Orange County, California

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  • Greg Hodel

Should kids be taught how to run?

I recently heard a mother say that her child had a naturally good stride. I didn’t talk to her, but I inferred that she thought that kids naturally have good running mechanics and that kids should be left to develop their running ability on their own. She also implied that teaching them running mechanics would do more harm than good. I have heard this opinion expressed before - that people naturally run efficiently as children, and they should be left alone regarding running mechanics. To see the running mechanics that develop naturally you just have to watch any field sport. By watching a youth soccer game you can see that efficient running mechanics are not innate.

Coaches and parents seem to agree that the technique involved in swinging a baseball bat must be learned. People learn and practice the proper technique for hitting a baseball. Maybe a small percentage of baseball players develop good hitting technique on their own. This doesn’t stop the rest of the players from trying to improve by learning the technique.

Why might the development of running mechanics be any different from swinging a baseball bat? Running seems to be perceived differently than other athletic movements. For many possible reasons, people seem to think that running is a natural movement that everyone does the same. The mechanics develop on their own because the movement is simple and it requires no instruction. Worse than this view is the view that considers running mechanics not only to be natural, but that they also cannot be improved. From this perspective, because running is so simple, and you just move your legs forward and backward, there is no opportunity for improvement.

Running is not that simple. There are choices that must be made at some time regarding running mechanics. One of the main choices someone must make is whether to reach ahead of the body with the foot and contact in front of the body. This appears to be the most common way of running and therefore may be more intuitive than the option of pulling the foot back and pulling on the ground. This suggests that since a majority of people run this way, efficient running mechanics are not innate. The development of good running mechanics is random - a few people do it on their own, and the rest don’t. Most people need to learn how to pull on the ground rather than reaching ahead with the foot.

Introducing kids to the concepts of good running mechanics early allows them to revisit the concepts as they grow up. They don’t need to develop good mechanics when they are young, but if they are shown the goal, they can remember it and work toward it when they are ready, or when the need arises. If they don’t know the goal, then they may develop bad habits.

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