Team sports aren’t for all kids, and that is perfectly healthy, says Brooke de Lench, founder of MomsTeam.com, a site dedicated to giving parents advice about youth sports, and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports. “Children who resist joining a team sport often end up being some of the better athletes as adults,” she says. “I suggest that parents try many different sports and activities with their children. As long as children are active and find one physical activity that they become passionate about, there is no reason to force them into a team structure.” Try one of our top five.
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- Horseback Riding—“Equestrian sports are great for honing balance and strength, and good for kids who are empathetic and nurturing—versus competitive—since it involves understanding the animal,” says Dr. Anthony Rao, child psychologist and author of The Way of Boys. There are several different disciplines for kids to explore, from Western to English, which has subsets of dressage, jumping and saddle seat among others.
- Swimming—Water sports can be naturally calming, notes de Lench, and good for kids who feel uneasy about team sports and competition. Mastering the strokes is excellent exercise and engages the entire body. If kids do opt to join a competitive swim team, practice can require early mornings and lots of drills, a good way to build discipline and camaraderie with fellow swimmers.
- Rock Climbing—Scaling indoor and outdoor walls builds confidence, strength and stamina, says Rao. Though often mistaken to be a predominately upper-body workout, skilled climbers come to learn that leg strength is just as—or more—important. Climbing often comes with a social element, and is therefore good for kids who enjoy the company of friends in a less competitive environment.
- Rowing—Though crew teams aren’t typically an option to most students until college, some high schools offer the sport. Most do not, however, so developing rowing experience is often left to parents—whether kayaking or canoeing at the lake, river or beach. Rowing can be a cardio-intense sport and is an excellent core-, arm- and leg-strengthener.
- Martial Arts—“Martial arts are a great activity for all types of kids,” says Rao. “It allows them to learn about power and respect, as well as strength.” There are several kid-friendly martial arts to choose from, including karate, tae kwon do and aikido, each of which can help kids enhance confidence and body awareness.