Running: How to teach kids to sprint correctly

Running: How to teach kids to sprint correctly

Running — and sprinting in particular — is a fundamental skill that supports a multitude of other activities. If you know how to sprint properly, you’re more likely to enjoy a wide range of sports and activities that emphasize this form of running.

Have you ever gone to a school track meet or sports day for your kids? Have you noticed some kids are clearly better sprinters? They’re not just faster — they look better when they run. Same thing when you watch a kids’ soccer game or even a simple game of tag.

Meanwhile, some kids look like a randomized mass of flailing arms and legs, and their heads seem to waggle in the wind like dashboard bobbleheads.

Why the difference?

The kids with decent technique are not “natural born” sprinters. They have simply developed some good running mechanics at some point in their lives, whereas the other kids haven’t. Most kids are never taught how to run properly.

Basic mechanics of sprinting

Here are the basic elements of correct sprinting technique:

  1. Hold your torso straight and vertical.
  2. Hold your head still, but relax your face and neck.
  3. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees.
  4. Pretend you are lightly gripping a small bird in each hand.
  5. Pump your arms so your hands travel from “hip to lip”, and keep your arms close to your sides.
  6. As you pump your arms, keep your shoulders steady but relaxed.
  7. With each stride, lift your front knee high (“knee drive”) and straighten your back leg completely to deliver full power.
  8. At the start of your sprint, keep your strides short and quick. Lengthen your strides as you gain speed and momentum.

How to teach kids the basics

You can teach these basic mechanics to kids ages 7 years and older without lecturing them on human anatomy. Simply coach them through the movements while they run:

  1. Stand opposite your child (or children) and explain that you will run together on-the-spot to practice fast running.
  2. Begin by jogging slowly with them on-the-spot, and make sure they are facing you.
  3. Point out that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Make sure their elbows are also bent at 90 degrees.
  4. Talk to them about lightly gripping a small bird in each hand. Their hands should be more or less “closed” but not tight.
  5. Tell them to pump their hands from “hip to lip” (see mechanics above). Demonstrate the movement and make sure they are doing the same.
  6. Start to speed up your movements slightly, and bring your knees up high. Ask them to bring their knees up high as well.
  7. Finally, ask them to run very fast on-the-spot for five seconds (as if they are running a race).
  8. Watch their movements as they speed up, and give them reminders where needed (e.g., keep your head still, bend your elbows, pump hip-to-lip, lift your knees more).

If you teach kids in this manner, their eyes will see how it looks to sprint correctly, their bodies will learn how it feels, and their ears will hear verbal cues for remembering key elements of technique.

Congratulations! You have helped a new generation to run well. From playing tag to chasing a soccer ball, they will use this essential skill in more ways than you will ever imagine.

'Let Me Play': 1995 Nike ad still relevant today

This might interest you:

'Let Me Play': 1995 Nike ad still relevant today

Read Now

These might interest you:

'Let Me Play': 1995 Nike ad still relevant today

'Let Me Play': 1995 Nike ad still relevant today

Read Now

50+ activities for kids

Go To Activities

89 responses to “Running: How to teach kids to sprint correctly

  1. Hello, my 6 yr old son runs on his heels and it’s like it’s causing him to not utilize full leg muscles while running. He ends up being one of the sorest on his sports teams. Any advice on teaching betting techniques?

    1. Hi Sean,
      Simply follow the instructions above — run on the spot with your son for a minute — and coach him to run on the balls of his feet (the front portion of the foot). However, also be patient with him — at age 6, he is only beginning to develop the full musculature and coordination needed to run with correct mechanics. I don’t think you need to worry too much at this point. Watch how he progresses over the next 2-3 years. If he was 8 or 9 years old, I would be a little more concerned. Remember that all kids develop at different rates, mostly based on genetic differences.

  2. Hey Jim,
    Thanks for the tips, but I really need help. My twelve year old has developed a bad habit of striking his heels very hard when running at football and basketball. He’s now complaining that his heels and ankles hurt during/after the games. Can you advise anything that can assist me in helping him break this habit? Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Paul,
      I suggest that you have your son practice running on the spot, while you watch his form and make sure that he is landing on the balls of his feet (per the instructions above). Apart from using his arms correctly and getting his knees up, he may need to simply train himself to get accustomed to being on the balls of his feet. I also suggest that you get an agility ladder and get him to do agility drills with it. There are plenty of videos online that you can watch — simply search “agility ladder drills”. There are some ladder drills that are especially good for reinforcing the planting and pushing off from the ball of the foot (which is essential for sprinting, as well as directional change in sports such as basketball).

  3. My 12 year old girl runs 200 meter she is up in the top 5 usually but it really beats her up for only getting in the top 5 she has lots of practice time and wants to get better but we have no idea how to start

    1. Hi Marissa,
      If your daughter is running 100m and 200m competitively, you could look at getting some private coaching for her with an athletics club. If she is running top 5 in a large field of competitors, she’s likely at the point where she needs specialized coaching (at age 12 and older) to go to the next level of ability. I would not recommend private coaching for children under the age of 12, but the teen years are the time to look seriously at extra coaching if the child is very focused on getting better.

  4. Hello, my nearly 5 year old son is starting to race on some 100m events (which find place alongside my 5 k races), and so far he has been doing really well and has even wone some races, without any training at all. With using this tips, i will work with him a bit more and i am sure he will get even better results. And talking about results, what could be considered as a good result for 100 meters run for a 5 year old kid? Thank you

    1. Hi Marko,
      A “good result” would be whether or not your five-year-old son is having fun — nothing more than that. Five-year-olds should not be running 100 metres competitively — it’s that simple. At that age, first and foremost, they should be having fun when they run — such as playing games of tag. We are talking about children. Even if we were to get kids this age to run competitively, a logical distance would be perhaps 30-40 metres for their physiology and level of growth and maturation. Children are not miniature adults.

