A Parent’s Guide to Getting Kids Moving (Even When They Hate Organized Sports)

For parents, fall is all about that back-to-school feeling. And for some, it’s also about getting back on those sidelines and cheering on their kiddos as they get back into whatever organized sport is their main jam. Organized sports are absolutely not every kid’s jam, though, and that’s 100% OK – no child should be forced into sports if they’re not feeling it. 

But, on the other hand, if your child isn’t into the whole organized sports thing, you might be worried that they’re not moving enough, especially as they get back to sitting at a desk all day and doing homework in the evening, on top of the other more sedentary activities they might be into. So what can you encourage your sports-averse child to do to get them moving their body, having fun, and building a healthy relationship with exercise? 

The Importance of Getting Kids Moving (in a Way They Like)

Like we said, organized sports just aren’t for every kid. There can be any number of reasons why yours doesn’t want to join it: they might feel too much pressure to be perfect for their coach or teammates, they might not enjoy the competitiveness, or they might just be too young to have the physical skills and grasp of the rules, making things not all that fun for them. In some cases, you can encourage them to work on getting better, or find a less competitive league, but sometimes you just know your kid, and know it’s not for them at this time.

2 young girls laughing outside

But that doesn’t mean that getting them moving isn’t important. They need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, no matter how they get it, and it’s not just because, well, exercise is good for everyone. Movement has a whole host of benefits for little bodies and minds: according to clinical psychologist Kelly Theis, Ph.D., “Regular physical activity is proven to have tremendous benefits for children and teens. It activates natural endorphins that decrease stress and negative emotions, and it strengthens immunity. It develops persistence, frustration tolerance, and self-esteem.”

And not only that, but exercising now also benefits kids in the long-term. Getting them in the habit of moving today means they’re more likely to keep up that healthy habit when they become adults. According to Ryan Gadow, senior vice president of membership experience for The Y in Central Maryland, “Adults actually learn fitness from their activity base as a youth. If they haven’t engrained a sense of activity at a young age, it becomes harder as they become older to keep up with that fitness level.”

But the truth is, you’re not going to get anywhere with your kiddos if you’re pushing activities that they’re just not that into (ain’t that the truth!), so it’s important to find something they enjoy. That might mean offering them a list of activities to choose from (and once they choose, try to make sure that they follow through by completing a whole season or all of the lessons), or finding nontraditional ways to help them get their bodies moving.

Ideas for Getting Your Kiddos Moving

Make your house a fun house

You can set up hopscotch in the house and have fun together!

For the littlest ones who can’t be tempted to join in on a group activity for the time being, you can find some super fun ways to get their 60 minutes in, right in your house. For example, try:

  • Setting up a timed scavenger hunt (so they have to move quickly!)
  • Playing hopscotch in your hallway, or tag
  • Throwing a “freeze dance” party (or any kind of dance party!)
  • Creating an indoor obstacle course
  • Pulling out the ol’ hula hoops and jump ropes
  • Challenging them to a physical competition with you (How many jumping jacks/pushups/other activity can you do? Can you beat me in a race?)

Expand your idea of “sports”

So maybe your kiddo cringes at the thought of baseball, football, or soccer – but those traditional team sports aren’t the only “sports” out there! Introduce them to other ideas, like rock climbing, skateboarding, yoga, martial arts, horseback riding, or dance classes. Remember to listen to what they’re interested in, and be flexible about finding things outside of what’s offered at school, but also ask that they stick with what they’ve chosen for a reasonable amount of time. According to Gadow, “You should help guide them. Taste a variety of activities, and if a kid says, ‘I don’t like this,’ don’t be afraid to say, ‘OK, we’re done,’ and move on to something else. It shouldn’t feel like punishment.”

Encourage “lifelong” activities

As we’ve already pointed out, getting your kids moving is not just about keeping them healthy in the here and now: it’s about building healthy habits for the future. So why not introduce them to activities that they might want to keep up for their whole lives? These can include things that you do together as a family, like hiking, biking, and swimming.

Meet them where they are

For kids resistant to exercise, you might want to try meeting them where their interests are, and tying more physical activities to the things they love. For example, if you’ve got a teen who loves to be on the phone, try to get them to go for a walk or jog while talking. If you’ve got a real video game fiend, either try looking for video games that incorporate physical movement, or make “active breaks” a part of screen time. And you can even use screens to get in a workout: pick a fun one on YouTube and challenge your child to do it with you!

Find out-of-the-box classes/places to move

Got a quirky kiddo? They can get moving with all sorts of options previous generations didn’t have, like circus school, trampoline parks, and parkour lessons. 

Put them to work

kids with bags of leaves and a rake on the ground
You can have your kids do some fun chores like raking leaves!

Older kids/teens might be a little resistant to chores (but it’s important to get them to help out, anyway), but littler ones actually tend to love the idea of helping out – and things like raking leaves, washing walls, windows, and floors, shoveling snow, walking dogs, etc are actually all really good exercise! You might just need to sweeten the pot for your teenagers…

There might come a time when your child starts craving a group activity like an organized sport, and that would be great. After all, there are a lot of positive things about organized sports: they can boost kids’ self-esteem, coordination, and general fitness, and help them learn how to work with other kids and adults. But they’re certainly not a required part of childhood (don’t worry, your kiddos can get these benefits elsewhere!), and your child might never have a desire to join in. Again, that’s absolutely fine, but they still need to get moving, and you can help them to find what works for them – and don’t forget to join in yourself!