10 Mistakes Most Young Athletes Make When Running

Running and training on track for her sport.

By Kyle Decker, ATC, CSCS | FAST Glendale location

“My kid runs funny” is a common thing I hear from parents looking for speed training. At FAST, we look at each athlete individually, breaking down running mechanics and eliminating bad habits. In this article, I’ve listed 10 of the most common running issues I see when speed training young athletes.

1. Poor head positioning

Most kids run with their heads looking forward, tilted forward, or leaning back. We have also seen kids swing their heads side to side, looking at fellow competitors or even at mom and dad. To avoid excess movement, I teach our athletes to look forward or to the finish line; we call it “eyes on the prize.” With eyes forward, the ears align with the shoulders, and the chin is pointed down. Great posture starts at the head.

2. Excessive leaning (forward or back)

We see kids leaning forward more often than leaning back, but both are common issues. Leaning forward can impede the hips as they drive forward due to the athlete bending at the hips, restricting the available range of movement. Likewise, leaning back can give the appearance of getting the knees high enough. It drastically changes the center of mass and can take the spine out of neutral. A slight lean forward putting the athlete on the ball of the foot, is the correct positioning for running and sprinting.

3. Too much movement at the torso

With every action in the body, there has to be a counter-movement. Young athletes with excessive torso rotation will see excessive movement in the lower half. All of this excess movement will cause the dissipation of forces and cause young athletes to be imbalanced.

4. Swinging arms across the body

Many young athletes run with their hands or arms swinging across the body’s midline. This can cause poor placement of the elbows, leading to torso rotation. We like teaching our athletes to “reach for your pocket and drink water.” This linear arm swing from hip to ear allows them to keep the momentum moving toward the finish.

5. Straight arms

Like the above topic, young athletes will run with straight arms, causing torso rotation. I like to teach a 90-degree elbow, using the corner of a square analogy. Elbows bent at 90 degrees will allow the arm swing to occur at the shoulder rather than the elbow.

6. Posture or “sitting posture.”

Most young athletes will sit on a run. This will cause the lower legs to feel tight or lack the room to run/extend. A tall posture will allow the leg’s drive to fully extend and push appropriately off the ground. A great cue to use is to ask your athlete to run with “high hips.”

Soccer athlete running past a FAST sign.

7. Full knee drive

Many young athletes leave their knees low when running, allowing a full knee drive from the hips allows for a full and powerful stride length. Unfortunately, little to no knee drive shortens the stride length, thus making the athlete work twice as hard as their competitors.

8. Not running in front of themselves

Most young athletes will bring their heel toward their backsides while their knee is still pointed to the ground. The heel should be pointed towards the backside as the knee is lifted in front of them. This issue is commonly seen with excessive forward lean as well.

9. Turned out feet

This is a common issue with young athletes. I will use video to determine if an athlete is running with their feet turned out. Athletes who demonstrate a gate pattern like this will often dissipate forces away from their running direction. Athletes twist their feet back towards the front as they push off the ground. This movement pattern is highly inefficient. This will also cause concerns about injuries.

10. Asymmetrical movement

Watch your athlete run, and pay attention to both sides. You will often see a difference from one side to the either. One hand will drive higher, one leg will go higher, or a heel will swing out on one side. These are all dysfunctional movement patterns that will affect efficiency and balance. I prefer to coach my young athletes with consistent cueing and corrective activities to build the correct patterns.

When choosing a performance coach, ensure they are aware of these issues and how to correct them. Make sure that the work is age-appropriate, to their skill level, and most of all, fun! If you’re interested in training at FAST and becoming a better and faster runner, schedule a FREE performance session!

Kyle Decker

ATC, CSCS | Kyle enjoys helping athletes of all competition levels reach their goals. He has worked with the Phoenix Suns, Major League Baseball teams, and high school athletes and spent two years in Minor League Baseball. Glendale location

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).