      1. Understood, of course that he sees that as a fun, as i mentioned we don’t have any training drills or anything, just playing games, soccer, etc. I am teaching him that even if he looses it is not a big deal, as long as he has fun and tries hard – and it really worked, when he did not win he was happy just to have participated and had fun running with other kids. But i would still like to know just how fast for his age he is :-) I did some athletics as a kid (but later switched to soccer) and his mom also did some athletics in highschool so maybe there’s some potential in him. I’ll keep you up to date, best regards

  5. Will start this with 9 yr old Grandson who loves soccer but is very slow. He runs like Frankenstein and shuffles his stiff legs rather than picking them up

  6. My almost 6 year old son has low muscle tone (hypitonia) and wears insoles to correct pronation. He runs much slower than his classmates and gets very upset about it. I try to help him practice but don’t know where to start. I don’t want to hard on him but I do want to help him since it bothers him so much. Where do you think is the best place to start?

    1. Hi Piper,
      As your son is only 6 years old, anything you do should be simply play-based. I would engage him with games such as tag, or other simple fun games that involve chasing or dodging, or running and jumping. If your son has hypotonia, my understanding is that it is usually a neurological condition and your son may benefit from physiotherapy as well.

  7. Hi Jim. I know this post Is directed to kids. I’m 20 years old. When i was a teen i used to sprint short distances (ingame) for soccer. Mostly heel strikes and i didn’t feel confortable with my form. Also i didn’t have any guidance o how to sprint safely. Now i realize using the balls of my feet Is more confortable. Folowing that feeling i would like to learn how to sprint using balls of feet safely. Are the tips (of the post) compatible with me? The objective Is to become a more cordinated Sprinter and a bit faster. For soccer (amateur serious ). Any other tips ?.

    +If this helps you with your answer+
    I’m 6 feet tall. 167 lbs. Ectomorph mostly. A bit of mesomorph from waist down. 22 %(skinny fat) fat index aprox. Most of it in the belly.

    1. Hi Giovanni,
      For sure, you can use the tips in the article to improve your own sprinting. Practice running on the spot and observing your form, and then make adjustments to make are you are on the balls of your feet, and you are using your arms correctly, getting your knees up, etc.
      I also suggest you get an agility ladder and start doing agility drills with it. There are plenty of videos online that you can watch — simply search “agility ladder drills”. Ladder drills will help you to develop quick foot movement.
      I have done all of this for myself as an adult soccer player — it works!

  8. Hey thanks for the advice. My son really seems to struggle with running. He seems to drag his right leg and it looks rather odd running style. We have spoken to the doctors but told he is fine. He tends to head bob from side to side aswel. Any further ideas on how to get his feet going. It’s as if he’s running with a straight leg all the time! Any further advice would be appreciated

    1. Hi Rich,
      It grabs my attention that he seems to run with a straight right leg that he is “dragging”. Assuming he doesn’t have any unusual medical condition that has not yet been diagnosed, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a simple chiropractic or physiotherapist fix. It sounds like he has muscles that aren’t firing / responding in his right leg, and that could be the result of a simple pinched nerve in his low back. He wouldn’t necessarily feel any pain from the pinched nerve if it has been that way for a long time, and just a little bit of a pinch can be enough to effect muscle response and function. Such injuries are remarkably common in children, an often the result of simple falls on the tail bone (e.g. falling on ice, falling on stairs, etc.). If his “dragging” is a chronic habit, I would consult a chiropractor or physiotherapist.

  9. Hi there,
    Looking for some advice for my 5 year old runner. He loves to run but is always getting shin splints which wake him in the middle of the night in pain. I think it’s because he lets his feet fall on the ground (making a smack) adn not controlling how he lands. Any advice would be great for this little runner. Thanks

    1. Hi Meg,
      That is extraordinarily unusual for a 5 year old to get shin splints from running. Is he running distance with you? If he is, that would explain it, especially if he is running on hard surfaces. Please note that 5 year olds don’t need to be running distance at all. Research shows that children prior to puberty receive negligible benefit from distance running, but they suffer increased risk of joint and muscle injury. Their running activity should be play-based with games such as tag or chasing a soccer ball. Another consideration would be dietary nutrition: does he get enough dietary protein? This does not have to mean eating red meat, but it could entail reviewing his sources of dietary protein, especially on a vegetarian diet, and whether or not he is consuming enough grams of protein each week. If none of these things seems applicable, then perhaps he is simply going through an early growth spurt? If he has grown extraordinarily quickly in the past few months, that could also contribute to shin splints, and if so, these will naturally pass in time.

  10. Hi Jim,
    Fantastic tips. Will be trying them with my 9 year old daughter. She runs ever so oddly – somewhat flat footed with the lower legs sort of flailing out, and not lifting the leg/feet much off the ground. I really want to help her but when I try to get her to run more on the balls of her feet and lift her legs more she teeters like she’s in heels or wobbles like a baby giraffe when her knees come higher. I really would appreciate any bonus tips you can offer.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      From what you are saying, it sounds like your daughter needs to develop a little more balance and strength, in addition to getting her feet higher. Strength will develop naturally if she is doing even a modest amount of regular physical activity. I would suggest these simple things to start:
      1) In the evenings at home, work on some yoga standing postures with her such as tree pose to develop balance, strength, and awareness. I don’t know if you have done any yoga, but it develops a remarkable amount of strength, and particularly in relation to muscles required for balance coordination. If you do it with her, you can make it a game between the two of you — challenge each other to see who can hold the tree pose the longest — you can find videos and illustrations of tree pose online. Practice doing the posture while standing on your left foot and while standing on your right foot.
      2) Do some short stair runs with your daughter. Find a set of outdoor stairs — perhaps at a local park — and run slowly up the stairs — emphasis on slowly. This will reinforce the habit of getting the knees up and feet off the ground. It should also reinforce the habit of running on the balls of the feet. Walk down the stairs each time — don’t run down the stairs.

  11. Hey Jim. I’ve been trying to work with my 10 year old son with his form and speed and we are definitely going to use your techniques. He plays several sports but he doesn’t have the speed that he needs and his form is not the best. I noticed when he runs it more like a skip and when I have him to run at a fast pace in one spot it seems more like a gallop instead of him bringing his legs up and down. Any advice?

