Recently I have had quite a few people ask me about our local kids track night program. I thought it might be best to write a post about this for those who might be interested in doing this in their own town. We have been running this track program for over six years and have learned a lot in the process.
First of all, you do not have to be a running expert, former college athlete, or an elite runner to organize something like this. A passion for running and more importantly, a desire to help and motivate kids are the most important qualities you will need. In 2009, one of my good running friends approached me about starting this. Their family had participated in a summer kids track night series in another town and we thought we could do something like this where we lived. She and her husband really got the program going and I helped them. A few years ago they stepped down and I took over but we’ve kept much of the same format because it works for us.
Below are some simple tips for starting something like this in your own town.
- I would strongly recommend working with a local running club if you have one. Our running club is a part of the Arkansas RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) and many of our members have kids that participate in this program. Our club members also helped us find sponsors (more on this below).
- Obviously, you will need a track! We are not allowed to officially “reserve” the track. We just schedule our track meets when we know the University and high school sports teams will not be using it. We meet from 6-7 pm after team practices are over for the day. In the six years we’ve been doing this we’ve only had one instance of a conflict and fortunately I found out a few hours prior to track night so I could let the parents know.
- Water and healthy snacks are important to have at each track night. We provide bananas cut in half and orange slices. We have a portable table that I bring with me to every time. In the past we had parents sign up to bring water and healthy snacks. Then a few parents donated money and I just bought the snacks each week. As our track nights grew this turned into a bigger financial commitment. Before the season started this year I decided to find a local sponsor who might be willing to help us. Fortunately for us, Tropical Smoothie generously agreed to donate a carton of oranges and bananas to our track events this year. This feeds over 100 kids!
- Volunteers– get some help! Yes, I’m the director but I could never pull off something like this on my own. I’ve had A LOT of help this year from my good friend Jackie who did much of the behind the scenes work to get the season organized. She created our logo, made the flyers, brochures, and basically handled all of our advertising. I’ve also relied on many parents over the years. One dad in particular is the “finish line dad.” He stands at the end of each race giving high fives. The kids know to run all the way to “Mr. Burt.”
- It’s a good idea to get a basic first aid kit. Unfortunately, over the years we’ve had a few run-ins with kids and concrete… Newsflash: Sometimes when kids run fast they trip or run into each other. It happens.Some Extra’s:
- Last year I decided I needed a megaphone because I’m not naturally a very loud person and I was tired of yelling for each event. Best purchase ever! I should have bought this years ago! I found one on Amazon for less than $20 and it works great!
- Last year we added the 4 x 100m relay after the mile for the older kids. We used leftover bananas for batons but that’s not ideal. It was also pretty hard for the kids to remember who was on their team during hand-offs. This year I bought four batons online (about $12 total for 4 batons) and then four sets of different colored pinnies so each team of four would know who was on their team.
- This year we decided to make kids track night shirts with the logo on them. We actually had 150 made to give away at the kick-off event. We also had 150 drawstring bags. We gave a bag and a shirt to the first 150 kids who came at no charge. We had about 150 kids for our kick-off event! I will be placing a second order but I’m asking for $5 per shirt this time around since our budget was only set for 150 shirts. We were able to get the shirts at a good discount since the company we used to make the shirts was also one of our sponsors.
- This year we added age group signs since we had so many kids. These signs are 8 1/2 x 11 size, each a different color and laminated. A parent volunteer is in charge of their assigned age group. (I let them pick which group if they want to be with their child.) They escort their age group to the starting line when it’s their turn to race. For a smaller kids track night you wouldn’t need this but for over 50 kids this really helps!
A few more tips to getting started:
- Set a schedule. We have a kids track night “season” which lasts from April – October each year. It’s just too cold (and dark) at night from November through March. We meet two Monday nights each month of our season except for June, July, and August when we only meet once. In the past we had a sort of floating schedule and if there was bad weather we would try the next week. This got too confusing and hard to keep track of so I decided to set an official schedule this year. I have it posted on our local running clubs website. We also made the calendar on small post cards that we included in the goodie bags we passed out at our kick-off event. In the future we may just move it to once a month from April – October to make it a little easier. I would recommend starting simple. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Work out the kinks and try to get the program going before you do a lot of advertising.
- We have a private Facebook group for local parents so I can post announcements about track night. All members must be approved by an administrator and I only add local parents for the safety of our children. We have had some random membership requests so I really keep an eye on this.
