Hi! My name is Mike Graney and I work as part of the parkrun HQ team as Head of Analysis. It is my job to build our knowledge and insight into our participants, to help us in our mission to help create a healthier and happier planet.
Last week Chris Evans commented on his BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show that you’ll never see more smiles per face than at a parkrun. We’ve been doing some research that gives me great confidence there’s a lot of truth in this, and this week I’d like to make sure you’re amongst the first to see some of the results.
In September we ran a survey of the parents of junior parkrun participants, and also included questions for the young walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers themselves. The response was huge, with more than 4,000 returning the survey including over 1,000 children telling us all about what they think of junior parkrun. Thanks so much to all of you who gave your time to build our understanding and help us evidence the benefits of the events we enjoy, and the communities you are building every weekend.
We can be pretty confident that there are a lot of smiles on a lot of faces each Sunday morning, as 90% of juniors say they are happy when they do their junior parkrun and 87% of them feel proud of themselves. That’s the kind of approval rating that any President would be pretty happy with!
It is not hard to find reports like last week’s NHS Digital figures showing that 9% of children aged 4 to 5 in reception class in England are classed as obese and this figure rises to 20% of 10-11 year olds in their final year of primary school. The better news is that we can be part of the fightback, with junior parkrunners seeing positive changes that last even longer than the smiles on a Sunday morning.
51% of junior participants are more active than they were when they began at juniors, which is over 37,000 children over the past year. Arguably even more importantly, parents told us that 60% of children now have an improved attitude to physical activity. This is key in helping set our children up for an enjoyment of activity through their lives, and it is great to see parkrun is contributing to this. Keeping our “smiles per face” ratio high will be key to this positive attitude staying with the children in future years.
The benefits go beyond physical activity, with parents reporting that 46% of children (over 28,000 in the past year) have more confidence. Around 10,000 of our young parkrunners have increased their ability to concentrate, with the same figure now more able to make friends than before they began parkrun, with 16% of parents seeing a positive change here.
There are some key differences between groups of children, with the younger children (six and under) more likely to benefit from an improved attitude to activity, as they see how much fun can be had getting out of breath as they chase their way around the course. The older children (11 to 14s) are seeing greater gains amongst some social benefits such as finding it easier to make friends, along with enjoying better relationships with the rest of the family.
Though even first timers see the benefits, the positive impacts increase as the parkrun habit becomes more ingrained, with those with five or more runs the most likely to see benefits across every single positive outcome we measured.
It won’t be a great surprise to you that I’m a big believer in the power of volunteering, but the results for the 4 to 14 year-olds who have volunteered at juniors showed a significantly increased impact. Most notable were some of the social benefits, such as 29% of young volunteers seeing an increased ability to make friends, compared to 16% amongst our young walkers, joggers and runners.
This is great news given that now 10% of volunteering at juniors is by the youngsters themselves, which is more than 8,000 volunteer occasions last year. With my six year-old daughter Martha being a big fan of zapping away on the barcode scanner, I certainly love to see the kids involved with volunteering!
The benefits of coming to such a family event are filtering beyond the children who run too, with almost half of parents surveyed saying they themselves have become more active since their child began attending juniors. junior parkrun seems to be helping strengthen family bonds, as around half of parents (28,000 families in the latest year) feel their family now spends more time together, and one in five saying their child has an improved relationship with the rest of the family.
Of all the positive figures we found for the families, my personal favourite was that 59% of parents feel more part of the community since their child began at junior parkrun. This was even the case in the majority of first timers. This very much rings true with me, as the day after the inaugural Salford juniors event which is around a mile from our house, we had something extra to chat about with some of the parents as we dropped the girls off at school.
When we asked the children what the best thing about junior parkrun is, most said it was about looking at their results and trying to improve their times. There was a clear pattern of times being a more important motivation for the older children and those who have completed more parkruns, as the focus naturally shifts from completing the distance to getting faster. Some seem to already have their heroes in mind, with one boy saying he comes to junior parkrun “to train my muscles to be like Mo Farah, and it’s fun”.
The word fun came up time and again, and the younger children are more inclined to say the best thing about junior parkrun is “because it’s fun”, with 32% of 4-6 year olds choosing this option. My youngest daughter Imelda certainly seemed to be having plenty of fun high-fiving the other children as she marshalled on Sunday morning with her Mummy, my wife Jane.
So thanks for coming along, walking, jogging, running and volunteering. Thanks for filling in the survey and thanks for reading. I’ll leave the last word to one of the children who responded to the survey.
“I really like doing parkrun. I’ve done three so far and I love getting high fives from the marshals. I like to cheer on other people too. parkrun is fantastic.”
I’m pretty sure we can all approve of that!
Mike Graney, A41158
Head of Analysis
Photographs taken by Paul Hammond and Nicki Sullivan
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