    1. Hi Denise,
      My advice would be simply to repeat the sprint training instructions/drill above at regular intervals (e.g. start of every sport practice for 1-2 minutes). Try to make those movements natural and develop the coordination between them. It sounds like he is struggling with the coordination aspect.
      You can also try working with an agility ladder — see my comments below regarding agility ladders and drills.

  12. Hello, my son wants to start running at his school but he has always strikes on his heels instead of his toes which makes him a slow and sloppy runner, is there anything I can do to reverse this?? Thank you!

    1. Hi Kelly,
      What type of running is your son interested in doing? Sprinting, middle distance, or long distance? There are different running patterns/techniques for different types of running. If he is interested in sprinting, then he definitely needs to get off his heels and onto the balls of his feet. Agility ladders and getting a sprint coach will help with this. If your son is interested in middle and long distance, then there are different theories and opinions on whether he should run on his heels or his mid-foot. See these articles for discussion:
      “Pounding Pavement by Heel or Toe”…el-or-toe/
      “Heel striking — is it really the enemy of good running form?”…nning-form
      “Facts on Foot Strike”…oot-strike
      Myself, I’m definitely a mid-foot runner when I run distance — if I do a heel strike, it hurts my knees badly. Sometimes I even experiment with a front strike, and I find it comfortable and more enjoyable, but I realize that I am apparently among the minority of runners in that regard.
      One further post to consider with your son: Depending on where he is in his growth spurt, he could have some mechanical issues due to changing bone length, muscle development, etc. With ages 12-14 especially, it is common to see some loss of coordination (and some aches and pains) due to these reasons, especially if the child is “training” a lot. He needs to be patient if it takes time for him to pull together all of the coordinative elements in his running.

    1. Hi Adam,
      When you say he “shuffles” his feet, I am assuming that you mean he is not lifting up his feet very much. The best solution for this is training with agility ladders — forwards, backwards, and sideways — there are lots of great drills on YouTube. When I coach young soccer players (who need similar speed and agility), I always do exercises on the ladders where I call for “high knees” — the repetition develops their awareness of getting their knees up whenever they are running.

  13. Hi Jim
    My Grandson is aged 11 and plays Australian Rules football. He has gone from being the top player in his team about 2-3 years ago, to now in the bottom three. Australian Rules requires burst speed, 20-30 metre sprints and endurance. His endurance is excellent but he seems to now be very slow compared to his team mates and also lacks some side stepping ability that he once had. When he runs he looks a real mess with legs and arms going in all directions.
    I really found your article helpful but wonder whether it is too late – should we have had him training this way from age 7-8 to be really effective?

    1. Hi Daryl,
      I’m guessing that your grandson has started his pubertal growth spurt, and that’s why his arms and legs are going in all directions now. Rest assured that he will improve /recover his form, but it will likely take a couple of years at least — especially if he is destined to grow a great amount (10 cm? 20 cm? 30 cm?). You can use this basic sprint training with him, but you will need to be patient and just do a little bit for a few minutes each day — it is quite likely that the body won’t respond a great amount during the growth spurt. You also need to be very sensitive to not “overtrain” during the growth spurt as bone growth plates, ligaments and tendons can be compromised. Patience is the key. As for side stepping ability, definitely look at getting an agility ladder and doing a variety of ladder exercises. Again, not too much — if you overdo it during the growth spurt, you can cause injury because all of the structures are less stable at this time.

      1. Thank you Jim, I really appreciate your direction. My Grandson has just injured his hand which puts a stop to his Australian football, track cycling, and cricket aspirations for at least six weeks. This will be an ideal time to practice running techniques. I will heed your advice and not overdo it – I will need restraints as he is always super keen!
        Thanks again, your time and advice is genuinely appreciated.

  14. This was written a while ago, but thought I’d comment anyway. My 13 year old son is a soccer player and is trying to get to the premier level. He has a form issue when running though, and I plan to follow the tips above (if he will listen that is – he is a teenager now!) but still seek advice. The issue is that when he running his arms flail about – almost like he is rotating them around purposely (he doesn’t know he’s doing it) He is a pretty fast runner and I know he would be faster if he controlled his movement better – but when I try to get him to work on it he freezes up and can’t play normally. If anyone has any other tips to share, I’m all ears. I don’t want him to be self-conscious, but I know his form hurts him during tryouts. Thanks.

    1. Hi Janet,
      See my comment to Daryl, above — it sounds like the advice would apply to your 13 year old son. This is very, very, very common at this age — I can’t emphasize that fact enough. And don’t worry if some of your son’s peers appear more coordinated right now and run faster — that means almost nothing in the long term. Three years from now, your son may emerge as the fastest and best runner. Every child grows and develops differently, and those who dominate at age 11-14 may be the smallest and slowest later at 15-19. The key is patience and stick with it. If we’re talking soccer, just take one of the latest examples of this principle in the English Premier League: star English forward Harry Kane was apparently cut from the Arsenal academy at age 12 because he was small and slow — now he is well over 6 feet, fast, and skilled. And I’m sure Arsenal would love to have him now!

  15. I’ve bookmarked this page!

    My daughter is very active and excels as a swimmer. She also has good endurance and does well in distance running. But in sprints she just runs a bit oddly, she lopes with longer strides rather than, well, sprinting. She’s as a result slower than other kids. We’ve tried to correct her style but it’s doesn’t seem to help. I’m going to try your technique this weekend, any other words of advice?


    1. Hi Kartik,
      No extra words of advice — maybe read the comments below to see if you gain any extra insights. Otherwise, I’ll be interested to hear how things go with your practice this weekend!

  16. Hi, i have a player for my soccer team that is considerably slower than the rest of the players and whilst he’s the tallest and heaviest of the players i’m convinced that its more ‘mechanical’ than weight related. He stands very upright, takes little steps and appears to almost run with the weight on the back of his feet. When i do one-on-one training with him, he’ll often sprint a bit quicker and run on his toes but constantly reverts back to his usual ‘style’ when not specifically instructed. Any tips to get rid of existing bad habits that appear to be natural for him?

