Ask the grumpies: non-team sports for kids

Sandy L asks:

What non team sports do you think are useful to learn for a kid (swimming, biking, etc)

Well, as you say, swimming is a big one here– that could save a life.  Biking is also useful… biking is a great form of transportation.  I’d never really thought of the option of not learning how to ride a bike, though to be honest, I didn’t learn until I was 7 and we moved out of a city and had a place to practice.

In terms of “etc”… I am honestly not thinking of any.  There probably are things that would be useful like, say, martial arts, but we’re not having our kids do them.  My sister would argue in favor of dance because of strength and balance and stuff.  Others could make that argument with gymnastics.

Grumpy Nation, what non-team sports do you think are useful to learn?

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: non-team sports for kids”

  1. Sandy L Says:

    Gymnastics, figure skating and football are on the banned sports list in our house. My husband saw too many kids he grew up have serious injuries from those sports. Fused ankles, back and joint issues etc. When you have a limp for life at 15, it shades your perspective on the sport.

    Our list includes all the typical Boy Scout type stuff:

    Camping, making a fire, foraging, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, basic knot skills, fishing, orienteering, etc.

    • ChrisinNY Says:

      I am with you on the gymnastics. Too often kids are either pushed too hard or, in more casual gyms, not supervised carefully enough to prevent injuries.

  2. Omdg Says:

    Rock climbing, running (not my thing, but some people love it), archery, shooting, cross country skiing (or downhill if you have $$$). My husband’s cousin was a nationally ranked biathlete in Italy. Riding horses (again $$$, though there are ways to do it without). They have kid triathlons now. I guess a lot of these are more fun than useful though. Tennis? Golf? Squash? Useful for social reasons perhaps. You know who just looooves golf.

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They’re using the Al Franken scandal as cover for destroying the ACA via the tax code. Don’t let them!

  4. Ally Says:

    I was a ballet girl growing up, but with perspective I would add fencing as a possibility I would have liked to have had.

    I really think it more has to do with the kid and their interests. If they’re interested and its a decent form of exercise (especially if they’re not interested otherwise) go for it. (To this day I hate to exercise, but I’d gladly go to a three hour musical theatre rehearsal and dance all evening. Which is TOTALLY exercise. I just have to trick myself into it, and now that I don’t really have time for the few adult dance classes I can find, or for community theatre…that means no exercise for me, which I know is bad…)

    (And being safe with all of them. I am VERY particular about dance instruction. There’s a narrow area of “serious enough to not be dangerous, but not so serious as to be dangerous” in ballet instruction in my opinion. I don’t want to trust just anyone, because dance is hard on the body, and there are some examples of people who don’t know what they’re doing, doing things that could hurt students. On the other hand, any school that gets so “serious” they start talking to kids about their weight or such? That’s right out the door too. We can have serious professional ballet instruction, without giving into the troubles of professional ballet and eating disorders, thank you very much.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Not to mention when to start toe.

    • Shannon Says:

      Our kids both fenced and the LOVED it. Our youngest doesn’t do it anymore, but our oldest still does. It’s a physical activity, but it is such a mental sport as well. Plus, even though it’s an individual sport, there are team aspects to it as well – individuals compete, but can earn points for a team. I think it depends on where you learn, but I couldn’t be happier about the place our kids go. They really stress mental preparation, setting goals, learning from mistakes, etc. So our kids have been learning how to deal with losing and what to learn from it. Plus, they get to play with swords (or as my kids would say – Mom, they’re not swords, they’re weapons)! What kid wouldn’t love that. Highly recommend.

  5. Kingston Says:

    Yoga’s a good one, if you can find an appropriate class.

    • First Gen American Says:

      One of the older kids on my sons crew team knew yoga and would have everyone do it before practice as warmup. I thought that was so great.

  6. chacha1 Says:

    Depends on what is meant by “useful.” If the sport is to serve a social purpose: IMO nothing is better than ballroom dancing (including swing & salsa). If the sport is to impart useful survival skills: swimming, cross-country running and/or hiking, and rock climbing would be top of the list. If the sport is to enable a competitive child to find an outlet without high risk of concussion-related encephalopathy and/or broken bones: martial arts and (again) ballroom dancing are among the least expensive (for the parent) because the basics can all be learned in group classes vs private lessons, very little gear is required, and the sport can be practiced in any moderately spacious room. In both as well, all age groups compete in proficiency levels so you do not have absolute beginners going up against advanced students.

    If I had kids they would totes be in both martial-arts and ballroom classes, and I’d try to find outdoor adventure activities outside the school year. Nothing makes a kid happier than being competent, in my observation. Personal competence makes up for a lot of “I can’t control X” angst. Outdoor skills go a long way with that.

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      I’d add folk dancing to the list of useful social skills. Many (not all) folk dances are less gendered than ballroom, and it may be more comfortable at some ages or for some people to join lines or circles rather than forming couples. I’ve met great people through both folk and ballroom, and if you know some basics you can easily join a group when you move to or visit a new place.

      I’ll add another vote for swimming and cycling, as well.

      I would not have cared for horseback riding as a kid but it’s something I am idly contemplating taking up . . . when I have some free time (yeah right). It’s probably not really “useful” for most people, but if Sandy’s kid turns into a scholar of any pre-modern time, it would give a lot of insight into daily life in the nineteenth, sixteenth, or twelfth century!

  7. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    My son was not into exercise (in fairness, neither are his parents). We tried aikido for a while, but it only lasted a year or so. Our family relies on transportation for exercise—we walk or bike for commuting, shopping, and everything within 5 miles of home (using buses, trains, and planes for longer distances). When we were home-schooling him (10th–12th grade), we counted his bicycle commuting as his PE class.

