The goal of the RRCA’s Kids Run the Nation program is to help establish and support locally managed youth running programs in every school and community across the US. Since 1986, the RRCA has circulated thousands of copies of our printed curriculum materials and granted more than $300,000 to programs of all sizes.
Kids Run the Nation is:
Is the Kids Run the Nation Program right for me?
Kids Run the Nation is offered to schools, before- and after-school programs, community centers, homeless shelters, nonprofits, and other individuals and organizations that serve youth and are interested in establishing a youth running program.
If you are committed to getting kids interested in the sport of running as part of a healthy lifestyle, Kids Run the Nation is right for you!
There are no burdensome royalty fees for adopting the Kids Run the Nation curriculum. Any youth running program may use the Kids Run the Nation name and logo so long as the program is properly insured through the RRCA, USA Track & Field, a partner organization, a school, or a PTA. If you want to use a different name for your program but still follow the Kids Run the Nation curriculum, no problem.
Our goal is clear: to see a youth running program operate in every school and community in the United States.
Where Do I Start?
There are as many ways to organize as there are youth running programs. Programs may be organized as for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, or may partner with existing companies or nonprofits to administer programming in your local community. Consider the following options:
- Partner with an existing program or organization: work with a local school or a before- or after-school program such as the Boys & Girls Club or YMCA, or partner with your local running club or run specialty store to implement the Kids Run the Nation curriculum.
- Start a new youth running club: establish your own RRCA youth running club. A youth running club follows the same procedures and pays the same fees as an adult club. Find detailed instructions, including information on the RRCA’s group 501(c)3 exemption with the IRS, on our Start a Club page.
Develop a schedule: determine your start and end dates, weekly meetings, meeting locations, and daily schedule of activities. Will you follow the academic calendar? Will you offer multiple sessions or seasons each year? Whatever you decide, your program should provide 30 minutes or more of activity multiple days per week.
Establish goals: Establish an overall goal for your program and its participants. Will you work towards:
- Completing an end-of-season fun run or race?
- Attempting to run across the country or run across your state?
- Tallying cumulative miles run by all participants?
- Running 25 miles during program meetings and finish the final 1.2 miles as part of a local race to reach the total marathon distance?
There are as many goals as there are youth running programs, and your goal will help to gauge participation rates, staffing needs, and equipment requirements, among other things.
Identify Funding: program funds may come from a variety of sources, including registration fees, sponsors, and grants. Decide whether you will offer the program free of charge or charge a fee to participants. Programs can be very successful when charging $25-$35 or less per session (e.g. semester, school year, summer). See below for information about the Kids Run the Nation Grant Fund and ideas for fundraising.
Visit the RRCA Shop to order your hard copy of the Kids Run the Nation Program Guide for Teachers, Coaches, and Program Leaders.
The Program Guide contains detailed information about organizing a youth running program, outlines the Kids Run the Nation curriculum, and offers supplemental educational and administrative resources.
The Running Guide for Kids, a booklet designed for young runners to share with their grown-ups and other family members, is available for purchase along with incentives to help motivate participants.
Resources for Program Leaders
Youth running programs would not exist without the commitment and dedication of teachers, parents, school administrators, government and community leaders, program directors, volunteers, and others who strive to make a positive impact on the health and wellness of young runners.
Where do I find volunteers? Start with participants’ parents or guardians, adults affiliated with your youth running program, and other community members who value running as part of a healthy lifestyle for children. Reach out to local high schools and colleges to engage track, cross country, and endurance athletes to help administer your program. Utilize online resources such as volunteermatch.org to post opportunities and field interest inquiries.
Understand the SafeSport Act: On February 14th, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 (the SafeSport Act) was enacted by Congress and became federal law.
Read more about how the SafeSport Act impacts RRCA member clubs, events, and youth running programs and view online training options, including the RRCA’s free online training. All adults working with youth must follow the policies and procedures outlined in the SafeSport Act, and complete sexual abuse awareness and reporting training.
Download the SafeSport Compliance template and customize it for your program.
Screen your staff and volunteers: The RRCA encourages criminal background checks for coaches, assistant coaches, volunteers, and other adults working with legal minors participating in youth running programs or events. Parents should ask program directors if their coaches and volunteers have been screened or if the youth program has a written policy on background screening for coaches or volunteers.
The results of the criminal background checks should be kept strictly confidential and only people authorized individuals should have access to the reports. If a background check discloses a criminal conviction for a violent crime against a person including a sex offense within a 20-year period, this person should be disqualified from working with youth.
The RRCA recommends the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI) to provide affordable background screening services for your youth running program. For more information call (440) 542-9690.
Youth running leaders may customize the Sample Criminal Background Check Policy document as needed to fit the needs of their program.
The RRCA’s FUNdamentals of Youth Running are based on the ten developmental principles that guide training and racing for young distance runners outlined in the book Training for Young Distance Runners written by Larry Greene, PhD and Russ Pate, PhD, published by Human Kinetics.