    1. Hi Rob,
      Sorry, I don’t have any special tips to offer in this instance. It sounds like you have taken the right approach with him by offering some one-on-one training. Maybe you can ask him why he reverts back to running on his heels? Does he tire more quickly when he attempts to run on his toes and the balls of his feet? And does he appreciate that he is faster when he runs with correct form? Getting his understanding and “buy-in” might be enough to convince him to work harder on his form (i.e. intrinsic motivation on his part).

  17. Hello my 7 year old runs with his left arm straight by his side , he almost leans back ever so slightly when he runs. He’s not particularly slow but could be faster with a different teqnique. Any advise

    1. Hi Sally,
      Yes, your son could definitely be faster if he learns to move both of his arms. I wouldn’t consider it a big “need” for him to be optimized for speed at age 7, but I would take this as a sign that he needs to learn to move with slightly better efficiency. You might start by simply showing him how to use both arms — you can simply run on the spot and show him how you are moving both of your arms, and then ask him to imitate you. If this doesn’t work after a few attempts at reminding him, then you might simply mention it to his PE teacher or sports coach, and ask them if they do any basic running instruction in their programming. It’s really not hard to teach kids how to run, but very few teachers and coaches take time to do this, and running is a reasonably important / essential movement skill.

    1. Sorry, I have no easy answer for you without actually seeing you run. I suggest you find a running coach where you live and ask the coach to assess your running form.

  18. I have an energetic 7 year old son and he is quiet active in sports and a sprinter too. My concern is my husband makes him run on the treadmill with full speed for like 30 seconds or so and when they are done he will complain about his stomach and sometimes minor headaches and bottom line is he does not like it or enjoy it. I really don’t support the idea of the treadmill as i feel he’s not yet matured to train like that. Please advise on this matter as it is a big concern to me.

    1. Hi Portia,
      There is no need for any 7 year old to be training on a treadmill — not unless he lives in an orbital space station and there is nowhere else to run. If the objective is to develop your son’s speed, he simply needs to be playing different running games (soccer, basketball, athletics, and even tag). These games will do everything required to stimulate the necessary neurological and muscle adaptations. The biggest concern I can see with training on the treadmill is that it is not fun — this is a sure way to ensure he develops a strong dislike for physical activity.

  19. Any advise on how to relax the shoulders? My daughter is quite tense through them and ends up with sore lats from distance running.

    1. Hi Rosie,
      Assuming your daughter simply has tense muscles, and not some kind of undiagnosed back injury, you simply need to do two things: (1) talk with her about relaxing her shoulders when she runs so she develops some basic awareness of any tension she carries in her neck and shoulders, and (2) show her some basic shoulder stretches. Check out this webpage for stretches:…-shoulders
      You probably only need three basic stretches from this series: standing wall stretch; T, Y and I movements; and arm circles. Feel free to experiment with the other stretches as well, but I think these three are probably enough.

  20. Hi,
    I have a seven year old boy who skips while he runs and always walks on his toes. He’s 53+in tall and 64 pounds. Is it his hight and growth?

    1. Hi Kim,
      If your son is that tall at age seven, then his awkward running style is likely a byproduct of his early growth and height. Still, you can help him to improve his running and develop better form as he passed through his early growth spurt by encouraging him to run and play every day outside. You can also play games with him such as tag, or you can register him in organized activities that are running-based (e.g. cross country club at school, or a soccer team).

  21. I am planning to gain weight to bulk up to build muscle but also i want to sprint to increase the secretion of growth hormones. As we know sprinting makes you lose weight which would hinder my weight gain attempts, how can I sprint without losing weight? Do I consume more calories? Thank you for your kind attention

    1. Hi Brad,
      Sorry, we don’t offer this kind of training advice. I suggest you contact a fitness trainer at a local fitness centre, track club, or recreation centre.

    2. Look into high intensity strength training. Careful, slow, intense muscular inroad affects a number of biochemical/hemodynamic changes, amongst them growth hormone stimulation. One should be sure to avoid overtraining; train hard and rest harder.

  22. Hi, my son looks quite stiff and not relaxed when he runs. Any suggestions on how to get him to relax?

    1. Hi Vince,
      Without seeing your son in person, it’s hard to guess why he might look stiff when he runs. It sounds like he may be struggling with basic running mechanics. Depending on his age, it could be that he still needs time to develop the basic mechanics, in which case you just need to ensure that he gets outside and plays / runs regularly. If he is older and he still has awkward running technique, then you might want to register him with a running club or even a soccer team (assuming of course he is interested in improving his running).

  23. My 6 year old has an awkward run, he is not as fast as his friends, I would even say he was slow, and is really troubled by it. When he runs he leans forward, doesn’t lift his knees and makes exaggerated arm movements. It almost looks like he is running in slow motion. I want to teach him how to run better and faster. Any ideas.

    1. Hi Henriette,
      At age 6, your son’s movement skills such as running are still in early development. The most important thing is to ensure that he is running and playing every day, and the best thing for this are simple games such as playing tag or racing each other at your local park. If he has an interest in games such as soccer or basketball, these will help a lot as well. The key is to encourage plenty of daily activity (including running).

  24. My son is 10 and has autism, which affects him physically in some aspects. He recently started track and field with the Special Olympics. He was timed today and runs the 50-yd dash at 11. 2 seconds. He also plays basketball, and is interested in soccer. I know running (and running properly) will help him in these sports, but I don’t know what areas can be improved with practice and good form, and what areas cannot be improved (because of his autism). Any advice?

