As a coach, I am often asked what is the best running watch for my child who is participating in cross country or track. First and foremost, please understand that most organized cross country and track meets do not allow athletes to wear running watches during competition. Wearing one during competition could get you disqualified. Please make sure you fully understand the rules going in to competition.
Using a running watch as a training tool during your pre-competition season, or during training runs (if your coach allows it) can be highly beneficial.
A running watch is a specialized watch that can track a runner's pace, level of intensity, distance run, as well as a whole lot of other metrics that can be useful in analyzing one's training. While it may seem like a luxury item or toy, a good GPS running watch can help your child improve their running if they know how to use it.
All running watches keep track of pace and mileage which can (a) help them track improvements in their running speed and distance, but (b) more importantly, make sure they are running their training runs at the right level of training intensity. Some types of runs, we want the to run fast (to build speed and stamina) and other runs we want them to run slow (to build endurance). A GPS running watch can help your child maintain a steady pace, at the right level of intensity, in order to get in a good quality workout without fizzling out towards the end because they started their run too fast.
A GPS running watch, like the Garmin 35, or Garmin 235, (#amazon links) uses GPS technology to track how far your child has run. These are the current two watches I recommend, but any watch in the Garmin product line will work. Garmin IS the industry standard when it comes to running watches.
The Garmin 35 has basic features while the 235 has a little more intermediate features. When it comes to kids I prefer to keep the features simple and the ease of use simple. The last thing we want is the watch to be a distraction.
If you like data, then some of the more advanced metrics and data points can be interesting to look at. However, if I was purchasing one for my own child, I would probably just go with the Garmin 35. It is cheaper and less likely to be a financial impact if lost.
If you want to see more detailed watch comparisons in the Garmin line, you can check out my comparison charts and guide over on my RunBuzz.com website
While a running watch can be expensive and a lot of options are on the market, I have found that when used appropriately, it can help your child. While I don't require the kids or adults I coach to use a running watch, it is very helpful to have the data on hand to verify that workouts are done correctly. I have also found that, generally speaking, those who use a running often report that the watch helps provide accountability because they like to see the workout loaded on their training calendar.
If you have questions about running watches, or which running watch is best for your cross country or track athete (or for yourself), let me know. I am familiar with just about every watch in the Garmin line though the athletes I coach and by using running watches as a training tool. I myself own two or three different watches at any given time in order to learn and study how to best use them for the athletes I coach.