11 Less-Obvious Sports Your Kids Might Love
By Erik Missio
Photography by Windzepher/iStockPhoto
Nov 19, 2014
You can also take our quiz to find out which of these might best suit your family!
Bump, set, spike! Many kids discover volleyball in Grade 6 gym, but there are also opportunities to play this game in clubs and competitions outside school. Whether on a beach or indoors, the sport is great at building cooperative skills because it’s truly a team effort. Also, at the introductory level, pretty much anyone can play and have fun.
Where do I go? Some cities have programs where six-year-olds can get a chance to play through progressions like catching and throwing. Many offer programs within seasons versus a full year, so you can choose the commitment. Local community centres will have more information, and there are also regional links at vcdm.org.
How safe is it? The injury risk is extremely low at the beginning. At the top, v-ball can get very physical, requiring movement, agility, jumping, and power. Sprained ankles are rare at the introductory level, though.
What do I need? The overall cost of participation is very low. When a kid enters the club level (after 13 years old), aside from club/competition fees, the only real expenses are a pair of shoes (and maybe some kneepads).
Invented in Canada, ringette emphasizes playmaking and skating skills, allowing kids to strengthen and develop mentally and physically in a team setting. It’s similar to hockey, but change the shape of your stick and swap out your puck for a blue ring. While most ringette players are girls, there are currently more than 700 boys (and growing) in the sport throughout Canada.
Where do I go? There are provincial and regional associations across the country, and many hold free sessions so people can try it. The season typically starts in September and continues until April. Depending on the level of play, practices and games could range from once a week to multiple times a week.
How safe is it? Since there’s no intentional body contact in ringette, injuries are fairly minimal.
What do I need? You’ll need the right equipment—from helmets and protective gear to sticks to skates—with costs varying on the brands and whether you’re buying new or second-hand.
BMX racing starts on balance bikes with toddlers as young as 18 months and progresses through the 61 and over class—cycling is a lifelong sport. Bicycle motocross relies on fast-twitch muscles; it’s usually a short sprint over bumps and around berms (turns). Most races lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds over a 300- to 400-metre track.
Where do I go? There are BMX tracks throughout Canada; bmxcanda.org lists facilities in Ontario and B.C., while the Alberta Cycling Association covers its home province. Since both indoor and outdoor tracks are available, the sport runs year-round. Since it’s an individual event, you can race as much or as little as your schedule allows.
How safe is it? Like any sport, there are risks involved—wearing a helmet when racing or riding a bike is important. The hazards on the track are the same ones you face when riding in other locations, but since it is a controlled environment, there is no worry over cars or unknown obstacles.
What do I need? Most people start on the bike they own or often rent/borrow one from the track, along with a helmet. Outside of that, blue jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, and tennis shoes are all you need. Like any sport you can find used equipment (bicycles in this case) and don’t need to have it all to start.
Many people associate curling with adults, but there are lots of programs focused on kids, with smaller rocks and smaller-sized sheets. The sport requires physical co-ordination, strength, and endurance to throw the rocks and sweep, as well as mental strength to devise strategies during the game—it’s called “chess on ice.”
Where do I go? Find your local curling centre. Leagues run from early October to late March, and typically players would have one game a week, and perhaps a practice. The Rocks and Rings program goes into school gymnasiums to give kids a chance to try the sport with equipment that simulates the real thing.
How safe is it? There’s no contact in curling, but it stretches muscles not used in everyday motion. Muscle pulls are not uncommon. As well, the ice is slippery, so falls can happen for new players. (Head protection is generally available for new curlers.)
What do I need? To start, all you need is warm, flexible clothing. Curling shoes will cost in the range of $125 to $150, and a broom would be in the same ballpark, although most clubs will have brooms available for free use.
Whether it is five-pin or 10-pin, you don’t have to be the fastest or fittest to excel at bowling. That’s not to say it isn’t crucial for building physical literacy—the sport improves coordination, balance, and fine motor skills. Also, it’s non-aggressive, with a handicapped scoring system to level the playing field and equal participation for all. Youth leagues are team-based, but ultimately bowling is an individual sport—you against the pins.
Where do I go? There are youth leagues at Bowl Canada locations in every province, and two territories. (To find one, visit youthbowling.ca or bowlcanada.ca.) Bantam boys and girls leagues can bring together players from three to 10.
How safe is it? There is very little chance of injury (especially for kids who follow their coaches’ instruction), though it’s always possible muscles can be strained. Long-term, wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints can be damaged after years of intensive participation.
What do I need? Apart from the cost of weekly participation (usually $5 to $10), most participants pay an in-centre registration fee ($40 to $50), which includes a bowling shirt. Bowlers can use borrowed balls and rental shoes until they are sure they want to invest in the sport. (Shoes cost $35 to $50, whereas balls can be $50 to $300, depending on the type and quality.
Don’t let the ‘ping pong’ nickname fool you—table tennis is serious stuff. Proficiency can increase concentration and alertness, stimulate brain function, develop hand/eye coordination, and provide exercise. The Canadian national association says its top athletes score on a par with NHL players in terms of fitness.
How safe is it? There are very few injuries if any, for younger players. Strains and sprains occur for competitive athletes.
