Until we moved house when I was 7 when I seemed to have a sports epiphany, sports didn’t really exist in my life. But once we moved I changed from someone who had no idea, to a child who enjoyed trying lots of new sports, and representing teams all through my school life. I didn’t have sporty parents (my mum played badminton but that was it), and my dad hadn’t been sporty either. But both my brother and I ended up as sports fanatics and playing lots of different sports.
So I’m really pleased that N has always enjoyed being active and playing sports. He’s lucky in that his school plays a whole range, helped by numerous external coaches who come in, as well as having a former rugby player on school staff. While out of school he’s only ever wanted to do tennis (previously having done years of swimming lessons until stopping last year), in school he’s played everything from aussie rules football to dodgeball.
But not all children enjoy sports, and the number who do seem to decline as they get older. Secondary school can be the crunch point – in particular for girls who get more body conscious, and boys who might not fit in the ‘football’ mould which seems to be the main sport (and sometimes only sport) focused on during secondary school days.
Some of the lack of interest in sports is due to lack of confidence, or embarrassment that they’re not sporty. It leads to a viscious cycle – if you don’t do sports, you can’t improve. Therefore the gap gets bigger between those who are ‘sporty’ and those who don’t do sports at all.
I’m not sure what I’d do if N wasn’t into trying lots of sports. But I’d get him signed up to multisports club (like he’s done at school on and off), and potentially use holiday clubs to try out different ideas. Although I did like the charity idea a couple on the local news were doing- they’re trying out 19 different sports over the weeks the Tokyo Olympics is on.
Getting out in the garden or at the park is a great opportunity for trying sports too. We’ve always had badminton and tennis gear. Children’s golf and cricket set, frisbee, swingball, climbing frame, bikes, scooters. I think for parents it’s not that hard to bring sports into play when children are young.
Nowadays there are also plenty of online opportunities to learn as well. The family can all try activities and sports together, or choose what you each enjoy online..
Over the last couple of years I’ve spotted so many new sports that I’ve never heard of before. Just racket sports have included at least 2 more recent options to try – padel and pickleball. So why not look up sports centres near you to find out what’s available to try out.
I like to think there’s a sport for everyone, it’s just a case of finding it.
How to find sports to try
Without knowing about them all how are you going to find out about them? You can try searching online, or ask at the local sports centre. Check local notice boards for sports teams that meet up locally, or ask colleagues at work. At our work, there’s quite often social sports, where people get together informally to use sports facilities and get a group together to play different sports.
Alternatively there is the UK Sport website that brings together lots of the sport associations where you should be able to find local organisations, or other websites with various sporting organisations.
Children don’t have to be involved with mainstream sports, but the more sports and activities they do, the more they’ll find their sportiness increases across all sports. If they’re playing minor sports outside school, they’ll gain confidence and be able to join up and play without being amongst lots of school peers.
N’s swimming really improved once he was riding his bike more frequently because his legs got stronger, and the swimming helped strengthen his arms for tennis. His ball skills improved by doing multisports. Playing team sports enables children to take a broader view of the game and therefore reactions improve and better choices can be made.
Here’s some of the more emerging sports, and more unusual sports that the children of people I know take part in.
Unusual sports for children to try
Table tennis – look out for free opportunities in places like shopping centres or parks (take your own bats and balls), or get a table for home use.
Badminton – play it in the garden, or you can book a court in most leisure centres.
Squash – I loved playing squash as a child, through uni and even did a work squash ladder in my first few years at work. A bonus is that you’re not relying on good weather to play, although it is now harder to find courts.
Padel – played on a slightly smaller tennis court enclosed by walls (cross between squash and tennis). I’d love to try this but there’s not many courts around – so if there’s a club near you, do try it out.
Pickleball – growing hugely in the US, it’s played in a smaller court than a tennis court, with what looks a bit like a beach ball bat to me!
Roller hockey or ice hockey – as kids we used to combine the 2 while playing on the road (and used to ride our bikes with roller boots on!), but if children are good at skating why not try ice hockey or roller hockey. Alternatively teens might want to try roller derby.
Lacrosse – usually thought of as a private school sport, we had a go at our comprehensive and it’s great fun.
Water sports – there’s so many water sports you can try, even if you don’t live near the coast.
Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) – do a couple of lessons, then you can get out on your own. Paddleboards are now easily accessible via sports shops like Decathlon.
Canoeing – we live centrally, but there’s still a canoe club in town. They train at local swimming pools, there’s children’s sessions as well as adults.
Sailing – look out for local sailing club open days. Ours is at the local reservoir, and they often do trail sessions.
Water polo – for swimmers who want to try something different.
Foil Wing/wing surfing – like paddleboarding with a hydrofoil and you have a wing/sail to catch the wind.
Fencing – an unusual sport to get into, but could be interesting to try.
Martial Arts – there’s plenty of different options to choose from. Karate is often the one easiest to access.
Boxing – great for discipline and community as well as fitness and channelling teen anger in a good way
Cheer – a mix of dance and acrobatics, a great way to be part of a team.
Korfball – cross between netball and basketball, teams of 8 players trying to score goals in a net.
Archery – go to a club, try it out at country shows, or just buy a set for the garden.
Frisbee – yes try ultimate frisbee, a team sport. A colleague plays it and the miles they cover during a match is so much more than I’d have thought.
Disc golf – think golf but with a small frisbee where you throw the discs into baskets rather than holes around the course.
Golf – start with younger children playing mini golf, then progress to a few lessons. Or even just playing in a large playing field if you’ve not got a big enough garden. Golf clubs quite often do junior sessions, or get someone to take them to a driving range once they can hit consistently. There’s also a mini golf league – so
Bowling – lawn bowls in recent years has tried to shake off the ‘elderly’ demographic, but don’t forget 10 pin bowling. I used to have a work colleague who played for a team.
Karting – if your children love to drive go karts, why not let them upgrade and join a karting club.
Climbing – nowadays there’s more indoor climbing walls to try out (look at private schols as many of them have walls that are open to the public), as well as fun places to start out like Clip and Climb.
Trampolining – nowadays it’s not hard to find a trampolining park near most people. But why not look up a club where children can learn all the skills.
The benefit of children taking up more minor sports is that’s there’s most opportunity to do well in it. The smaller the sport, the more opportunity there is to climb higher up the rankings in it.
What unusual sports do your children play?