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Do It Better: Alternatives for Children who Don’t Like Organized Sports

By Joyce Venezia Suss

Many parents register their children for some kind of sporting activity at an early age, for a variety of reasons. Physical fitness is often the main goal, but organized sports also help children meet new friends, learn about teamwork and achieve self-discipline.

Following tradition, parents often enroll their elementary-age children in community sport programs like soccer, tee-ball, flag football or basketball. Many youngsters will thrive in these programs and move on to leagues and school teams, but others drift away after struggling with the sport or disliking competition.

Parents should never force a child to play organized sports against their wishes, and instead explore alternatives to keep kids physically fit and provide interaction with others. Not everyone is destined to be an athlete, but many physical activities involve exercise and build confidence. The challenge is to find one or two that the child enjoys. Many summer camps and recreational programs let children try an array of sports over several weeks, which can help define what they enjoy the most. 

Parents may recognize that their child doesn’t like sports that involve throwing or catching balls. Hand-eye coordination and timing can be achieved by substituting balloons or rolled socks in place of a ball, or substituting a tennis ball for a hockey puck. There are also many non-ball sports (competitive or non-competitive) such as swimming, running, gymnastics and martial arts.

Parents can also explore athletic options with family-friendly activities such as bicycling, rock climbing, hiking or geocaching (using navigation tools), Ultimate Frisbee, bowling, tennis or badminton, golf and skiing. Bicycling can be as simple as riding through a park, or more challenging variations like “fat biking” on snow and sand using special bicycles with large balloon-like tires.

Also worth considering are less-familiar sports such as archery, fencing or skateboarding. It may take some searching to find instructors, but those sports might appeal to children looking for something different.

Dance is an excellent form of exercise, including ballet, jazz, hip-hop and tap. Some children may take dance lessons that end with a performance, while others might like the challenge of competition dance teams. Yoga is a great option to help children relax while increasing flexibility.

There are trending activities such as fitness drumming, a cross between a music class and a non-competitive gym glass that involves drumming and movement.

Another emerging trend is circus training, for children of all ages. Circus training classes may include aerial lessons on trampolines, the trapeze, aerial slings and silks, and ground lessons in juggling, handstands, and walking on stilts.

It’s also worth noting that old-fashioned backyard play is often overlooked for its physical benefits. For fun and easy physical activities, visit

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