Running Games For Kids

The 15 Best Running Games For Kids

Would you like to get your kids interested in running? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your children developed the same love of running as you? Unfortunately, this often sounds better in theory than in practice. Most kids aren’t interested, or they are too young to join you on the running trail.

Young children should be introduced to fun games that include running before going out for a traditional run. By introducing running games, children can learn that running can be fun and not boring. Children should be encouraged, never pressured to run. When your child experiences that running is fun and you model the behavior, children have a greater chance of becoming runners later in their adolescence and adult life.

In this article, I share some of the best running games for kids that get children into the spirit of running and better yet, get them off their electronic devices for a good ol’ dose of the great outdoors.

Why Running Games?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) children ages, 3 to 5 should be physically active throughout the day. Children ages 6 and older should get at least an hour a day of moderate or vigorous aerobic activity each day.

Being physically active promotes growth and development among several other health benefits. As a parent, you can help your child learn to love sports such as running.

Running games are a great way to involve the family as well as being a healthy activity for rambunctious kids at birthday parties, during camp, or during sports practice. When I was a soccer coach, kids loved it when we played sharks and minnows at the end of each practice or practiced dribbling by holding relay races.

Capture the Flag

Capture the flag one was one of my favorite games on the playground. It’s a great way to bring out a healthy competitive spirit and encourages team building!

How to play:

Start off in a large yard, sports field, or gymnasium. You’ll need cones or other landmarks to mark off the field and 2 flags to be put inside cones. Then designate an area on one side of the playing field to be the “jail”.

Mark the middle of the playing field with cones. Put the flag for each team 50ft on either end from the center of the field.

At the sound of “Go!” or a whistle, each team runs to the other side of the field to grab the other’s team’s flag.

If a player is tagged or caught on the opposing team’s side of the field, they will be put in jail. The only way to get out of jail is to have another player from their team tag them. This frees them from jail.

The team that captures the flag and returns it to their side the most times wins the game.

Band-aid tag

Band-aid tag is a goofy spin on the standard game of tag. Band-aid tag has players run while their hands are tied!

How to play:

There are two “doctors”, one “tagger” and the rest of the players are potential patients trying to avoid being tagged.

When a player has been tagged, they have to hold a hand or “band-aid” over the spot they were touched. If they are tagged a second time, they have to hold both hands over the spot.

After a third time being tagged, the player is frozen and must wait to be untagged or “healed” by both of the doctor players. Then they can start running again.

Red light, Green light

Red light, green light is easy to pick up and doesn’t require any equipment. It works best with a large area and is a great way to incorporate interval training into your team’s practice.

How to play:

Choose an area with a start and ending point. The bigger the area, the more opportunity for your kids to get in a sprint! Have someone be the caller who calls out the runners to change their pace with “Red”, “Yellow”, and “Green”.

Red: Players must stop and those who keep running are out of the game.

Yellow: The players must go from a run to a walk.

Green: All players may return to a run.

Wacky Laps

A track can be a bit daunting for young kids. In this game, you introduce kids to track laps in a fun and silly way. You can approach this game how you like, having each lap be a different way of running or dividing the track into different sections with different styles of running for each segment.

This is also a great game for your phys ed (PE) class or sports practice. Your kids will laugh and have a great time and before they realize it, they’ve run a mile or two!

You can come up with all sorts of funny styles of running. Here are just a few examples:

  • Skipping for one length
  • Running zig zag
  • Backward running
  • Holding hands with a partner
  • Power walking
  • Running through obstacles or mini hurdles

These can of course be adapted to more advanced running for older kids or track training!

Red Rover

Red Rover is a great way to get a big group or outdoor birthday party engaged, red rover will keep the fun going for all ages!

How to play:

Divide the kids into two teams. On each team, the kids will hold hands and make a chain.

When the game begins, one side shouts “Red Rover, Red Rover, let <insert player name from the other team> come over”.

The called-out player leaves his/her team and runs as fast as they can toward the opposite team to try to break through the held hands. If he/she succeeds in breaking the chain, one of the players whose hands were broken has to join the opposing team. If the player is not successful, he/she has to join the team he/she tried to break through.

When there is a single-player left, they will try to break through the chain of the opposing team. If they breakthrough, they will get one player to join them on the team and the game continues. If not, there will be no players left to break through and the other team wins.

What time is it, Mr. Fox?

If you want to build the anticipation to sprint, this game is a great way to keep every kid on their toes. In this variation of tag, one player is chosen to be Mr. or Mrs. Fox. He or she will stand at one end of an open area like a field or gym. All the other kids will line up on the opposite end.

How to play:

To start the game, the kids will call out “What time is it Mr. Fox?”

When Mr. Fox shouts a time, like 6 o’clock, the kids will take the amount of hours in steps forward. So for 6 o’clock. Six steps forward.

This will continue until Mr. Fox calls out “It’s supper time!” And the kids will run as fast as they can to the side Mr. Fox is guarding without getting tagged.

The player who gets tagged will be Mr. Fox in the next round. If no one is tagged, the game will continue until someone is tagged out.

Sharks and Minnows

This game is similar to capture the flag except the goal is not to get the flag but to avoid getting tagged.

