Athletics in Key Stage 2 (Primary schools - up to age 12)

The following are suggestions as to how athletics may be introduced to pupils within Key Stage 2.

In the early years body management should be the main aim of any physical educationalist. A young child's first experience of athletics should be an integrated play element incorporating the basic material of athletics and the action possibilities of the child within a wider movement experience.

In school the aim must be to teach the basic skills of athletics i.e. running, jumping and throwing, as an introduction for every child to physical activity in general, and aim to hold interest in these activities throughout the whole of school life, and hopefully into adulthood. When considering athletic performances or athletic meetings for children in this age range, it is much more desirable to foster general interest and enjoyment of all, rather than a specialised effort by a selected few.

Each pupil should be set a series of attainable challenges based on personal achievement. Success should not be measured by comparison with others but on personal striving and progress. (The English Schools' Athletic Association's Award Scheme sets realistic targets for pupils of all abilities. Summary details can be found on the website).

After the first phase it is possible to select experiences which would enable pupils to sample the richness and potential of athletics. It is important at this stage to modify equipment, particularly in throwing events, in order to reduce the limitations which may be imposed by the use of inappropriate equipment for the pupils. Any such modification must take fully into account aspects of safety. At this stage it is important not to be constrained by conceptions of what constitutes adult competitive throwing implements and techniques.

In Year 5 the activities may become more formalised so that it is possible to have competition within a clearly defined range of challenges. As with the younger age group it may still be both necessary and desirable to modify equipment. The emphasis should be more on suggested athletic events in order to provide a structure for possible competition. Particular attention should be paid to arranging competitions between children of similar abilities, or by working in groups where each child's score contributes to a team total.

The following list of events is offered as a guide to the introduction of competitive athletics:-


Sprinting should allow the child to maintain maximum speed over a short distance. The recommended distances are:-

Year 3 & 4 : 50 metres

Year 5 & 6 : 80 metres / 100 metres

Related Activities

To concentrate on speed, see how far children can run in 3-4 seconds, then let them have several attempts to beat this distance. To develop starting ability, race children over 15-25 metres.


Children in Key Stage 2 find great satisfaction in team competition and sprinting can be practised by stressing this aspect of athletics. Distances should not exceed those in the sprint group. Various convenient distances can be arranged and it is hot necessary to follow the normal pattern of four competitors per team. Six, eight or even twelve pupils can often be accommodated in a team. It is recommended that the event should take place on a circular course with some regard being placed on the development of a simple baton changing technique so that the pupil gets the idea that both runners should be moving when the baton is passed. Where a circular course is not available shuttle races can be organised and be both useful and enjoyable.

Year 3 & 4 : any number per team - 50 metres each
Year 5 & 6 : any number per team 50 or 80 metres each

Related Activities

Shuttle relays using a variety of implements to be carried.

Continuous relays around a circuit, using one more runner than the number of stations - the race finishes when everyone is back at their starting point.



This event must be considered as a fast running event in which the child is encouraged to run over obstacles. The hurdles should be spaced to suit the individual child in such a way that good sprinting is encouraged between them. The children must always feel that they are running over low obstacles, not jumping a series of barriers.

Year 3 & 6 : 50 or 60 metres - height 59-61cm 5 or 6 hurdles - spacing to suit the individuals.

Related Activities

To encourage hurdling as running use pairs of canes placed on the floor as barriers, ensuring that canes are placed slightly wider apart than a normal stride length.


Events involving a sustained sprint, in excess of 80 metres should be avoided. Many older pupils in Key Stage 2 will enjoy running, and sometimes racing, over longer distances. The following distance is recommended:-

Year 4 & 6 : 600 metres

Distances between 800 metres and 1500 metres should be approached more in the spirit of cross country running. Large numbers can take part in cross country even if much of the distance will be completed by jogging or walking. Team events should be the norm rather than individual competition. Most children in Key Stage 2 find covering distances of this length very pleasurable, particularly if the course is attractive and in good safe country. Recommended distances for cross country:-

Year 5 & 6 : between 1000 and 2000 metres

Related Activities

Orienteering or treasure hunts encourage the concept of running for fun.