- Since I knew we wanted to have t-shirts and food provided for the kids this year we teamed up with our local running club to find local sponsors. For about three weeks we went to several local businesses to see if they would be interested in sponsoring our Kids Track Program. I explained what Kids Track Night is and where the money would go. Below is an excerpt from the Sponsorship flyer we used. “Without support from our community, Kids Track Night would not be possible. This is a FREE program that promotes health and fitness to kids of all ages in a fun, safe, and positive environment. Please consider supporting Kids Track Night. We have three levels of sponsorship options.” Then I listed our specific sponsorship opportunities which included platinum, gold, and silver ($250, $150, or $75) options. Thanks to the help of many local businesses we were able to raise all the money we needed to fund our kids track program this year! We had all of our sponsors listed on the back of our shirts, as well as on the back of the postcard with the Track Season schedule on it. Most sponsors contributed financially. We did have a few that traded services such as Tropical Smoothie (food), Harriman Athletic (t-shirt discount), TK Photography (took pictures of kick-off event and plans to take a group picture later in the season).
- This year I had it a little more organized with a registration form for each family. This helps us keep track of how many/ who is coming to kids track night. Parents only need to fill out one form per family per season. This form also includes a waiver (similar to any running race event) for parents or guardian to sign. There is no charge to participate and kids are not required to attend any certain number of meets. It’s all optional and for fun. However, this is not a baby-sitting event. We are not responsible or liable for kids. If kids are participating a parent or guardian must be present. (I have been asked by parents if they need to be there and I tell them YES!)
Order of Events:
- Each track meet lasts one hour (or less).
- When there are 50 or more children I have the parents volunteers line up with their age group signs so kids can line up in the right spot. In the past I could just head to the starting line and call out age groups but when there are a lot of kids you need more organization. With 50+ kids each age group needs escorted to the start to know when it’s their turn to start running.
- We start with the shorter sprint races: 50 m, 100 m, and the 200 m. (One race right after each other for each age group.) I stand at the start and the “finish line dad” is at the finish. Other parents and volunteers are spread out along the way. For example, the 1 & 2 year-old’s run 50 meters first. Once they get close to the finish I start the 3 year-old’s. Then 1 & 2 year-old’s come back on the grass (inside the football field) with their parents or parents volunteer to near the start. We go through each age group from 1 to 13. Then we start the 100 meter dash. If there are not that many kids you can combine age groups. We’ve done 1, 2, & 3 year-old’s. Then 4 & 5 year-old’s, etc. (2-3 ages per group). This year we have so many kids in each age group that I am dividing not only into one year increments but also boys and girls as needed in many of the sprint races. Before each race I explain to the age group how far/ where they are running and the finish line dad waves to them. He also wears the bright green kids track night shirt so he is easy to spot from across the track. Note: I do not time the sprint race events. If a parent wants their child timed they are welcome to time them on their own. The only timed event is the 400 and the mile.
- After the 200 meter race we have a 5-10 minute break so the kids can get some fruit and water.
- After our fruit/ water break is the main event. We offer two races: the 400 meter dash or the 1 mile race. Typically the younger kids run the 400 but we do have a few older kids join them who are leery about running a whole mile. Many times kids start off only planning to run one lap but after seeing so many kids still running they decide to add one, two, or three more laps themselves. It is all optional and there is no pressure! Before we start these races I explain to each group how far they are running. I talk about the importance of pacing and not going out too fast. I tell them that if they need to walk or stop for water it’s fine. We have kids of all ages and abilities. Parents are scattered all around the track to cheer and encourage kids. We’ve experimented a little with the order to do this and right now it tends to work best with starting the mile race first. We line up older kids frist and then any younger ones that want to run the mile start right behind them. Once they are off and running we line up all the 400m runners. I try to start them as soon as possible. We time the mile and I call out overall time to the older runners each lap as they run around the track. I do not keep track of all the kids individual times or how many laps they run! I generally know the kids that finish towards the front and I know around where my kids finish- that’s about it! To many of these kids running a mile is like running a half marathon. When they finish they are exhausted and tired but so proud of what they have accomplished. I stand at the finish so that I can tell each child what their finish time is. There are so many kids (especially younger kids) still running that no one stands out as “last place.” After kids finish the mile they are welcome to get more water and fruit.
- In the last year we’ve added a 4 x 100 m relay to the conclusion of kids track night. We wait until all the milers finish before we start this race. The 4 x 100 is for older runners (typically 8 & up) but if there are a few younger runners who understand how it works then I let them do it too. It’s just a little more complicated for the younger ones. I will warn you- this is a race favorite for many of the kids. I am asked several times throughout the track night, “Are we doing the relay tonight?” because they love it so much. You will need a few parent volunteers for this one to go to each exchange point. We now have four different baton colors and four different colored pinnies for each team to wear.
- After the relay we clean-up and take down the food table. This usually only takes a couple minutes. Our parents have always been very helpful with the clean-up process. My goal is to leave the track cleaner than it was before we started.
We’ve been running our kids track night since 2009 and over the years we’ve had such a great response from the community. It’s simple. It’s fun. And it’s free. Just about every sports program these days costs money but our main goal is to make kids track night free and available to all kids. I hope this information helps those interested in starting something like this. I’m sure I left out some things so feel free to ask a question in a comment below or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org