    He also got a moderate amount of exercise from his acting classes, which usually involved some stretching and warmup games and moderately active physical movement, though not as much as dance would have.

  8. becca Says:

    Yoga is useful for teaching good basic breathing/meditation- far better to learn those skills as a small person, when you most need help with the prefrontal cortex functions. Both yoga and Tai Chi are well worth learning a bit of to know if you like them well enough to do in older age. Having some element of balance work (which could also happen w/horseback riding or ballroom) as one ages is very wise. The best style of instruction is probably different at different ages though.

    I think of swimming as mandatory, at least enough to become boat worthy / drowning-resistant. It’s also really handy if people who are athletes have enough familiarity with swimming or water exercise that they know they can do that in case of certain injuries (once saw a runner nursing a bad knee “doing butterfly” in the pool- it was both obviously great exercise and utterly hilarious. Bless her).

    Martial arts have a practical element, and so our kiddos will get at least a smattering. It’s tough because Partner’s objectives (actual self defense) are not my objectives (fancy kicking), and we haven’t found a great instructor/school. Plus, it can be a bit pricey.

    I think there’s nothing better for the brain than social dance. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and I also would avoid excessively serious ballet. But someone can pick that up at different ages, and it’s not something I’d push on a kid.

    I keep hoping kiddo the elder will get into diving, as it’s great to watch.

    I think a certain minimal amount of weight lifting type training (i.e. knowing what exercises one can do in a typical gym, and proper form) is obligatory for teens, particularly girls, if you aren’t getting another form of load baring exercise (for building bone density).

  9. Cloud Says:

    Swimming is the only sport we insisted on, although I think my husband would have been crushed if they didn’t want to learn to ride a bike! (They both did, and we sometimes bike as a family.) Beyond that, it is based on what the kid is interested in, with our fingers crossed they don’t get TOO serious about any sport because that can be a huge time sink for the family. Both my kids are in gymnastics, but at a pretty low key level, so I don’t worry about injuries too much. I’ve tried to convince them to try a martial art, but no luck there yet. They’ve both done some yoga (it was an after school offering for awhile) and I suspect that as they get older they might pick that up again, particularly if I’m going to a class. I suspect my younger one would be really good at ball sports but the time sink aspect keeps me from pushing on that!

    Next up for our family activity list is kayaking. My husband wishes one of them would want to learn to surf, because he misses surfing and wants a surf partner.

    My main goal for sports and other extracurriculars is to give my kids experience with needing to work at something to get better. Lots of different sports can do that, and so can music and art and a range of other things.

  10. Debbie M Says:

    I have found jogging useful for catching the bus, ballroom dancing for keeping my balance, and carrying heavy things at summer camp (the water cooler) for opening heavy doors.

    I like sports that make me feel fast (running), elegant (dancing and yoga), and strong (push-ups and pull-ups). I also have enjoyed trash talking during ultimate frisbee (with one-on-one guarding) (“I’m all over you like mustard on a corndog”) and other silliness (“We’re The Popsicles! We suck!), but that’s a team sport. I would also recommend that thing where you hang on “silks”–wow that uses a lot of muscles!

    It’s also been useful to learn sports that come up a lot, by which I mean volleyball (and sometimes softball) where you have leagues with your co-workers or volleyball games at picnics. At one point I had worked hard enough on volleyball to move up from embarrassing to basically competent and it was awesome.

  11. Susan Says:

    We do insist on swim for safety & our young kids are in year round lessons. When they are a bit older we will have the kids try tennis because we like to play tennis (at least we did play tennis before we had kids!). Tennis is a lifelong sport so it’s useful in that respect. Curious to see if our kids will enjoy it. We are very much not team sports people

  12. CG Says:

    Tennis and swimming over here. Swimming is non-negotiable for safety reasons. As Susan says tennis is a lifelong sport (I’m trying to learn it, too). We have one kid who really likes team sports and one kid who could not care less about them, but is happy to take tennis lessons. Although two of our kids have expressed interest in gymnastics and dance, I’ve refused because I think the culture of both sports becomes pretty unhealthy and both are very expensive. The comment above about the impact of both on young bodies is also a consideration. We also expect everyone to run enough to be healthy and we do 5ks together as a family.

  13. J Liedl Says:

    Martial arts can be great if you find a good kid-focused program at a local dojo.

    Both of our girls went through the full range of Y swim lessons – we live surrounded by lakes so it’s a survival skill for real.

    Depending on your local climate, winter sports such as skating, skiing (cross country is awesome) and snow-shoeing can be great skills to have because they improve your child’s relation to their local environment.

    Personally, I’m all about horseback riding but it’s pricey and time-consuming, so not for everyone. But it teaches great lessons about cooperation with an animal (so maybe not your definition of a solo sport?), a wide variety of physical and mental abilities become honed, and the work of caring for an animal builds empathy as well as a service ethic.

  14. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I got competitively good (state and to some degree national level) at martial arts in my youth going to nothing more than local city recreational center classes. There were group learning elements to that but learning and competing solo was fine. And we had loads of people going for the interesting sport aspect rather than actual self defense, so we got a good grounding in both, plus a healthy helping of self discipline.

    Horseback riding is $$$$ in many places but I found myself an affordable trainer out in the sticks, again as a kid, and my heart was lost to equitation once I got past the fear of being mounted on a horse twice or more my height. It was incredible exercise and strength training and we learned loads about caring for animals.

    Track and field was both an individual and team sport lots of my classmates enjoyed. Good exercise and good company. Free if you do it through school and don’t compete at meets though I can’t recall if that’s a requirement.


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