Correct running technique for children

Running — and sprinting in particular — is a fundamental skill that supports a multitude of other activities. If you know how to sprint properly, you’re more likely to enjoy a wide range of sports and activities that emphasize this form of running.

Have you ever gone to a school track meet or sports day for your kids? Have you noticed some kids are clearly better sprinters? They’re not just faster — they look better when they run. Same thing when you watch a kids’ soccer game or even a simple game of tag.

Meanwhile, some kids look like a randomized mass of flailing arms and legs, and their heads seem to waggle in the wind.

Why the difference?

The kids with decent technique are not “natural born” sprinters. They have simply developed some good running mechanics at some point in their lives, whereas the other kids haven’t. Most kids are never taught how to run properly.

Basic mechanics of sprinting

Here are the basic elements of correct sprinting technique:

  1. Hold your torso straight and vertical.
  2. Hold your head still, but relax your face and neck.
  3. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees.
  4. Pretend you are lightly gripping a small bird in each hand.
  5. Pump your arms so your hands travel from “hip to lip”, and keep your arms close to your sides.
  6. As you pump your arms, keep your shoulders steady but relaxed.
  7. With each stride, lift your front knee high (“knee drive”) and straighten your back leg completely to deliver full power.
  8. At the start of your sprint, keep your strides short and quick. Lengthen your strides as you gain speed and momentum.

How to teach kids the basics

You can teach these basic mechanics to kids ages 7 years and older without lecturing them on human anatomy. Simply coach them through the movements while they run:

  1. Stand opposite your child (or children) and explain that you will run together on-the-spot to practice fast running.
  2. Begin by jogging slowly with them on-the-spot, and make sure they are facing you.
  3. Point out that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Make sure their elbows are also bent at 90 degrees.
  4. Talk to them about lightly gripping a small bird in each hand. Their hands should be more or less “closed” but not tight.
  5. Tell them to pump their hands from “hip to lip” (see mechanics above). Demonstrate the movement and make sure they are doing the same.
  6. Start to speed up your movements slightly, and bring your knees up high. Ask them to bring their knees up high as well.
  7. Finally, ask them to run very fast on-the-spot for five seconds (as if they are running a race).
  8. Watch their movements as they speed up, and give them reminders where needed (e.g., keep your head still, bend your elbows, pump hip-to-lip, lift your knees more).

If you teach kids in this manner, their eyes will see how it looks to sprint correctly, their bodies will learn how it feels, and their ears will hear verbal cues for remembering key elements of technique.

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