You’ll need to define a rectangular open area and mark it with cones. 1-4 players will be “sharks” and the rest of the players will be the “minnows”.

How to play:

The sharks will start the game by standing in the middle of the area and calling out “fishy fishy come out to play” or “fishy, cross my ocean” or some variation of this: “shark, bait, swim”.

All the minnows start to walk toward the center of the game area toward the sharks.

Once the sharks are ready to kick off the tagging they will shout “shark attack” or “sharks and minnows”. All the minnows will run from one end of the rectangle to the opposite boundary line and try to avoid being tagged. by the sharks.

A tagged minnow will become a shark and start to try and tag any remaining minnows. The players who avoid being tagged are safe.

At the end of the game when 1 or 2 minnows are left, they will be the sharks for the next round of the game.

Pony Express Race (or children’s relay race)

Pony express is a relay game that runs along a short, marked course (or loop) where one member of each team carries a baton or some object as they run along the course. Each member will run one loop individually at a time passing the object off to the next team member once a lap is completed. The first team to complete the relay wins.

What you’ll need:

A wide-open space and a marked circle about 25 ft in diameter. You can mark the circle with a jump rope or chalk.

How to play:

To start the game, teams line up on opposite sides of the circle. The first player of each team will have the rest of their team line up behind them.

When someone shouts go, the first player of each team will run the looped course all the way back to the starting point. The goal will be to make it back to pass the baton, or object off to the next team member.

The first team to get all team members back wins the game. You can also run this on a straight course or track.

Activity Relay

The activity relay is not your typical relay race. An activity relay keeps things interesting by engaging your kids in different activities or games before reaching the finish line.

How to play:

Just like a traditional relay, you will have start and endpoints for the race but you will have activities that need to be completed before continuing on to reach the finish line.

You’ll divide the players into two teams and send each player through the course. The team that completes all the activities in the fastest time wins.

This game allows you to get creative and get your kids involved. See if they can come up with something silly like dressing up in a costume or completing a stimulating puzzle.

The Bag Game

The bag game is a fun type of scavenger hunt game that encourages running to nearby destinations.

What you’ll need:

A small paper or plastic bag that’s easy to run with, small pieces of paper with landmarks/locations written on them, and a large outdoor area with different landmarks.

How to play:

Have the coach or an adult write down several landmarks on the pieces of paper and put them inside the brown bag. These could be bleachers, goal posts, or playground slides. Pick enough destinations so that each kid has a chance to pull out a piece of paper.

Have one kid pull out the first piece of paper and read it aloud. All the kids will run as fast as they can to that location.

Then a different kid will pull out the next piece of paper. Continue until everyone has had a chance to read a location.

Chain Tag

Chain tag is a unique way to get kids to join up as a team and put everyone on an equal playing level…In this game, no one gets picked last. And, in the end, you’ll have everyone holding hands!

How to play:

Chain tag is similar to a typical game of tag. One kid will be designated as the seeker or “it”. The rest of the kids will run and try not to get tagged.

When someone is tagged, he/she will join hands with the seeker, and together they will try to tag out another kid. The chain will grow until there is only one last kid to tag who is the winner.

Land or Water

In this game, a couple of objects or landmarks are designated as “land”. These can be objects such as a deck, patio, driveway, or trees. Everything else is “water”.

How to play:

One kid is chosen as the seeker as calls out “land” and “water” and the kids must run to the corresponding areas. When land is called, all the kids must run to the objects marked as land and when water is called, stand in the area called water.

The trick is to call out alternating between land and water so that one person may touch the water mistakenly. When this happens they must try to outrun the seeker who tries to catch them before they reach land.

Fill a Bucket

For much younger children, aged 3-4, the Fill a Bucket game is a simple game to introduce your kids to running.

What you’ll need:

One bucket for each team. A cup for each player to fill with water.

How to play:

Divide everyone into two teams.

Line up a bucket for each team at the finish line.

The players will wait at the starting line with a cup filled with water.

When the whistle blows, they will run and pour their cups into the team bucket. The first team to fill their bucket with water wins!

Run like an Animal

Run like an animal is a great way to get kids to laugh while getting in some exercise.

You can pick 5-7 animals, each assigned a pace. Depending on the age level you can lessen the pace or change the animal’s movement to skipping or hopping. This helps when you have young children in the group.

How to play:

Like in the game, Red light, Green light, an animal will be yelled out and everyone will follow its pace.

An example breakdown:

  • Cheetah = Run as hard as you can
  • Dog = Still fast, but not winded
  • Gazelle = Run with ease, think about gliding
  • Turtle = Slow Walk
  • Sloth = Barely moving

Spot Something

Let’s hit the trail! Spot Something is the perfect way to get your kids motivated on a trail walk or when you’re camping or on vacation.

How to play:

Choose a few things that you might see on a trail and assign a number of points. An example could be:

See a chipmunk. 15 points.

Spot a deer. 50 points.

Catch a leaf falling. 100 points.

You can also take this game to a local park or just around the neighborhood. Whether you run or walk, your kids will soon have covered a couple of miles without realizing it.