How Kids Run Club stays on track despite COVID-19

On your mark, get set, get moving.

Finding ways to encourage Nova Scotia youth to stay active is tough. It’s even more challenging during a pandemic. Schools have safety restrictions limiting how and when kids can gather. Teachers are finding ways to innovate and keep students motivated within their classroom bubbles.

Kids Rub Club (KRC) has been a physical activity staple since 2004. It provides a free and accessible running program to more than 17,500 youth in 220 schools. Like many groups, it’s had to adapt and modify so children can still have fun and reach goals, while staying safe.

Robbie Comar is a physical education teacher and KRC coach at Prospect Road Elementary. He’s been coaching the club since 2006. “I’ve always loved the concept,” he says. “All students need to participate is a pair of sneakers.”

That makes KRC as inclusive as possible across ability levels. It brings students together doing something they love. Every student at Prospect Road Elementary participates in KRC. “That’s between 220 and 225 children, depending on kids moving in and out of school,” says Mr. Comar.

Changing course during COVID-19

The coach previously held his run club outside of class hours, which required permission slips and parent volunteers. That slowed everything down and was a roadblock that kept more kids from participating. Because of COVID-19, teachers and coaches have had to be flexible. “I now hold it during my phys-ed classes. It’s the first 10 minutes of class, once a week,” Mr. Comar says.

He’s been doing KRC as part of in-school curriculum for the past several years. He says he hasn’t had to make major changes because of the pandemic. “If I’d been still hosting it at lunch, recess or after school, it would have been impossible to maintain classroom bubbles. We would have had to quit the club.”

Yet this year has been seamless.

Now the run club is held most days ‘weather’ or not it was originally scheduled. “What I tell the kids is that the first sunny day or nice day this school week is going to be our Kids Run Club day,” says Mr. Comar. “I’m doing the club Monday through Friday, juggling the weather. We want to be outside as much as possible, making sure everyone gets to run.”

2020 goals  

Aiming for eight runs, he plans to keep holding KRC until the weather deteriorates. “The kids are excited for a possible extension,” he says. “I normally would announce an end date early on in the school year, but because of COVID-19, I’m reluctant to set one in stone. The kids are enjoying running. I didn’t want to say, ‘This is when we’re done.’ We’ll let it run its course, so to speak. When we can’t run outside anymore, we won’t.”

Flexibility has been key.

Kids Run Club continues to innovate. It launched its #LetsKeepMoving campaign to support young and older Nova Scotians. It kept people moving when schools were closed during the worst part of the pandemic in spring.

Running rewards 

Mr. Comar is seeing positive results from the adaptations. He says there are improvements across running levels. “I had three students excited about trying interval training. They ran for 10 seconds, sprinting as hard as they could, and then walked for 10 seconds. They had their watches out. They timed themselves. It was a great moment.”

The coach also mentors his beginners so they don’t get overwhelmed. “I say, ‘It’s OK to walk.’ I’m teaching them how to goal-set. ‘You did three laps today. See if you can do four next time.’”

That’s the beauty of the non-competitive nature of KRC. It meets kids where they are and builds their confidence.

How you can get involved

Financial support of KRC means coaches like Mr. Comar can offer prizes. The kids can’t wait to see what the reward is from year to year. You can help the program do more gift-giving by becoming a KRC sponsor or one of its Community Champions.

“In 2020, each runner gets a drawstring backpack,” says Mr. Comar. “The students are pumped. Leah Jabbour [KRC coordinator] has already dropped off our 220 backpacks.”

Mr. Comar says the big thing about the reward is that it’s a means to an end. It motivates the kids to challenge themselves. “If they’re working hard to improve their running, they know they earn the reward the program offers. It’s a win-win.”

A childhood connection

The coach delivers another important message during cool down. He discusses a small part of his personal history relevant to learning outcomes and KRC goals. “I had asthma growing up. I used puffers. I don’t need them anymore. I’ve since run half marathons. When I was in high school, we had a 10-minute run. I didn’t know how to run well and I couldn’t complete it. My asthma would kick in. I wasn’t even close to being an elite athlete growing up.”

The students connect with the coach’s message: if I can do it, you can do it.

Thinking about starting KRC at your school? Please email Kerry Copeland.