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One of the worst feelings I’ve ever had was seeing my son lay in a hospital bed, miserable, knowing there was nothing I could do to help him. It felt like my chest was imploding.
As parents, none of us want to see our babies hurt.
Poor running technique can cause damage that, over time, weakens bones, tendons, and ligaments. These now-weakened body parts are more likely to get hurt than they should be, whether it’s a major injury like an Achilles’ tear, or something minor, like shin splints or hip, knee, or ankle pain that seems to be there for no reason.
Either way, this is a road we want our kids to avoid.
Here are three signs that your child has poor sprint technique that could result in an injury.
1) Unexplained pain
Sometimes pain has an obvious reason. If you sprained your ankle, your ankle is going to hurt.
But if weird pains seem to pop up for no reason, that might be a sign that running technique isn’t what it should be.
For instance, shin splints can often be explained by a heel strike running style. A heel strike is when the first part of your foot to hit the ground is the heel. This sends shock and stress up the shin, which can cause micro-trauma and pain.
Hence, shin splints.
Strange pains in the knees and hips follow the same story. If there isn’t an obvious reason why the pain is there, we should consider sprint technique as one of the possible culprits. It may not seem like such a big deal at first, but over time, these little aches and pains could add up to a more serious injury.
2) Their running just looks funky
Good sprinting looks smooth and near effortless. Next time you see a high-level track event, watch the 100m dash. Their arms, faces, and often times jaws are relaxed. Tension is the enemy of speed.
Bad sprinting looks clunky, uncomfortable, and sometimes make you wince just watching it.
This is the type of running that leads to the unexplained pain described in the section above. If you know an athlete who runs like this, they should do some work to fix it!
3) The kid is uncoordinated
Let’s be honest, it seems like all kids go through an awkward, uncoordinated growth phase. One parent recently quipped “she grew six inches in a couple minutes.” Definitely feels that way.
Being uncoordinated basically means lacking body control and body awareness, right? When athletes find themselves in tricky body positions–maybe they got bumped while jumping for a ball and landed awkwardly–if they don’t have the body awareness and control to safely get themselves back into a safe position, bad things might happen.
For this reason, I believe kids that have always been a bit uncoordinated, who trip over cracks in the sidewalk, or who stay uncoordinated for too long after a growth spurt are likely at increased risk for getting hurt.
4) The first part of their foot that hits the ground is the heel
This technique, called heel striking, not only slows you down while sprinting, it also sends significant shock up the ankle, knee and hip.
A safer and faster way to sprint is by striking the ground with the ball of foot first.
See the below picture. One image shows a heel strike. The other, after a few minutes of coaching, shows a ball of foot strike.
How do you fix poor running form?
Figuring out the root cause of the poor form is the name of the game. Every athlete is unique and has different needs, so you can’t take a one-sized-fits-all approach to correcting sprint form.
It’s like trying to figure out why an outlet in your house isn’t working. Is the breaker flipped? Did a wire get cut? Is power out on the whole block? The end result is the same—the outlet doesn’t work—but the cause, and thus the fix, can vary widely.
As a sprint coach, I specialize in finding the root issue and helping kids overcome it.
If you’d like your kids to work with me, consider signing them up for our next event. Click the button below to learn more.