On parkruns and pushy parents

Pushy parkrun parents

Saturday morning and the perfect way to start the weekend: with a family parkrun. My 14-year old got into running last year after joining me in my sprained ankle rehab training, and he’s been bitten by the parkrun bug. Plus the sprint finishes that leave his dad in the dust don’t hurt either.

It’s fantastic to see so many kids taking part. Even with the launch of a shorter Junior parkrun in Taunton, there are still plenty that join the regular run on a Saturday.

It’s part of what makes parkrun so special: mums and dads running with, encouraging and supporting their kids, with maybe the occasional advice to take it steady. What a great introduction to running, and one that could hopefully lead to a life-long love of the sport.

And then there’s the other style of parkrun parent.

Just starting the second lap, and what appeared to be a dad with his daughter cruised past me. She looked to be around 13 or so. And she was clearly in distress.

She began crying.

I overtook them, and they sped past me again. This went on for about half a mile.

All the time, the girl was sobbing and complaining while her dad made encouraging noises: “you’re doing great. You’re doing fantastic. It’s just your mind playing tricks on your body.”

Despite the pep talks, she just kept getting more and more upset and miserable, until eventually I left them behind for the last time.

And then there was the mum at a Christmas parkrun, who’s response to her daughter stopping and bursting into tears mid-run was to snap: “don’t be stupid. You’re nine. You should be able to do this.”

At least this morning’s dad was trying to be positive and supportive.

I guess there’s an argument that it does our kids good to push themselves. That only by stretching our boundaries, by getting comfortable with discomfort, can we discover what we’re really capable of.

But I can’t help feeling that the competitive spirit needs to come from them. That we should let them set the pace, rather than drag them along at the speed we feel they ‘should’ be capable of.

And what a shame if instead of learning to enjoy being active, our children’s memories of running are feeling sick and being shouted at.

The pushy parkrun parent is a rarity, thank goodness. But when your child is sobbing in the middle of what’s not even a race, but a friendly, communal timed run, maybe it’s time for a rethink?

Or am I judging too harshly?

Photo Credit: simonmlight Flickr via Compfight cc


  1. Everyone is different. All relationships are different. There’s all kinds of stuff going on between parents and children that we have no idea about. There’s gazillions of factors contributing to how people interact and talk with each other.

    The ‘pushy parent’ is an alliteration. All parents are trying to do their best.

  2. Great post, Hannah! I’ve encountered this before and you really hit the nail on the head.

    I’m always conscious I really, really don’t want to judge parents, but I simply don’t know what to make of mums or dads that push kids that are clearly in distress. Maybe like you say, it’s introducing children to the notion of stepping out of your comfort zone. But I’ve had similar experiences growing up and I know that approach would have made me withdraw from running.

    There is a woman I regularly see at a parkrun who is clearly very athletic and very competitive. I’ve seen her run sometimes with a young boy or a young girl. Every time I feel awkward because while everyone else is dishing out high fives and celebrating taking part, her kids look unhappy and are sometimes crying on the course. The woman mixes up the encouragement; sometimes it’s upbeat, other times impatient, always firm. They queued in front of me to scan their codes once, and the girl was crying so hard and trying to hide it. The volunteer looked at the woman quizzically and she rolled her eyes and told the girl she was being silly. The idea of being pushed out of your comfort zone but not getting the joy and confidence afterwards… That just feels like trauma.

    On the other hand, most of the time I see children really enjoying themselves and bonding with their parents/guardians as they make it round the course. They’re the ones always smiling at the end.

    I don’t think you’re being harsh, you’re observing something that concerns you. Ruth makes a good point that we’ll never know the full story and I think we’re both aware of that. All I can do is share my experiences and confirm that there’s definitely a wrong type of encouragement out there, which made me hate things and give them up!

    • Thanks Christina. I see it rarely, which is why it jars so much with the usual parkrun experience. There’s a fine line between encouraging and pushing too hard, and it’s not always easy to navigate. But what a shame if we end up driving our kids away from running.

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