Saturday, 21 September 2013

Running For Fun and Other Benefits

Satchel Paige stated in his Six Rules for A Happy Life, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you!"  Satchel ranks as one of history's greatest pitchers, but his words rang true for me this week as I served as the pace rabbit for our district's first elementary cross country meet of the season.  With over one hundred young runners lining the start lines for both races I was never so glad to be on my bicycle. Even then, the front runners made me work hard to stay ahead of them.

Traditionally cross country running can be a hard sell for elementary athletes. While I've been involved as a runner since my own elementary days, running has got a bit of a bad rap over the years as an activity described as long and hard and not much fun. The truth is most kids love to run! The negative view of running is more commonly held by adults whose running days are long behind them. Starting up after years of inactivity can be hard and unpleasant, and many adults project their own feelings about running onto children. If its hard for them, surely it can't be good for little people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Authorities such as Runners World  and Spark Peoples Nancy Howard  outline multiple reasons why children should be encouraged to run. Our bodies were made to run, and these days, with video games, social media and other sedentary activities competing for students' time, cross country running is a good defense against child obesity.  Participaction Canada warns that the current generation of children are in danger of being "heavier, fatter, rounder and weaker than they were a generation ago."

Being physically active has many benefits. It not only contributes to better over all health but can also lead to improved performance in the classroom.  The American Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, in its June edition highlighted the connection between children´s fitness and better grades. Investigators found that children who were fit had the best academic achievement, scored the highest on tests and received top grades; these scores were regardless of gender or if the students had gone through puberty. The stereotype of the weak nerdy bookworm is a fallacy. As well, fit children have a better chance of growing into fit adults.

Helping to generate smarter and healthier students, cross country running is  a sport that is available to everyone. Opportunities exist to run both on a team or as an individual. Equipment is limited to proper clothes and a good pair of shoes, access is wide open and practice opportunities are unlimited. Kids can run as much, and as long, as they are having fun. Good coaching is beneficial, but running really is an activity where adult supervision is optional. Unlike other organized sports, running can be an anytime anywhere equal opportunity sport. Our district has four more cross country events scheduled this fall. I may not be able to attend them all, but here's hoping they all attract hundreds of student runners.

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