From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

The schoolyard bursts with kids running and jumping during track and field time. This annual event encourages kids to get fit with the incentive of getting a shiny medal or ribbon if they win. But the benefits start long before the big day, when the children get training in each event – and a good amount of physical activity.

Track and field, a collection of simplified Olympic-type events, lets your child try out a variety of different activities to learn just where his or her strengths and interests lie. Does your daughter enjoy training for the long jump? Does your son love long-distance racing? “These sports are great for developing important physical skills that can be used for the rest of children's lives,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher and physical activity expert Dr. Patti-Jean Naylor. “When children have the opportunity to succeed and see improvement in their skills, it can contribute to their overall self-esteem and increase their chances of enjoying physical activity for life.”

The sport your child enjoys in track and field can help you get an idea of what other activities to try out. Remember, your encouragement goes a long way. Developing these interests and abilities early on can help kids stay active well into adulthood. “Building a foundation of movement skills, a belief in their own abilities and a sense of enjoyment will help to keep kids active throughout life.” Dr. Naylor says, “A child that has learned to throw could find it easy to serve in tennis, a child who has developed their balance might love to snowboard, and a child with stamina could find it easy to keep up in soccer matches.”

Read on to see what key skills are needed for each track and field event and how they can help your kid get a head start at other activities.

kids running around on a track

Running: stamina, speed
Depending on what distance of race you are running, speed may be more important than stamina or vice-versa. Long distance races require a steady, fast pace over a long period. Sprints, on the other hand, require a burst of speed and the stamina to last the short run (usually less than a minute long).
Activity suggestions: soccer, football, basketball, hockey

Hurdling: speed, body control, stamina, coordination
Hurdling is a sport in which the participant jumps over barriers while running on a track. This is one of the most challenging track and field events because it requires so many different physical skills for success: speed, stamina, body control and coordination.
Activity suggestions: Gymnastics, ice skating, inline skating, skateboarding, martial arts, tennis, soccer, football

Standing long jump: flexibility, body control, strength
In the standing long jump, the participant stands at the edge of a sand pit and then jumps as far as possible. There's no benefit of a running start so strong legs and great body control are the most important skills in this event.
Activity suggestions: Martial arts, gymnastics

High jump: speed, flexibility, body control, strength
The high jump is another great event for kids. It requires running and then jumping sideways, twisting your body over the bar. Lower leg strength and speed are important for this event, but body control and flexibility is the key to success.
Activity suggestions: Gymnastics, ice skating, inline skating, skateboarding, martial arts, tennis

Shot put: strength, stamina
In this event, the participant throws a ball as far as possible. It's a good test of upper body strength
Activity suggestions: Swimming, basketball 

Before signing up for any activity, talk to your child to find out what he or she is really interested in. Some kids may make the switch over to team sports, while some may want to pursue a track and field event or try another independent activity like bicycling. As Dr. Naylor says, “Kids need to play and relax and socialize and choose what they want to do.” So, don't worry too much about what sports your kids like, as long as they are staying active and having fun.  

Read about the physical activity needs of children.  

Posted May 1, 2008.

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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