    1. Hi Chantel,
      Every child is different in terms of their athletic abilities and potential, including children with autism, so it is difficult to provide specific advice for your son (especially without seeing him and coaching him directly). If you have already tried to coach him using the instructions above, and if you find it is not working well for him, I would suggest contacting the Canucks Autism Network and seeing if they have any advice to offer you. They have been running physical activity and sport programs for children with autism for 10 years, and they have excellent experience in this area. You can find contact information on their website:
      I suspect they will be able to provide tips, and if not, then perhaps the contact information for someone who can.
      Best to you and your son,

  25. Hello,

    My 9 year-old son seems to swing his legs back and forth, rather than bending in an up and down motion. Is this just technique or could there be physical issues we should explore?

    1. Hi Matt,
      Has your son had a recent growth spurt? It may be a simple case of his body struggling with rapid recent growth. Was there any indication that he had trouble running as a 6, 7, or 8 year old? If not, then his situation most likely a simple growth issue affecting him at present, and he will get through it. As with Shon below, my first advice would be to talk with your son’s physical education teacher at school and ask if they see an issue. If that’s not possible, or if the PE teacher expresses concern, then you might want to ask your family doctor for an opinion, or a referral to a physiotherapist for an assessment, just to be safe. Following that, assuming there are no medical issues, and your son is interested in getting better at running, you could look into registering him in an introductory athletics program such as Run Jump Throw with a local athletics (i.e. track and field) club or your local YMCA.

  26. When running, my sons first four steps are outwards and then he eventually straightens them out. I’m afraid this is going to cause him issues in the long run. He’s only 12 years old but runs very funny and I’m afraid for his development. Any ideas of what I can do to help him?

    1. Hi Kim,
      If your son has been going through a big growth spurt in the past year, then it is likely the sudden growth of his limbs that has produced some awkwardness in his running stride. Some simple coaching instruction will probably help, along with simple ladder drills (you can find agility ladder drills on YouTube). For coaching, I would start by talking with his physical education teacher at school, and if the teacher is not able to help you, then perhaps contact a local running club, track club, or recreation centre to see if they can offer any coaching. It is not uncommon for 12 year old boys to run awkwardly — as I say, it’s usually due to the growth spurt at this age.
      best of luck,

  27. I just had a question about how to help my 9 year old son run correctly. He seems like he is taking short bouncy strides on his toes. (Almost like prancing) I have tried to help him, but obviously I am not teaching him correctly. Any advise?

    1. Hi Shon,
      If your son is “bouncing” on the balls of his feet when he sprints, that is a little odd. My advice would be to talk with his physical education teacher at school or look into registering him in a simple introductory athletics program such as Run Jump Throw with a local athletics (i.e. track and field) club. Your local YMCA might also have programs. They will be able to diagnose and adjust his running mechanics after directly observing him.

  28. Hi Jim,

    My 10 year old son loves playing soccer. He is good in techniques but struggles with sprinting. When he sprints, he seems to go fast. He has long legs and I wasn’t sure if that is the reason why he can’t sprint like his other friends. He seems to lose the agility with his long legs as well. How do i guide him to run the correct way so it can improve his sprinting? I have others say that he is still growing and his muscles are not fully grown yet that is why he is struggling. What are your thoughts ? Thanks.

    1. Hi Vincent,
      Your friends are most likely correct. I say “most likely” only because I am not present to evaluate your son’s running and physiology directly, but I can tell you that rapid growth, long legs, etc. are the problem 99% of the time. Your son is only 10 years old — if he is particularly long and “leggy” at this age, he could be 14 or 15 before he really starts to develop significant muscle mass and even barely starts to approach physical maturity. Remember — children are not miniature adults — they are children who are growing and developing, and every child grows and develops at a different rate (based primarily on genetics). He is obviously getting plenty of opportunity to run in soccer, so my advice would be speed and agility training — specifically on agility ladders. I am also very long and leggy, and a soccer player, and I saw huge improvements in my speed and agility by working with agility ladders. More importantly, I have used ability ladders in coaching hundreds of soccer players ages 7-18 years old for close to 20 years — I have seen that every player finds improvement depending on their degree of physical maturation (e.g. pre-pubertal, pubertal, post-pubertal). The only caution is don’t overdo it — keep the agility training sessions to 5 or 10 minutes per day with brief recovery breaks every 30-60 seconds. The key is to do a little every day — more than that can result in joint and muscle injury. Keep it short and simple. You will likely start to see improvements in his speed within 2-3 weeks. Thereafter, his greatest improvements will come after the peak of his pubertal growth spurt (i.e. development of muscle mass, bone growth, etc.).

  29. My son complains about his heals hurting after activity. He is a competitive athlete. I feel like it is the way he runs. Any thoughts to help him? We have used shoe inserts in his cleats and he always has good running shoes. He says his cross country coach said he should run heal to toe.

    1. Hi Michelle,
      There could be many reasons why your son’s heels hurt after activity. If he is a competitive athlete and training frequently during the week, it could simply be related to overuse. Also, depending on where he is in his growth spurt, there could be mechanical issues due to changing bone length, muscle development, etc. With ages 12-14 especially, it is common to see aches and pains due to these reasons, especially if the child is “training” a lot. In 90% of the cases, it is simply a matter of reducing activity and putting less stress on the body for some time while the body “sorts itself out” in relation to growth and development. Having said that, you might want to consult your family physician and get a professional medical opinion. And as for heel-to-toe running, there are many different opinions on this, and it continues to be debated. Here are some articles on the topic of running form that you might find useful:
      “Pounding Pavement by Heel or Toe”…el-or-toe/
      “Heel striking — is it really the enemy of good running form?”…nning-form
      “Facts on Foot Strike”…oot-strike
      Myself, I’m definitely a mid-foot runner when I run distance — if I do a heel strike, it hurts my knees badly. Sometimes I even experiment with a front strike, and I find it comfortable and more enjoyable, but I realize that I am apparently among the minority of runners in that regard.

