Running As Punishment: Is It Time To Change This Practice?

Should we be teaching our children to love running instead of fearing it?

I'm choosing to raise my children to find the "fun" in running.
I’m choosing to raise my children to find the “fun” in running.

Give me two laps around the field for that.

I love running. Love it. To say that I’ve always loved it would be a lie. I hated it. HATED it.

My first real experience with a significant amount of running was when I was a freshman in high school and had just started participating in soccer. I didn’t grow up playing sports so this was the first time I was involved in a physical activity on a daily basis. I wasn’t fast. I wasn’t fit. I had no endurance. I had little to no skills, and I didn’t enjoy it. I enjoyed being able to say I was on the JV soccer team with my friends, but knew that the only reason I had “made” the team was because I was at a school that required 8 seasons of sports in order to graduate.

I learned a lot on this team. I learned that if I wanted to improve, the first thing I had to do was to run more. I needed to be able to get to the soccer ball. Other skills I could work on later. Only I didn’t like running, to the point that when we had to first run laps in summer practice, I pretended to hyperventilate so I could sit on the sidelines. It’s funny now looking back, yet also really sad. I have very strong memories of the insecurities inside my 9th grade-self.

I wish I could have slipped a little note in her pocket that said, “Don’t give up. One day you will love running. One day your idea of fun will be training for a marathon. I promise you—you can be an athlete. It’s not too late. Don’t compare yourself to the way other girls grew up. Your life is different and special. Appreciate yourself and then you will  be able find your own talents. ”

I’m sure that my coaches knew I was pretending, because I never got a pass from running again. When the team ran, I ran.

At some point I think I could have grown to love running.

Yet soccer is where I learned to HATE running.

Running was not just a way of improving our fitness. It was more often used as a punishment.

If the team was talking too much, we all ran a lap together.

Someone wasn’t listening to the coach? They ran a lap.

I learned that if you did something wrong, you ran.

If you put your hand on a hot stove and burn it, it’s imprinted on your brain not to put your hand on that stove. You don’t want to feel that pain again.

That’s how I felt about running. If I was bad, I had to run. So I wasn’t bad, because I didn’t want to run. Running hurts when you have a hard time making it more than half a mile.

High school is also the time where I heard whispers about those kids who only ran. “Oh they run cross country, because they aren’t good at any other sports. If you have never played lacrosse before maybe you should consider the cross country team. They ONLY run, because it doesn’t require any skills.” 


We have come a long way in the past 20 years, but I’d venture to say there is still farther to go.

Let’s stop using running as a punishment. It isn’t something awful. It is something we should raise our children to enjoy and appreciate. Do they need to be marathon runners? Nope. Do they even need to want to participate in running as a sport? Nope. What I’m arguing is that they don’t need to be raised to hate it. If it’s not their thing, great. If it is, that’s great too.

Do you agree that it’s time we stop using running as punishment? Or do you totally disagree and think it’s an appropriate way to get kids to listen? I’d love to know your thoughts!