How do I encourage my always-running almost-five year old?
March 21, 2021 5:13 AM   Subscribe

My son is almost five and is showing very strong running talent for a child his age. How do I encourage it?

My son is almost five and often seems to be in constant motion. He's extremely fast (he can often outrun or keep up with kids a few years older than him), and strangers occasionally comment on his speed. I'm an adult male in average shape and have to try a little bit to be able to catch up with him, and he can sometimes outrun my wife. He also seems to have endless energy and is obsessed with speed and how fast he and others are going.

Some may have picked this up already, but he also has moderate ADHD (he started medication last month, it helps a little and we are working with a specialist). He can make friends but often has trouble relating to them, and sometimes puts others off with his constant desire to chase and be chased. He is also intensely competitive--sometimes he can handle losing, but other times even a small defeat or a small deviation from the rules will send him into a fit.

We're trying to encourage his talent, but other than going to a local track and timing him, we're coming up empty on other things to do. Are there running clubs or opportunities for kids his age? Are there other sports we should consider where his speed would be a major asset?
posted by redondo77 to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Set tasks on a jungle gym or other things with climbing/jumping elements and time him doing those. Obstacle courses. Carrying something heavy. Etc. Let him exercise not just his speed but also his agility and strength.

You can also do silly running games to break him out of being so rigid and controlling about his running rules. He does a lap of running, then a lap of skipping, then a lap of dancing, a lap where he can only walk backwards...

If he's so competitive, teach him how to be competitive with himself, not with others. If he hits a personal best, he gets a sticker or similar reward. Also: when he's playing with other kids, he gets the same kind of sticker/reward when he does a socially positive thing you know his hard for him, like being gracious playing a game.
posted by phunniemee at 5:31 AM on March 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

My (southern) city had track and field camps in the summer time hosted by the city. Even if it's not running, some sports like soccer do require a bunch of running and at his age not much skill with the soccer ball.

In my opinion, just get him playing, running as a sport requires a ton of discipline and practice to be good at, and a fairly particular body shape to excel at as he gets older. He might have that or he might not. I am biased in this opinion for the following reasons: as a kid with a parent who was very involved in running competivively and was subsequently pushed to do so, but i don't have the body type to be competitive at running. I was decent and competent at running when i practiced (almost anyone can be decent with practice! That's what is neat about running!) I didn't realize I wasn't going to be competitive until I was far older than my days on middle and high school teams. But , overall running is fairly friendly, and I wasn't really pushed or ridiculed by my coaches and teammates to do something I couldn't. I just couldn't meet the expectations of a particular person.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:31 AM on March 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Go to a track and run with him. Use a stop watch, But be really careful of making it not fun. Really participate with him, time yourself, improve your times, too.
posted by theora55 at 5:35 AM on March 21, 2021

I would also add that the competitiveness and need to win might be his age, even if not all kids are like this. My kiddo was equally competitive from around 4 onwards, and just as tantrum prone when he lost -- but without any of the athletic ability your kid has! It was annoying, so we did lots of stopwatch racing too. We actually tried using board games, to get him used to the idea that he can't always be the winner. 'Guess Who' is a favorite. Your comment about him being in constant motion reminded me of this lovely interview with the fitness coach Joe Wicks, describing himself as a child.
posted by EllaEm at 5:56 AM on March 21, 2021

Get them into a community soccer league.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work in athletics, and honestly, there is nothing more guaranteed to raise a whole office of eye rolls than the occasional parent who phones and says: "My five year old is really fast, how do I get him into athletics?" Athletics clubs here only take members from nine years old, and even then the emphasis is on all round physical literacy and fundamental movement skills, not concentrating on one discipline (eg. running fast). The programmes we have for younger kids are called 'Run, Jump, Throw' and they do all of them. The skills you learn from doing a wide variety of physical activities - including coordination, balance, reaction times, certain pattens of movement, are what stand you in good stead in terms of long term physical development, not just trying to run faster and faster.

It's great that he loves running - just give him lots of opportunity to be active in many different ways, and enjoy it, and don't worry about anything else. Don't take him to the track and encourage a focus on whether he's gone 'fast enough' to beat his previous times - he's only five! The best thing you can do is broaden his vision, not narrow it down to numbers on a stopwatch. Soccer, tag, tumbling, just playing in the park, google 'running games' you'll find lots of stuff you can play with him that will give him the opportunity to run, and hopefully also be gamified enough to take his attention off timings and who's fastest.

I guess step back and ask what you really want to happen. The truth is that even many of the kids who were fastest in their age group during their teens are not the fastest in their 20s. Even more so from five to 20. It's totally possible he's a future competitive runner, but being fast at the age of five is absolutely not a guarantee he'll still be fast, or even interested in running, once all the growing and developing and discovering the rest of what life has to offer is done.

The biggest gift you can give him now is to have him think of physical activity as something enjoyable, that he gets to do with people he loves, and it sounds like you're doing that. Give him the chance to do a wide variety of physical activity, including running and many other things, make it as fun and enjoyable as possible, and try and divert everyone's attention (his and yours) away from measuring and zeroing in on what he's good or not good at.
posted by penguin pie at 6:49 AM on March 21, 2021 [52 favorites]

My son's a bit of a speedster and one of the things he loves is chasing and being chased by a friend's 3 dogs. I'm not suggesting getting a bunch of dogs but if you know someone with energetic and friendly dogs it might be a good activity for all parties.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I, like others, read a subtext in your question along the lines of "my kid is talented and I want to foster greatness in this sport". This may or may not be true, but I think it is worth consideration.

Soccer is an obvious sport that entails running. There is also tennis, basketball. Less speed orientated activities: nature walks, climbing trees, playing tag, ice skating....

I would be more interested in cultivating a healthy competitive mindset with compassion for others and grace in losing (and winning). I read somewhere John McEnroe ended up playing tennis because he was a terrible team member on his soccer team and they suggested he do an individual sport instead. Not saying this is the case with your wonderful kiddo, but please don't raise another John McEnroe.
posted by rhonzo at 7:48 AM on March 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

If he is really more into speed and less into the physical movements of running, he’ll love winter sports like skiing and skating where he can go whoosh! on slick surfaces. With these activities comes a whole host of expenses and skills like managing equipment, learning about weather, how to be safe with other people in a small space also going very fast, etc. Could make for a good change sometimes, and of course hockey is a fine team sport for competitive people as long as aggression is channeled positively.
posted by Mizu at 8:18 AM on March 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I"m wondering if tennis might be a good addition. If you don't play, you might want to get the kid some professional lessons but then he can spend a long time hitting a ball against a backboard or else you can get a basket of balls and then lob them over to him one at a time (and then have him do the running to collect them all)
posted by metahawk at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, these are all terrific suggestions! I'm glad for the reinforcement on the idea that we should explore sports where his running will be an asset, but that might let him develop other skills.
posted by redondo77 at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Per penguin pie, 5 is a little young for more organized competitive sports, but we have local swim clubs that take kids that age. Swimming is a great skill in general and again the goal at this age is to get him to associate swimming with having a good time. But you can put a 5 year old in a swim meet! That said, swim meets are the opposite of what he likes probably - it's a lot of standing and waiting for it to be your turn and then a short swim and more standing around. The "organized" in organized sports almost always means a lot of sitting and waiting.
posted by GuyZero at 9:46 AM on March 22, 2021

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