Motivating Young Runners

What are some great motivational ways to get distance runners to compete at a high level? To give their utmost best. (Question submitted by Larry Altstadt via Linkdin)

Larry,
This is an interesting question you pose. I’m a certified mental games coach. Having also been a distance runner for more than 40 years and coaching at all levels from middle school through college and post college and masters level runners; including state and nationally ranked and all americans – the bottom line is the motivation has to come from within and cannot be manufactured. Distance running is unique. It requires someone who desires to put themselves through discomfort and only by doing so will they improve. And there is little pay off (no name in newspaper, big contracts, $$, 1000s of cheering fans, etc). Therefore motivation comes from competency (improvement) and sense of control (your own effort yielding results). As a coach that means tailoring workouts for each runner so faster/more mature as well as slower/novice runners are challenged but not OVER challenged. Goal setting that follows SMART goals. (Too many coaches and runners set goals that are simply pie in the sky and set up failure not success.) And to assure success, have multiple ways to gauge success, multiple levels of success (not just all or nothing – make varsity or not, set PR or not, make regionals or not, etc). So be careful about this setting the bar high = motivational approach. More times than not – it isn’t.
Getting kids to participate though is a multifaceted issue. That becomes a grass root effort at changing the culture at a school that running is “cool” or great way to represent school without being the biggest or tallest kid on campus. Get current members involved with recruitment. Peers are more powerful than adults as the middle school and high school ages.
Anyway, this is just a starting point. The answer to your question could fill a book.

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