Care must be taken to provide for practice, training and competition, areas where the approach and landing are safe and supervisable. To encourage jumping for distance a take-off board is not essential. A firm, flat area, approximately 1 metre from the edge of the pit can be used with the jump being measured from the actual take-off point.

Where no pit is available, encourage Standing Long Jump and Standing Triple Jump see indoor Awards Scheme for details.

All age groups.

Related Activities

Any number of jumping activities can be carried out indoors as well as out. Combination jumping can be fun and helps in the development of coordination and power. Some possible combinations include:

  1. Any number of hops for speed or distance
  2. Hop-step
  3. Step-hop

(d) Two hops-step (one foot landing)

(e) Two hops-jump (two feet landing)

(f) Step-step-jump

(g) Hop-step-jump

The potential for variety is enormous and is only limited by the teacher's imagination. The child should always be given sufficient practices in an attempt to improve performance.


Great care must be taken in providing suitable take-off and landing areas. Gymnastic crash mats do not constitute such an area unless they are at least 5m x 2.5m in total area and held together with a suitable cover. The density must be sufficient to prevent any jarring effect through the mat on landing. Loose crash mats without a cover are positively dangerous and should never be used for any form of jumping.

Certain forms of high jumping involving landing on the upper body are potentially dangerous. These require the correct landing area and should not be undertaken without specialist guidance and equipment. Any bar used should be circular in cross section and any triangular bars still available should be discarded.

All age groups.

Related Activities

High jump can be covered very well in gymnastics lessons throughout the year - any combination of jumping should be encouraged e.g. one foot or two, two feet to two etc., until the child finds out which is personally the most successful.

In the early years a simple scissors or hurdling technique should be encouraged because of their simplicity and safety.


By using modified equipment the range of activities in throwing is great. The events recommended are as follows:-

All age groups : Cricket Ball or Rounders Ball

Year 4 to 6 : Putting the- Shot (2.72kg)

Foam javelins and hammers are available and can be safely used in an indoor situation. These are designed to be thrown both for distance and accuracy.

Related Activities

All throwing can be described as belonging to one of four categories -pushing, pulling, lifting and slinging.

Pushing - Can include one or two handed pushes from the chest using a football/netball from a standing or kneeling position. How close can a child get a left-handed push (or putt) to that achieved with the right hand? How close can the child get a one handed push to a two handed push?

Pulling - Apart from rounders/cricket balls for distance, it is possible to use a variety of implements such as old rounders bats, rhythmic gymnastic clubs, bamboo canes etc. As well as throwing for distance, balls can be thrown for accuracy using targets drawn on a suitable wall.

Lifting - This can be done either forwards or backwards, but action should start from below the waist e.g. throwing the football/netball backwards over the head for distance or height.

Slinging - Hoops or quoits are probably best for slinging action in which the hand and arm stay roughly level with the shoulders. These can be thrown for distance or accuracy using skittles for targets.

In all throwing events children should be encouraged to throw against their own previous best, therefore they should be encouraged to provide their own markers rather than compete against a series of lines drawn on the ground.

Any throw performed with the stronger hand should be repeated with the weaker hand.


In all athletic activities SAFETY is of paramount importance and teachers must be vigilant. Reference should be made to the Safety Measures

Road Running and Fun Runs

With the continuing popularity of Fun Runs over long distances, especially when coupled with fund raising, the attention of all teachers is drawn to the fact that the E.S.A.A. does not approve of, nor legislate for these events. It is hoped that schools will not enter children in such runs and that teachers would endeavour to educate parents and children about the possible long term effects on young children through running excessive distances, and of the obvious hazards of running on roads.

With the safety of the individual in mind, we draw your attention to the fact that there is clear medical evidence which indicates that before maturity of growth, stresses and strains from "over use" i.e. running excessive distances, can cause injuries to young athletes which may only become evident at a later stage in life.