What do I need? Beginners only need an inexpensive bat (the proper name for a ‘paddle’) and safe footwear. Players who participate in formal practice sessions will want better equipment as they progress—these can cost anywhere from $50 to $500. Shorts and light short-sleeved shirts are worn, as well as court shoes.
Where do I go? Programs beginning at age five (or even earlier) are administered by the various provincial/territorial associations who work with various clubs and training centres. Check out ttcan.ca or search online for various provincial/territorial associations, in addition to local parks and rec programs.
Archery has exploded in popularity over the last half-decade thanks to bow-slingers in Lord of the Rings, Brave, The Avengers, and Arrow. The other big driver, of course, is Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, with archery clubs across the country hosting birthday parties for girls who want to be Katniss. The sport takes aim at kids (typically 10-year-olds, but some clubs allow younger) who enjoy independent activities on their own. It rewards concentration, focus, patience, and persistence. Aside from traditional target archery (aiming at a stationary bullseye from a known distance), there are variations like 3-D (aiming at moving shapes at unknown distances) or field (essentially, a golf course style of play).
Where do I go? For more, visit the provincial websites or find a local club—most cities have them.
How safe is it? Archery has one of the lowest risk factors—it can be safer than table tennis, much less a more high-impact sport like soccer or hockey. Equipment for young ones should make things easy and safe, with bow weight continually matched to a growing player as he or she matures.
What do I need? At the start, most clubs supply equipment for lessons. Once it looks like archery is going to be a long-term pursuit, you’ll need anywhere from $300 to $600 for base to mid-range bows and arrows.
For water polo, a basic level of ability and comfort in the water is all you need—most kids can start between six and nine. The skills your kid gains have added benefit because they make them stronger, more confident swimmers for the rest of their lives. Being a team sport, water polo also has a social aspect and allows kids to develop important skills such as teamwork and communication.
Where do I go? There are various youth programs across Canada, offered by many groups including the 130 clubs registered with Water Polo Canada. Major cities often have several active clubs so it’s easy to find a group that fits each family’s style and preferences. Provincial associations can also help.
How safe is it? Despite having a rough reputation, injury risks are significantly lower than in soccer or hockey because water supports the body and protects against falls, bumps, and many joint injuries. The most common injuries are minor cuts and scrapes. Also, water polo caps are made to make players visible and also protect the ears.
What do I need? To start, all you need is a bathing suit and goggles for swimming drills, and occasionally a team t-shirt.
Paddling makes good use of the upper and lower body, developing strength, cardio, flexibility, endurance, and power. Of course, there’s also a certain serenity to being on the water and outside in the summer. Although CanoeKayak Canada’s programs are designed with Canadian Sport for Life’s Long-term Athlete Development principles in mind, six-year-olds can take part in programs like CanoeKids. They can paddle in single kayaks and canoes, as well as doubles and fours or ‘14s’—war canoe.
Where do I go? There are more than 60 sprint clubs in Canada (other disciplines include whitewater and marathon), with most major cities having competitions and lessons. Visit canoekayak.ca for more information.
How safe is it? The sport is physically demanding in the competitive stages, but with good technique and training, you can go injury-free for your entire career. Shoulders and back are key areas to watch, and proper warm-ups and regular stretching help keep things flexible.
What do I need? You don’t need to own your own boat to get into the sport, and clubs have equipment to get you started. You’ll also need a bathing suit, lifejacket, and a club singlet—specialized gear comes later. As paddlers become more competitive, they usually choose to purchase a paddle and eventually a boat.
Futsal is a variation on indoor soccer, held in traditional gyms with low-bounce balls and smaller playing surfaces. There are other differences from footie, as well—like a basketball-style foul accumulation. If your kid already plays soccer in the summer and you think another sport in the winter is overkill, just remember futsal is the only indoor soccer style recognized by FIFA… and guys like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar all credit it for their later success.
Where do I go? In major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, futsal is big, but the association says the real future is in rural regions where there aren’t many places to play in winter and the gyms are already there. New leagues in Alberta, Manitoba, the Maritimes, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut have been established. Visit futsalcanada.ca.
How safe is it? Since the sport’s rules—like accumulated fouls—favour skill over physical play, it is generally safe. There are the typical injuries you see with basketball or volleyball—sprained ankles or pulled hamstrings.
What do I need? Generally, futsal tends to be less expensive than traditional indoor soccer—local gyms are usually cheaper than indoor domes. All you need are a pair of court shoes, a $20 ball, $and 10 shin guards and you’re ready to go.
Gymnastics provides a foundation for all other sports, helping develop fundamental movement skills and physical literacy. Trampoline helps develop power, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, cardiovascular fitness, space orientation, and self confidence. Also? You get to jump and bounce around.
Where do I go? There are gymnastics and trampoline programs for children and youth in clubs across Canada. Some are multidisciplinary studios and others are dedicated solely to trampolines. Go to your provincial/territorial gymnastics association to learn what’s around.
How safe is it? When done in a club environment with trained coaches, recreational trampoline programs are very safe—they use solid progressions and specialized training equipment to teach skills, and difficult inverted (i.e. head-first) positions come much later.
What do I need? In some recreational trampoline programs, children may have to purchase a special club t-shirt or body suit; in others, they just need to wear non-baggy clothing. As participants become more advanced, there will be more specific training and competition attire requirements.
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