Make running fun. First and foremost, running should be fun. Do not use running as a punishment. Encourage children to participate and try their best.
Emphasize good technique. Teach youth good form early and help eliminate bad habits such as excessive arm movement, twisting of the upper body, or over striding.
Focus on participation and self-improvement. In elementary school, running should be about participation and developing a healthy lifestyle, not about being the fastest kid in the school or program. Save competition for middle and high school aged students.
Consider individual differences. Avoid a one-size-fits-all running program. Accommodate for differences in abilities within the group. Children mature both physically and emotionally at different rates, and this will factor into their ability to participate in running.
Limit systematic training and competition before puberty. Before puberty children are rapidly growing and changing. Excessive, systematic training may interfere with normal growth and cause injury in a child. Between the ages of 3 and 9, encourage regular exercise, which can include organized running for fun as outlined in the Kids Run the Nation Program Guide for Teachers, Coaches, and Program Directors. Around the age of 8 to 12, children may enjoy participation in a more organized running program that has a more systematic training environment that lasts two to three months. Around the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, key developmental changes will enable students to slowly increase training distance and duration leading to participation in a systematic and competitive training environment.
Increase running workload gradually. Running workload includes volume (distance), intensity (speed or effort), and frequency (number of days a week). Just like with adults’ running training, children should start a running program with a low-volume, low-intensity plan and limit frequency to a couple of days per week. Workload should increase over the duration of the program, but should remain appropriate for the individual runner.
Participate in age appropriate running events. Running in a kid’s fun run or youth track event can be a great experience for kids.
- For children 5 and under focus on “dash” events that range from a few yards to 400 meters.
- For children 5 and over, kids fun runs that are a ½ to 1 mile long may be considered, but allow for a combination of running and walking.
- Children ages 8-12 and over may want to participate in a 5K run.
- Children ages 13-15 and older may want to participate in a 10K to half marathon event.
- Children 15-18 and older may want to participate in a marathon or further distance.
These are general guidelines and the distance a child can physically and emotionally tolerate will depend on the individual, however longer distances (10K and over) should wait until after puberty.
Download a printable version of the FUNdamentals of Youth Running
Keeping track of your program’s participants should not be a burden. From managing rosters to tracking goals, mileage, progress, and incentives, the process should be simple and effective without wasting valuable instruction time.
Consider researching online platforms designed to handle program and event registration, such as RunSignup. These platforms will help collect contact and demographic information for young runners and their grown-ups, and will likely handle online payments, if applicable to your program. They may also facilitate tracking of mileage and event participation.
If a registration platform isn’t right for your youth running program, consider utilizing a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create and manage your program roster, daily participation, mileage, incentives, and other information.
Why start from scratch when you don’t have to? Download the following templates and customize them for your youth running program:
Youth running programs who follow the Kids Run the Nation curriculum are welcome to use the Kids Run the Nation logo for their program royalty-free. Download logos in a variety of formats:
The sport of running has a long and interesting history. Visit the RRCA’s Hall of Fame page to learn more about heroes of the sport.
Worksheets and Activities
Supplement the Kids Run the Nation curriculum with online and printable nutrition, hydration, and healthy living worksheets and activities from the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov and our friends at Together Counts.
Many programs set a goal for youth runners to participate in a running event at the conclusion of the program sessions, season or year. This could be a field day-type event with relays and other competitions, or running-specific events ranging in distance from short dashes to 5K or longer. These events might be hosted by the program, a community group, or organized as part of a larger race in the community.
Find an Event hosted by an RRCA member in your area.
Share the RRCA’s Race Day Tips for Youth Runners:
- Use the bathroom before you start your race.
- Listen carefully during the pre-race instructions and follow the rules of the race.
- Line up at the start with your age group.
- Younger kids should line up behind older kids if the race does not have age-group starts.
- Pace yourself.
- Do not go out too fast at the beginning.
- Save some energy for the end.
- Stay on the race course while running.
- Do not push slower runners out of your way.
- Pass other runners safely.
- If you need to tie your shoe or stop for any reason, move to the side of the race course.
- It is okay to walk during a running race.
Administering a youth running program takes money, which may come from a variety of sources depending on how your program is organized. Some combination of institutional funding (from local governments, schools, PTAs, and/or partner programs like Boys & Girls Clubs), grants, sponsorships, donations, and registration fees will likely be needed to keep your program going.
Kids Run the Nation Grant Fund: Since 2007, the RRCA and has assisted running clubs, schools, and community-based nonprofits interested in implementing or currently hosting youth running programs through its Kids Run the Nation Grant Fund. Learn about the grant fund and the online application process.
Consider the following other funding ideas, taking into account funding needs, fundraising goals, time frame, location, manpower, proposed use of funds, and more.
Run-a-thon: Friends, family, and community members pledge donations for each lap run.
Run Across America: Friends, family, and community members pledge donations for cumulative miles “run across America” by program participants.
Field Day: Invite friends, family, and community members to participate in field day activities in exchange for a donation.