    2. Hello everyone, I am a basketball coach, and many kids these days have a (very) poor running form. When I was a kid competing, about 10% of the kids were those very unathletic, others very either average or very athletic, and there’s almost 50% of those very unathletic now, which makes me really sad. In my opinion, two things are the main causes:

      1. They simply spend far less time outdoors than we did at any age, including at ages when running is developed the most
      2. Shoes these days mostly have much thicker soles than the shoes we wore back in the day, so lack of pain does not naturally teach kids to change their running form

      I don’t think heel striking should be debatable.
      It’s simply not natural. Just make an eye test first. When I look at some heavy heel striker I really don’t feel at ease, he looks like he is going to fall apart or get injured at any moment.
      So even an eye test tells us a lot…
      But we can do a practical test as well. Try not running, just walking barefoot on concrete. We’ll notice that our heels are would start to hurt, and after a couple of steps, we”d change our usual heavy heel first strike walking mechanics with pretty long steps, to a lot shorter steps with your toes touching the ground first or somewhere in between, almost like sneaking :)…
      Now if we try running barefoot on concrete while heel striking, and we’d get injured basically instantly.
      We learn from mistakes and pain. When a small kid falls for the first time on its head, it hurts. He learns to use the hands next time..
      But they never felt it while running because of overprotection from the thick soles.
      If kids felt that pain, they would naturally need to overcome it, and would subconsciously change something not to feel it, which would be their mechanics. That leads to developing strong muscles in toes and feet which now become a firm base from which energy can naturally be released to other muscles.
      Analogy can be made with a canon. If the canon is not on stable ground, for example floating on water, it does not have a strong base to release the cannonball very far, but if the canon is on concrete, all energy can be transferred to the ball.
      Same is with the foot. Simple Physics

      Sprinter’s heels never touch the ground. Never. I was always one of the most athletic guys, and I am always on the balls of my feet when playing basketball and sprinting.

      Elite marathon runner’s technique is different cause being constantly on the balls of your feet takes more energy, but they still don’t land on their heels.
      Heavy heel striking is basically not a running technique, cause it’s the same technique as walking, but much faster. Almost between race walking and running.

      Jim’s exercises are great, and I use them all the time on practice, but I think that the progress is slow with these, and those unathletic kids will just be somewhat better, they still won’t get close to the athletic ones
      I have some recommendations as well, which with a lot of work and with Jim’s exercises can yield even better results

      Kids should walk first on uneven terrain while being barefoot. If they start running barefoot immediately they’d get hurt, they don’t have the right muscles yet, and the tendons are too short because of the shoes. All of the muscles needed for feet to accommodate for uneven terrain would get worked out. After a couple of weeks of that, they can start running barefoot on uneven terrain (not rocks, grass or dirt). They’ll build muscles in their feet, and running barefoot will naturally make them change their form if they not wanna feel pain.

      Of course, that is not always practical for some.

      Running on steep uphill is great cause you cannot run the other way but on the balls of your feet and work those muscles.
      Walking on the insides and the outsides of your foot is great. Towel toe curls are good too.
      Don’t make little kids wear slippers when at home!!! Let them walk barefoot (in socks)!
      It’s very dangerous to change the form immediately, like some adult runners with bad form who never engaged in sports before running and jogging became popular do when they hear they should not heel strike, and try forcefully changing their form while not having muscles, tendons and their whole body ready for that yet…

      Kind regards to everyone

    3. Severs disease: it’s growth plate issues in the heels from over use. Prednisone helps plus stretching the calves and hamstrings before activities. They grow out of it. Clinical test is squeezing the heels on the sides….they will tell you pain is excruciating. Inserts help as well. See a podiatrist.

  30. Jim,

    My daughter is nine years old and is one of the taller kids in her age group but does not tower over everyone. She often complains that she is slow and does not want to play tag because she cannot catch anyone. She plays hockey and is a faster skater than runner but still on the slower end. I sometimes suspect it is effort based but not sure if this is me rationalizing her speed. She has never really been a kid to run around much. I always considered myself as one of the faster kids growing up and through high school and am having trouble coming up with good advice. I also do not want to make it a bigger deal in her mind and do not want to apply undue pressure. She is a bright kid a usually pretty receptive to instruction (although perhaps not from me). I would appreciate any advice you might have to offer regarding this situation.

    Many thanks for your time.


    1. Hi Jamie,
      If your daughter is not usually tall for her age, then her “slower” speed probably doesn’t have much to do with an unusually rapid growth spurt (I’m just thinking out loud here). It could simply be her genes. Speed is a rather complicated mix of nature vs. nurture — genetics vs. the activity experiences (read: stimuli) that children experience during the age 6-8 years period of their physical development especially. We know that leg muscle is composed of muscle fibres that are commonly referred to as “fast twitch” and “slow twitch”. Some people are more fast twitch, other people are more slow twitch. Most of this appears to be unyieldingly genetic, but there is some research to suggest that early activity experiences (e.g. running around a lot at young ages, playing games such as tag) may help to spur the development of more fast twitch muscle fibres. However, unless your daughter was especially inactive or immobile from age 6-8 years, it is not likely that her development in this department was significantly compromised by her environment. In my experience coaching girls soccer players throughout ages 5-18 years, it is more likely that she is simply slower than average. Still, it is possible for anyone to make *some* gains in speed by training with agility ladders. I have managed to coax probably 10% more speed out of all my soccer players by training them on agility ladders for 10 minutes at the beginning of every practice. Agility ladders won’t necessarily develop more fast twitch fibres (especially after age 9 or thereabouts), but they will help to develop stride length and awareness around foot planting, balance, take off, etc. If you are not familiar with agility ladders, I recommend you check out some drills on youtube and see what they are about. I am not a fast-twitch person myself, but even I managed to gain some speed by training myself on an agility ladder as an adult! You might find the ladders are helpful to your daughter, but no matter what, take heart in the fact that even if she remains a bit slower than average, that’s perfectly okay — each of us has natural strengths and weaknesses, and sport performance is very much about playing to our strengths, even while we try to improve our weaknesses on a continual basis. It’s also about having fun and not overthinking things — in the end of the day, we all work with what we have, try our best, and try to enjoy ourselves in the process. Best of luck to your daughter!

