Is Running the Right Sport for Your Child?
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Coaches will often have new runners build a base, and once this is done they'll be able to determine who will excel at each event based on where they are most comfortable competing. Stein adds that a good coach will be sure to watch the athlete's stride. If a child normally has a shorter stride, he may excel at the sprint events that feature record-setting stars like Usain Bolt, who set several then-world records at the 2008 Olympics only to better his performances in later years. Those who are more flexible may compete well in jumping events. Others, who are not particularly fast but have endless stamina, may participate in distance events where they can excel as long as they are able to run at a consistent tempo.
And although physical stature may play some role, Stein insists there is no perfect body type for each distance. Of course this may be hard to believe, but there are some athletes participating in Marathon Sunday who don't look like they are capable of finishing the race but they will comfortably outpace those who look like the traditional, thin speedster.
"Cross country, which covers longer distances than typical track events, is a no-glory sport, so these are kids that move forward knowing they are in it for themselves and nothing else," he says. "The grit, determination, and spirit it takes to compete in an eight-kilometer, five-kilometer, steeplechase, 3200-meter run, or mile is immense."
"After over 12 years of coaching, I've learned that cross country and distance runners are among the most responsible, hardest working athletes," says Stein, who acknowledges that distance runners often get shortchanged when acknowledgements are given out just because their events are simply not as exciting as sprint events such as the 100-, 200-, or 400-meter dash. "They're almost always your most self-disciplined athletes."
Shin Splints and Other Possible Injuries
That determination can often be problematic for young athletes, too. Overtraining injuries like shin splints and stress fractures-which develop when shin splints don't heal-are common in distance runners. Sprinters may experience these injuries, but they usually are not as severe. Growth plate injuries and tendonitis also often hamper athletes' success.
Any swelling, pain at rest, disproportionate pain, and bruising should be treated with rest and ice. A sports medicine doctor or physical therapist can often help a child get back to competing if he has to take time off. Depending on the type of injury and diagnosis, the medical professional may encourage the child to continue competing if she complements a decreased-training schedule with stretching and strengthening exercises.