The Best Ways to Get Kids to Exercise When They Hate Team Sports

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We usually associate kids with joyful play, romps in the yard during the dog days of summer, and intense recess games. Not all kids are the same, though, and some of them just do not love sports or what we traditionally think of as exercise. Whether it’s an overall aversion to exertion or a dislike for team sports, kids might not be down to get their sweat on—but obviously exercise is still important for them. And you can encourage your kids to move around without forcing them to join a baseball league they’ll hate.

Physical activity options for the exercise-averse kid

Nemours Children’s Health recommends the following activities for kids who don’t want to pick up a bat or chase after a soccer ball:

  • Swimming
  • Horseback riding
  • Dance lessons
  • Skating
  • Cycling
  • Cheerleading
  • Skateboarding
  • Hiking
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Fencing
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
  • Yoga (or other fitness classes)
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Running

Others you might consider are skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, or classic recess games, like kickball, dodgeball, or tag. Have relay races in the backyard, or set up an obstacle course.

Get creative with what you do (and what you call it)

Sometimes, getting your kids moving is all about how you frame it. Don’t put too much pressure on them to exercise because they have to; find a way to make it enjoyable for them individually. If they love the sand between their toes, organize a beach volleyball game. If they love the water, get passes to the pool this summer. If they love nature, take them on a scenic hike—or, as Lifehacker staff writer (and mom) Sarah Showfety calls them to appeal to her kids, “nature walks.”

I understand these kids because I was that kid. Team sports made me nervous, as did the prospect of having to run toward a ball while a handful of other, more agile and aggressive children were also running toward it. It wasn’t until early adulthood that I realized I do like to exercise, just in different ways—and now I’m an indoor cycling instructor. Kids can skip over that “I hate exercise” phase entirely if you can identify the things they enjoy and incorporate those elements into the activities you plan for them.