Rethinking Competition For Our Youngest Runners

By Dawn Epstein, Executive Director

Healthy Kids Running Series (HKRS) was created to motivate kids to lead a healthy and active lifestyle through a positive introduction to the world of running. The goal is for kids to have fun, get active, and gain confidence. 


Exposing kids to a “race” is a way for them to compete with themselves and improve on their experience week after week, and to help kids learn about winning and losing in a positive environment. HKRS is not designed to be a competitive running event with a heavy focus on placement, times, points, and trophies.


We are always looking to improve programming through continued counsel with experts in running, youth sports, and child psychology, including our partners at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the American Development Model adopted by the US Olympic Committee. 


Their guidance advises that it is healthier for children, in the long run, to delay exposure to competition in sports and to focus on fun, especially if under the age of 10. The focus for young children should be physical literacy, multi-sport activity, and activities should reward participation and proficiency over performance outcomes and winning. 


HKRS has also consistently received feedback from parents and Community Coordinators about the challenges faced in managing the results in the pre-k dash divisions. Many pre-k children (2-5 years old) struggle to stay in line resulting in bibs being torn out of order. For very large heats, many children may cross at the same time, making it extremely difficult to determine placement. Some children are still learning to run all the way to the finish line and may run off course to their parents or stop before the end, etc.


In the Fall 2023 season HKRS selected a number of race locations to join a Pilot Program to experiment with implementing a more developmentally appropriate program for the 2-5 year old age groups. These programs did not award trophies to the pre-k dash divisions but rather focused on other aspects of the sport of running besides placement. Based on the success of the Pilot Program, HKRS now offers this option to all races around the country. Please contact the local Community Coordinator with any questions about the policies in each specific town.


Age-appropriate goals for the pre-k dash divisions include:

  • Waiting at the start line and not going until told
  • Running straight to the finish line and across it
  • Building independence and separating from parents during the race
  • Showing good sportsmanship
  • Celebrating success with other runners
  • Gaining confidence and experience to build up to timed races


As children develop and mature, and after the suggested 1-3 years of athletic experience, recommended by the American Development Model, they can begin running in the timed divisions which will continue to keep track of time, placement, and points. In older divisions, trophies will continue to be awarded at the last race. HKRS is excited to help the youngest runners grow and work up to competing in the timed divisions using the foundation they learned in the pre-k dash divisions.


Our goal, as always, is to help kids #GetUpAndGo!

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