  31. Hi Jim,
    I have been searching for some ideas on how to help my son improve on his speed. I appreciate your insight and ideas and will try the technique provided in helping him to learn this. I definitely agree with the parent about “helicopter parenting”… much that my 6’5”, 208 lb., 8th grader just started playing organized basketball 2 seasons ago, while all of his friends have been exposed to organized ball since about 5. He has developed nicely as a ball player in just 2 years, but his speed clearly needs help. Yesterday, he played in a game, which was fast and filled with quality players, and afterward he said, “mom, I’m tired of being slow and always a second behind the other guys”. I played competitive basketball all my life and never had any trouble with speed, so this is new to me…..but I definitely want to help him. I never pushed him into organized sports, but instead, my husband and I constantly played all kinds of sports with him…..and just “played”. He got to the point 2 years ago where he just was ready to compete. I’m not going to beat myself up that I waited too long to expose him to “all of it”, but be good with my decision to allow him to enjoy being a kid. Do you have any other advice that would help a kid, who is this big, to run faster?….By the way, he grew 14 inches in a little more than 2 years (between 3rd and 6th grades)..and always the tallest kid in all of his schools, even now in 8th grade. I will appreciate any advice or insight from you……and thanks for the great advice so far.

    1. Hi Joanne,
      WOW. Your son is 6’5″ in grade 8? And he grew 14 inches between 3rd and 6th grade? He definitely represents what we call an “early fast maturer.” As in, people can start to mature early and quickly reach physical maturation, or they can start early and take 15 years to mature, or they can start late and mature quickly, or start late and mature slowly, and all the various permutations in between. The challenge with early, fast maturers is that they somewhat “miss out” on a lot of the typical speed development that happens for kids between ages 6-9 years due to rapid growth and temporarily impaired motor coordination during that time period. That is, they are growing so fast that they tend to struggle in simple activities on the playground such as tag, for instance. As with all motor skill development, plenty of repetition is required, but the early fast maturers may not get as much time at this as other kids, so they often tend to lag behind in leg speed, etc. as they enter puberty. This is not to say that your son can’t catch up, but it will take work, and it could take a couple of years of thoughtful training. The best thing for training his leg speed is agility ladders. If he is ready to commit just 5-10 minutes per day on an agility ladder with various quick footwork drills, he could see his speed on the court improve very quickly, even within a few weeks. Also, he would do well to look at some videos online that demonstrate sprint technique — how to take off, short steps to accelerate at first, then lengthen the stride, etc. Beyond that, mature sprinters (and running athletes in all sports) should have good overall muscle development through the legs, the core, shoulders, and arms — because we run with our entire bodies. This is the advice I am giving for your son, as he has clearly entered his peak growth spurt, and may indeed almost be finished it, but I would provide different advice for a child who was still pre-pubertal, age 7-10, for instance. He can definitely improve his speed, no question — the only uncertainty will be how much and how soon. And assuming he makes time to do the ladders and learn some technique, much of his improvement will simply be determined by his genetics. Just don’t overdo the ladders — his growth plates are still soft at this age, so it is possible to “overtrain” and cause joint injury. If he starts to feel any lingering soreness in his joints, he should back off for a few days and give things a rest. One last thing: If you haven’t read it already, I think you will enjoy reading my article on…our-child/
      Best of luck!

  32. Thanks, Jim. I really appreciate the mature and sensible way in which you answered my question. It shows that you have genuine know-how and expertise and can respond with response-ability to a query. Unfortunately, Arjuna Hillman seems to be rather miffed at my asking questions and questioning authority. Hey, Arjuna, isn’t that what we are all here for…to ask some difficult questions. Our children are the best philosophers and never stop questioning and being curious. It is this way by allowing the animated child to partially direct his or her own life within a loosely structured and safe environment of play that the child can progress through the milestones in his life. The child is like a sponge, he or she will absorb every little facet of the environment provided he or she is encouraged and given a proper liberal and all-round education which is rich in stimulation. Even today at the age of 44, I sprint outside my house in the sunshine. It sure beats being stuck inside the house in cramped conditions with one’s eyes glued to the computer screen. Anyways…I have said enough. Once more I would like to thank you Jim for the polite and well-mannered way in which you answered my doubts. I wish I could say the same for Arjuna…

  33. Hello, my son is 9 yrs old. He has played football since 5. A couple of years ago we noticed he runs on his heels almost like his feet hurt him when he runs. We have taken him to the doctor and a physical therapist. They did not point out any problems that my be causing this. We buy him quality cleats and as he is getting older he is a little faster but still lands on his heel and rolls onto his toes which makes him slow. I have been working with him this summer after a lot of reading and watching videos and having him watch the videos. I am seeing improvement but can you offer any advice that you have found really makes a difference? Thank You

    1. Hi Mike,
      Assuming that the doctor and the physiotherapist are correct in their assessment, it sounds like your son simply needs to practice basic running mechanics, so you are on the right track with the videos and practicing landing and pushing off the toes / ball. I would also highly recommend agility drills that demand that he runs / plants / pushes off his toes and ball of the foot. Just 5-10 minutes a day is all you need, and it can be quite fun for kids. Have you ever worked with agility ladders? They are amazing for developing this sort of technique. You can search “agility ladder drills” online (e.g. Youtube) and you can buy an agility ladder like these:…0y64wioo_e
      If you get a chance, let us know how it goes!

