Beyond Soccer and Baseball

Five lesser-known sports your child might enjoy
Disc Golf G438af048b 1920
Disc Golf is very similar to golf, but with a flying disc or frisbee.

When Donna Meyer’s two sons were little, she tried getting them involved in every sport available in her town. “They were very active kids,” she says. “I knew all the benefits they would get from playing sports, from physical exercise to teamwork and learning resilience.”

While the boys liked basketball and baseball, nothing else really caught on—until they tried fencing. “They both fell in love with fencing, and I did too,” Meyer says. “It’s a great sport that doesn’t require you to be a certain physical size to be successful. Instead the focus is on thinking fast and being strategic.”

If your child isn’t excited by conventionally popular sports, here are five options to explore:

  1. Pickleball

Pickleball is a paddle-based court game that combines elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton. Players use a paddle to hit a whiffle-like ball and play on a court the size of a junior tennis court. Pickleball has grown popular with adults, but kids can begin learning the basics as young as 6. It’s a great sport to play with their peers, but pickleball can be a good family activity, too. While it’s not currently recognized by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) as a sport, that may change in the future.

  1. Disc Golf

Disc Golf is very similar to golf, but with a flying disc or frisbee. The objective is the same, getting the disc into each hole (in most cases a metal type basket) in the fewest strokes (or in this case, throws.) Disc Golf is less expensive than golf (no pricey country club memberships required) and relatively easy to learn at any age. Disc Golf is also not an NCAA-sanctioned sport but is a popular club sport at high schools and colleges.

  1. Ultimate Frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee is a team sport usually played 7 v 7, although smaller configurations can compete against each other, too. Players throw and pass the disc (you can’t run with the disc in your hand) until a player catches it in the end zone. It’s non-combat and self-officiated, so players make their own calls and resolve their own disagreements. Although more commonly played by boys, Ultimate Frisbee is a great sport for girls. The Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM) is a community-wide outreach program designed to increase girls’ participation in the sport. Ultimate Frisbee is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, but it’s a popular club sport on many campuses.

  1. Table Tennis

Table Tennis is where players hit a lightweight ball back and forth across a table using small solid rackets. Many people use “table tennis” and “ping pong” interchangeably, but as of 2011, they are technically separate sports (competitive players wanted the sport of table tennis taken more seriously so they fought for the distinction). Table Tennis can be played either as singles or doubles. Like in tennis, a player has an initial serve and then the ball is hit back and forth. A point is scored when a player fails to return the ball. The game can be fast-paced, so players must be physically fit and have excellent hand/eye coordination. Table tennis is an NCAA-sanctioned sport.

  1. Fencing

Giving a young child a sharp stick to duel a peer may sound scary, but Meyers insists fencing is a very safe sport. “Fencers may get bruised, but no one gets puncture wounds,” she says. “They wear masks and protective gear, so it is not dangerous.” Nicknamed “physical chess,” fencing requires strategic thinking, balance, and excellent hand/eye coordination. Most fencers start at age 9 (although some programs start as early as 7). Fencing tends to be an individual sport, but at the NCAA-sanctioned level (44 colleges currently have varsity fencing), they compete as a team.