Merchandise Sales: Design and sell apparel, bake and sell sweets, or sell other goods with proceeds benefiting your program.
Car Wash: Program members and their grown-ups wash cars for donations.
Running Clothes Day at School or the Office: Allow students or employees to attend school or work in running clothes in exchange for a donation to the program.
Collect Donations at Local Businesses: Ask businesses to display program information near cash registers and reception areas. Include a QR code visitors may scan to make a donation online, or provide a donation box to collect bills and coins.
Tabling at Local Events: Offer program information and collect donations at community events.
Restaurant Nights: Coordinate an evening where a portion of a restaurant’s sales benefit your program.
Corporate / Community Group Event: Invite local businesses, schools, and community groups to participate in a team 5k or other event in exchange for a donation to the program.
Auction or Raffle: Ask community members and businesses for donated goods and services to include in a silent or live auction or raffle, with proceeds benefiting your program. Check your local jurisdiction’s regulations regarding this type of fundraising.
Community Social Event: Hold a community dance, concert, film screening, or other social event for a donation.
Yard sale: Hold a community yard sale, offering table space to community members for a donation
If you use a registration management platform, you may be able to set up a donation page to raise funds from participants, their families and friends, local residents, business owners, and community leaders.
We would love to hear about innovative fundraising ideas that have been successful for your youth running program. Email [email protected] today!
Local, state, and national government agencies and foundations of all sizes grant funds, services, and materials to qualified nonprofit organizations, schools, and other groups. Explore the following online resources for lists of grant opportunities and grant writing tips.
FoundationCenter.org provides a wealth of information on identifying grant opportunities and submitting quality grant proposals. The subscription-based Foundation Directory Online helps you determine the best funding sources from their database of more than 140,000 grantmakers.
GrantStation.com is a membership-based service that helps organizations identify potential funding sources, including access to their searchable grantmaker database.
The RRCA recommends the following websites, books, magazines, and articles that may be helpful as you start and administer your youth running program.
- Training Young Distance Runners – 3rd Edition
- Young Runners: The Complete Guide to Healthy Running for Kids From 5 to 18
- Youth Runner Magazine
- The Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation – A study investigating the reasons youth participate in organized sports
Nutrition and Hydration
- Together Counts – Youth health and wellness resources for teachers and parents
- ChooseMyPlate.gov – Guide to healthy eating for children and adults
- Coaching for Youth Running – Program leaders and other adults working with young runners may view the RRCA Level II Coaching Certification online education module free of charge below
- U.S. Center for SafeSport – A nonprofit organization focused on ending all forms of abuse in sport through abuse prevention, education, and accountability
- Positive Coaching Alliance – Resources for coaches and parents to provide young athletes with a positive sports experience
- National Alliance for Youth Sports – Guidance for coaches, administrators, and parents involved in youth sports
- The Aspen Institute Project Play – An initiative seeking to reimagine youth sports in the U.S.
Do you turn to other trusted sources for information on youth running? If so, share them with us at [email protected].
Hot weather affects elementary-age runners differently than teenage and adult runners. Children’s bodies aren’t able to cool themselves the same way as teen and adult bodies and can therefore become overheated much more quickly. The RRCA recommends that parents and program leaders take the following precautions to ensure a fun and safe environment for kids to run.
Know the symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, how to treat each condition, and when to call 911. The CDC offers a free online course.
Watch the Weather
High temperatures combined with humidity can create unsafe running conditions. Closely monitor both the air temperature and relative humidity and know the average ranges for your geographic area. The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index is widely used by athletic organizations, the US military, OSHA and others to measure the safety of outdoor conditions. It’s a combined measurement of the air temperature, relative humidity, sun, and wind and can be estimated using an online calculator. Alternatively, you may consider using the Heat Index, which measures heat and humidity in the shade.
This sample chart modeled off the Georgia High School Athletics Association guidelines for environmental modifications shows ranges of WBGT for three categories of US geographic locations and the activity modifications recommended. Learn more about these categories in this 2015 study.
Consider setting detailed activity guidelines based on the WBGT or Heat Index for your area.
Acclimatize to the Heat
It takes time to get used to running in hot weather, especially in late spring and early summer as many areas see their first heat waves. Slowly increase run times and distances over the first 2-3 weeks of your running program to help kids’ bodies acclimatize safely.
Understand that dehydration is cumulative, and staying hydrated is important throughout the day, not just during hot weather runs and other outdoor activities. Encourage kids to drink water throughout the day while at home or at school.
Youth programs should make unlimited water available, and young runners should be encouraged to take water breaks whenever needed. Schedule breaks every 15 minutes in the shade. When out on a longer run, consider having young runners carry a water bottle with them, or set up a water stop along the way.
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View Our Coaching for Youth Presentation
Jacqueline Hansen, educator and former elite runner, outlines key concepts related to working with youth, coaching for fun, creating a safe environment, and more. (The cover image is courtesy of Kids Run Saginaw and does not include a photo of Jacqueline.)