    2. Hi Mike,
      my 6 year boy have the same problem. Do you have any link to videos so I can see working methods on how to correct his running tehnic.
      Thank you

  34. Jim, thank you for good reminders. My son is 11 and has the worst running form I’ve ever seen. He is athletic, loves sports but cannot run well. He is on his first travel baseball team this year but does not have the speed to steal bases or sprint to first, etc. He is a great ball player, but I’m afraid if I don’t get him some help soon, he won’t be able to continue what he loves. When he sprints, he looks like he’s about to trip forward or has 10 lb weights on his feet that he’s dragging along with him. His steps seem so big that he just can’t get any speed. My gut says something is off more than just speed/form (physiologically) that I would be unable to see without professional help. Something is holding him back as he runs because I can see him try but looks almost like he is unable. He was a toe-walker for years but after some PT, it was corrected. Can you refer me to some professionals who would be able to see what I am clearly missing? I want to help him and he wants to excel, but we are both at a loss for where to go for help. Any direction would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Nicole,
      You ask an interesting question. There could be a variety of reasons why your son struggles with his running form, but I would suggest that you start by finding someone who specializes in sport kinesiology. Again, it’s just a starting point, but I would want to first examine whether or not your son simply needs some “coaching” in movement mechanics and some basic exercises to correct his form. Few health professionals wear the actual title “sport kinesiologist”, but there are physiotherapists and occupational therapists who include this domain as an area of special interest, and they probably have the best insight to help you. Check out a few websites and make some phone calls to see if you can find a “sporty” therapist with this area of interest and expertise–for example, a physiotherapist who is also a competitive or recreational runner. You could also try private coaching from a coach at a running club, but they might not have the expertise to identify more fundamental pathologies that may be present, such as pre-existing injuries or issues in biomechanics that may have gone undetected in your son. For example, it may be a simple case where your son (a) never learned how to run in the first place when he was small and then (b) has entered his growth spurt and now suffers the additional complications that come with rapidly growing bones and dramatic changes in fundamental biomechanics. Sport kinesiologists — or physiotherapists and occupational therapists with a keen interest in sports kinesiology — are best equipped to identify these issues or refer you to other professionals as needed. Best wishes!

  35. Hai, I want to know how I make my son a good runner, actually he is very good on running he is toe runner or foretoe runner. He is 8years. Is it okay to be toe runner. From baby til 8 he is very fast on running . He stand first in running in all competitions , he love running can he persue as toe runner in future need ur advice Jim

    1. Hi Neha,
      It really depends on whether your son is running distance or sprinting. The foot strike (heel, mid-foot, or forefoot “toe”) changes according to speed. Also, every runner is a bit different in size and limb length, and that can affect the foot strike. However, generally speaking, most distance runners will use a heel strike or a mid-foot strike, then roll forward off the toe. Sprinters use a forefoot strike and then roll off the toe. If your son is running distance, then you also need to consider the type of distances he will be running — long distance or middle distance? This can also make some difference. I hope this helps!

  36. Good article.

    How young is too young for a child to learn these techniques? In other words, should a child be 6 or 7 before trying to learn proper running techniques?

    1. Hi Greg,
      Excellent question. Every child is a bit different in terms of their rate of growth and development, but generally speaking, you can “introduce” this kind of technique starting around age 7. Prior to that age, most children have not developed enough strength and muscle coordination (and cognitive understanding) to “get” what you are talking about or be able to apply it. I would say this: Introduce the technique with a simple short demo and exercise as described in the article, and then revisit it every so often. For example, as a soccer coach working with kids this age, I generally do a 30-second review of the technique every 2-3 weeks during warm-up at practice — and thereby gently build the players’ own body awareness without sounding like a broken record. It’s also important to understand and accept that not all (or many) of kids ages 7-8 will immediately be able to perform and master “perfect” technique. It’s a long-term process. However, by age 9-10, if kids have been active and running around for a few years, they should start to show signs of good mastery of the basic technique. By this age, assuming they have been reasonably active in childhood, they should have the requisite strength, coordination, and balance to run reasonably well. And by age 12 and 13, they should look reasonably “pro” as they go sprinting down the track or across the field. I hope that helps — again, very good question!

  37. Thank you Jim for explaining the mechanics of sprinting. It really helps to have a clear distinction of technique to talk about with my kids as they play & train in the various activities that they enjoy. As far as helicopter parenting (@ Kasif,) it’s clear that you don’t know what the term means. I mean, why are you even reading an article on improving technique if that’s what you think helicopter parenting is, & why help your kid understand anything at all? Working with your child on improving technique is no different than teaching them other life skills. We explain things to our children all the time so that they have an awareness to better understand the fundamentals of “whatever” they do for them selves. Thank you Jim for your help, I can also use the info to help kids on my kids soccer teams.

  38. Can’t we leave the poor kids alone to their own devices instead of this helicopter parenting approach which drives them later on towards other unhealthier pursuits such as drug abuse, promiscuity, violence, obesity and mental illness. Free range parenting is the way to go. Kids need their space and some freedom to just be themselves and enjoy whatever they want in the fresh air, sunlight and great outdoors. To supervise them even in something which comes to them naturally and spontaneously such as sprinting is simply going too far. Can’t we just let them be instead of becoming such wise withered old judges that stand in judgment over their every move whether to the left or the right.

    1. Hi Kashif,
      I hear what you are saying, and believe me, I am firmly anti-helicopter parenting. My kids were free range kids to a degree that would terrify most Canadians. What I have outlined above is not helicopter parenting. It’s teaching. We teach our kids how to hold a fork or chopsticks, and similarly, we can teach them how to run. It literally takes about 15 seconds to show a child how to do this. However, if you pursue your child at every running and sporting event afterwards and try to “coach” them, then you are a helicopter parent. As well, the instructions above assume that the kids have been playing and running around for a long time (i.e. unstructured play), and now they have expressed an interest in track, or soccer, or some other sport that involves running and they have a desire to get better. My kids all did well in sports simply because I took a few seconds or a few minutes to recognize their interest and teach them things as children. The key is how you do it. Make it fun, and the kids love it and feel accomplished. Make it a coaching session, and the kids will resent it, for sure. The best teaching and coaching relies on recognizing the child’s interest and then gently feeding it. This is how all three of my children have become accomplished pianists without piano lessons. You can read my story about cultivating a Growth Mindset to see what I mean…h-mindset/

    2. If you want your kids to achieve something you need to push them,train them. Keep an eye on them. Sisters Williams were training since they were 6. Mayweather Jr as well. If they were left alone to grow and do whatever they want by now they would be working in Tesco for s*** money from 8-16:00. But because of what they achieved they are milioners, travelling around the world, meeting interesting people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *