lot, etc.). The number of loops will equal the number of runners in the game, so make your loop small enough that your runners don't end up running too far.
Once the first loop is complete, the last runner to cross the finish line is out of the game. They continue running, but go around the loop in the opposite direction while the team continues (without stopping) into the second loop. Once again, the last runner to cross the finish line is out and turns around to continue in the opposite direction. The game continues until there is one runner left.
Value: This is a great race simulator workout. Runners who are not as quick can stay in the game longer by starting out at a quicker pace than those who have a good finishing kick. Likewise, the kickers can hang out in the back of the pack and bide their time, hoping the front-runners will eventually come back to them.
Multiple Choice4 of 8
This game requires a little work from the coach, but pays dividends by creating an excellent teaching opportunity. The coach writes multiple choice questions on index cards, and places them at various locations around the practice area. The number of questions and distance can vary based on runners' ages and ability.
The team runs to locate the first index card, reads the question, reaches a consensus on the correct answer and then runs back to the coach and announces the answer. If correct, the team runs to find the next card. If the team is incorrect, they must perform a set of pushups, drills or additional exercise of the coach's choosing.
Value: This is a great way to teach kids about running or introduce a topic without having to lecture. The coach can focus the questions whatever she wishes to teach. For example: What should you eat the night before a race? A) Your favorite treats B) A brand new type of food you've never eaten before C) A familiar healthy meal high in carbohydrates
Card Games5 of 8
This workout is perfect for the times when runners complain, "Ugh, are we are running that same route again today?"
The coach takes a deck of playing cards (or several decks, depending on the number of runners) and removes the face cards. The remaining cards are then divided and placed at several locations along the route. As the runners pass, they will randomly draw one card from each location.
At the end of the run, each runner adds up the total value of their cards. They can run an extra set distance (for example, once around the football field) in order to have the opportunity to exchange one of their cards and draw a replacement from another deck stacked with mostly higher value cards. The runners can run up to two laps in order to exchange up to two cards. The runner with the highest total for their "hand" wins the game. In case of a tie, runners can draw a "sudden death" card--highest card wins.
Value: This is a great way to add some interest to a long run, while still accomplishing the goal of running a certain distance.
1-2-3-4 Run the Field6 of 8
Perfect for a speed day, this game utilizes a football or soccer field to help runners push the pace. After the runners warm up around the field, the coach can lead them in some stretches to prepare for a hard speed day.
The team then begins by jogging three consecutive sides of the field and sprinting the fourth side. Then they jog two consecutive sides and sprint two sides, jog one side and sprint three sides, then finally sprint all four sides. Depending on the age and ability levels of the kids, as well as the desired amount of speed work, you can repeat this exercise as needed.
Value: This is a great way to add in some speed work while staying mentally engaged, as the runners must remember how many sides they must jog or sprint on each lap. Switching gears from sprint to jog helps them tap into their various running "gears," and develops the fast-twitch muscles.
Water Balloon Relay7 of 8
Kids love just about anything that involves water balloons. This relay involves dividing the kids into teams and using a big, sloshy water balloon as the baton.
If the balloon is dropped and pops, the runner can replace it by running to a central bucket filled with backup balloons, and then re-entering the race at the same spot they dropped the balloon. The winning team gets a water balloon for each runner and 30 seconds to try to soak the losing team.
Value: Water balloon relays are a fun, easier workout that can be used as a reward at the end a tough day, or to help break up the monotony of distance running. Coaches may want to reserve a few extra water balloons for payback purposes, in case the kids decide that soaking the coach is an opportunity too good to pass up!