Alternatives to Organized Sports

By Christine Bannister Moore

Every Saturday afternoon at the local grocery store, it’s hard to miss the families proudly toting around their young athletes in everything from soccer cleats to cheerleader skirts. 

Organized sports are a very effective way for kids to get regular exercise, get out of the house and meet friends with similar interests.  Despite these benefits, organized sports often aren’t the activity solution for every family. 

Whether it’s the time commitment, expenses or your child just doesn’t seem interested in participating on the local Little League team, there are innumerable alternatives that will give your child the same social, physical and mental benefits of playing on organized sports teams.  At least one is sure to be right for your child and family.   

To find the best option for your youngster, talk to your child and discuss their likes and dislikes, interests and current athletic skills.  If your son spends all summer playing Marco Polo, perhaps swimming is a sport he’d enjoy.  If your daughter spins herself dizzy doing cartwheels, try dance or gymnastics classes. 

You will also want to consider your child’s level of physical fitness and abilities.  If your son is naturally smaller than his peers, football might not be the sport for him.  If he does not show promising hand to eye coordination, or is afraid of flying objects, maybe karate, running track, or even adventure hiking are better options. 

Some kids are certain they do not want to play a team sport. It’s important to not force your child to do so.   It’s common for youngsters to be intimidated by stronger or better athletes.  Perhaps they are concerned with their appearance, afraid of embarrassment, injury or even failure.  Perhaps your child simply isn’t competitive.     

“Once you understand your child’s abilities and interests, it will be easier to choose an activity they are comfortable with and, most importantly, will enjoy,” said Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Youth Sports Director, Lon Martin.  “Children can maintain a high level of athleticism and fitness from activities other than the basic baseball, football and basketball teams.”   

As long as your child likes the activity and is getting enough exercise, any sport he chooses will be a healthy choice.  Consider these options for your family’s organized athletics woes: 

Singles Sports

For the competitive child who just doesn’t fit into the team setting, sports such as tennis, gymnastics and figure skating offer your child a competitive environment without pressure and scrutiny from other team members.

If your child simply isn’t comfortable with the pressure of competitions, try dance classes, yoga, kids aerobics or karate lessons.

Intramural and Club Sports

Intramural sports at youth facilities like the Boys and Girls Club, community centers, the YMCA, as well as “Club” teams, offer a less competitive atmosphere than traditional organized sports. Children are usually placed on teams with players at similar skill levels and the focus is on having fun, improving abilities and not necessarily winning.

Lifetime Sports

For older children, sports such as running, biking or hiking are activities they can partake in throughout their lives. These types of sports are perfect for kids who want to control the intensity, time commitment and goals they wish to accomplish. The Internet is a valuable resource when getting started in a lifetime sport, offering training regimens, tips and general information. When your child has become confident enough in his abilities, ample opportunities exist for taking these activities to a competitive level. Check regional activity Calendars for events such as a one-mile run.

Family Time

The comfort of playing sports with the family is great for your child’s self-esteem. Outings such as family field days at the local high school track, ski trips or hiking trips create a safe environment for your child to learn and be challenged at a comfortable level. Be careful. Parents often have high expectations for their kids and may not understand their learning curve. It is important to not push a child into an activity he or she is afraid of or uncomfortable with.

No matter what form your children’s exercise takes, it is most important to support their own opinions and decisions to participate or not to participate.  The ultimate goal in sports activities is to create a healthy and fit lifestyle for your child. 

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

The Marine Corp Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run will be held on October 30, 2004 in Arlington, VA and is an exciting and safe way for kids to participate in an organized running event and be exposed to the joy and satisfaction of being a physically fit individual.  Visit them on the web at www.marinemarathon.com.   Christine Bannister Moore is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corp Marathon.

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