By Craig Valency, MA, CSCS

Have you ever noticed that kids always seem to be running? I have spent more time yelling “walk! Don’t run!” with my own kids than almost anything else.

Well, the issue is that most kids have only two gears – all the way or none of the way! You see, they simply don’t have the control to slow down or modulate their speed for a specific situation. They are basically falling forward and letting momentum just take them for a ride. Eccentric control, or the ability to control the lengthening of a muscle, as in the downward motion in a squat, develops later in children.

In life and sports, however, two speeds, ALL or NONE, are never very helpful. It is important, and often even more difficult, to hold back and to be able to go at half speed to avoid an obstacle or get in a better position before bursting at full speed.

Gear runs is an awesome way to get kids to understand the difference between full speed, half speed or even three quarter speed. Get the kids to line up at the start line and rather than just racing to the finish line, call out progressive gears, “1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th! At this point you may need to coach kids to slow down and learn to subdivide their speed properly.

This skill is a component of temporal awareness, or the ability to understand rhythm or the passage of time. Temporal awareness is crucial for understanding how to move at the right speed and tempo for any given situation, whether to score a goal or just avoid danger on a mountain trail.

So, give kids a frame of reference for their speed and tempo with Gear Runs. We always celebrate the fastest person. This is an opportunity to celebrate the most controlled, and even the “slowest,” runner!

Give Gear Runs a try and let us know how well your kids are able to subdivide and control their speed.


Gear Runs

Age: 5+

Total time: 2-3 minutes

Equipment: Cones or markers

Group size: Any

Set up: Basic 15-20 yard cone grid to establish space

Fitness component: Awareness/coordination, general fitness (muscular, cardiovascular)

  1. Instruct the children to line up at one end of the given space.
  2. Explain how movement has different speeds or “gears.”
  3. Tell them they are a sports car with 4 gears.
  4. 1st gear is slow (walk) 2nd is half speed (jog), 3rd gear is 3⁄4 speed (run), and 4th gear is full speed (sprint).
  5. Starting at one end of the given space, call out progressive “gear shifts” as they move across.
  6. Provide feedback if they aren’t moving at an appropriate relative speed.

Gear runs provide an opportunity to teach rate of movement control.

We'd love your feedback!