July 10, 2019

Kids' Cross Country Incentives and a Solution to Keep the Kids Moving at Practice

Cross Country Incentives for Kids

This was written yesterday... I was just so tired that I forgot to get it posted!

This morning was my first cross country practice of the season! As you probably know, I am a volunteer cross country coach for elementary school kids. This year, I have just fourth and fifth graders because I'll be coaching by myself (Renee, who started the program with me several years ago, took a job coaching the seventh and eighth graders).

In the past, Renee and I had always started practices in mid-August, but I decided to have summer "conditioning" for the kids who want to get in better shape before the season actually begins. I have a couple of new things planned this year, and I'm kind of excited about them.

Firstly, I solved the problem of the kids stopping every 1/4 mile for a "water break". I put that in quotes because it was more of a "I really just don't feel like running so I'm going to sip my water as long as I can until the coaches make me run again" break. Multiply that by 10-15 out of 25 kids, and it's a problem.

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, but I decided that if they carry their water with them, then they won't have to stop for breaks (obviously). But that was no fun for third through fifth graders, so I looked into buying handheld water bottles like this one I have (and love) from Amphipod. They are expensive, however, and even if I asked the parents to buy them, I felt like that was kind of asking a lot.

So, I did some more searching on Amazon and I found a fairly cheap solution and it's more fun for the kids!

Sports water bottles in multicolored bulk pack (6 bottles per pack x 3 packs)
Silicone water bottle straps for any water bottle (4 per pack x 4 packs)

silicone straps for water bottlesbulk pack of water bottles for my cross country kids

It was a bit of an investment for me (I have 14 kids on the team, and it ended up costing $76.70), but it will certainly save me the headache of practically begging kids to keep running after each lap (I never give them more running than they can handle, I promise. Even if they truly need a break from the run, they should at least walk a lap).

At practice, I let the kids choose a bottle and strap, filled them with water, and they were good to go! (The straps basically turn the bottle into a handheld sports bottle, so that you can carry it without having to grip it. If you've ever used a handheld sports bottle, then you know how much of a difference it makes to have it strapped to your hand rather than just holding it!)

water bottle with silicone strap for cross country kids

I always tell the kids that the first practice is the hardest, for two reasons: 1) It's their first and they're not in running shape unless they've been running through the off-season; and 2) I have them run a timed mile as fast as they can during the first practice.

I like to do the time trial at the first practice because it's a great way for them to see how much they improve over the season. I will do another time trial at the end of the season and then they can see exactly how much better they've gotten. If they come to practice and follow my directions, I expect that they will improve by quite a bit. That is my favorite part about coaching--seeing results! And especially seeing the kids get excited about how much they improve.

Another idea I had this season is for a new incentive program. Last year, you may remember that I gave out "tokens", where each color token represented something that the kids could aim for; and then they could collect the tokens through the season. That worked out well, but since I invested the money in the water bottles, I didn't want to have to buy a bunch of tokens, too.

Instead, I developed a point-based system. I did buy a cool award for this--I found a brand new (in the box) Garmin Forerunner 25 on Facebook Marketplace for $25! Last year, I brought my own kids' Garmin watches to practice and all of the kids were begging to get to wear them. So, I thought this would be a pretty cool prize.

Garmin Forerunner 25 as a prize for cross country

I haven't decided the most fair way of giving it away yet, though--do I give it to the person with the most points? Or do a drawing and each point they earn will give them one entry in the drawing? Any other ideas? I will also get a few more smaller prizes so that the kids who are working hard to earn points will get rewarded. (The whole point of this incentive system is to reward hard work.)

(Actually, as I was typing this, I had an idea... because the watches are super motivating for kids, it would be awesome to have more of them to use during practice. If any of you have an old Forerunner that you no longer use, and would like to donate it to my team, that would be amazing! Any model will do, but I find that the simplest ones are best for kids--like the 25 above or the Forerunner 10 that my kids have. Anyway, if you have one that is collecting dust and you'd like to donate it to my team, just email me for my address. The kids would be thrilled!)

As far as the points system goes, the kids can earn points in several ways: one point for each practice they attend (two points for the "long run" practice), one point per mile run throughout the season, one point for leading the group warm-up at practice, one point each time they better their individual race time, etc. I don't want to base the points on ability, because obviously some kids are much faster than others.

At the practices, I'd like to post a "leaderboard" for the number of points, because I think that just seeing the leaderboard will fire them up to want to move their name to the top.

It's funny--with high schoolers, you don't need incentives. Just the race times are incentive enough, much like adults. Middle schoolers are still at the in-between phase, seeking out if running is really what they want as "their" sport. But my elementary school kids need all the incentive they can get, haha. I'm thinking of doing something fun with water this summer--like a relay race while they have to carry a cup of water, spilling as little as possible, and whatever is left, they are allowed to dump on my head ;)  A water balloon fight might be fun too--getting them to run and cooling them off with water at the same time.

Each year, I wonder whether I really want to coach again, but once I start thinking of ideas for the season, I get fired up. I was worried about doing this without Renee, but I'm pretty hopeful that things will go well, and I'm excited for this season! :)

(I get a lot of questions from other kids' coaches, so if you are a coach looking for ideas, here are a few more posts that I've written about it:

Speed Work for Kids
Hill Workouts for Kids
A Fun Running Game for Kids
Tips for Coaching Young Kids to Run
Running Games for Coaching Kids to Run
An Incentive Program for Kids Cross Country


  1. You are AMAZING at coaching these kids! Keep up the good work!
    I'd love to see a post about how you got started with this. Did you work with the school? Is it right after school so transportation isn't an issue? What about a waiver? That kind of thing. Our elementary school offers a walking program only for 2nd and 3rd graders. This program is offered by the teachers. I'd love to see a transition program for the 4th and 5th graders to a running program. I'd be willing to coach it but have no idea how to get it started!

  2. What about giving this away for "most improved?"

  3. Katie, since what you are doing for these kids as a coach is so wonderful, have you considered writing directly to Garmin for watch donations for the kids you coach? I bet if you wrote to them and explained what you do and the passion with which you do it, Garmin just may make a donation of some of the Garmin 10s for them. I believe that model is discontinued so they might just have a lot of them lying around. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with getting kids to enjoy fitness at an early age!

    Here is a link to their sponsorship opportunity.

  4. Hope you'll answer a few questions:
    Is this a school-based program or part of your community's recreation programming?
    When is the official start and end of your cross-country season?
    What do you consider the "end-goal" of the training? Like, by the end of the training, your child will ...."?

    It sounds like you put in so much effort for these kids. They are lucky to have you as a their coach.

  5. Those kids are lucky to have you as their coach!

  6. An Idea for the giveaway could be that everyone on the team gets 1 ticket to win the prize. Everytime that they earn points, they earn an additional ticket into the draw. So for example, for every 5 points you get an extra ticket, and that student ends up with 20 points for the season, he will get 5 tickets to enter the draw. That way everyone gets a chance to win, but the hardworking ones will be rewarded with additional tickets and a better chance to win ;)

  7. I have an old Garmin I would send you. You didn't put your email on this post, and the one I found is your transformation email. Do you have another?

    1. Yes! I'm sorry, I guess an email address would have helped--duh! ;) It's Katie (at) runsforcookies (dot) com. That is SO generous of you to offer! Thank you thank you!


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