by Kristi Hemingway
I occasionally experience “bad-mom” guilt about being the only parent in my group of friends who does not spend every weekend on the sidelines of a field somewhere, watching my kid in pursuit of some kind of ball. It seems a little un-American.
In my defense, I have consistently offered those sports opportunities over the years, but neither of my children have shown the slightest interest. I can’t pretend I’m not a tiny bit relieved. What can I say, I like my Saturdays.
If your kids, like mine, are athletic but not drawn to traditional team sports, don’t worry. While fitness is necessary, competitiveness is not required for good health. Kids gain many of the same social benefits through any group activity, really. In fact, there are a wide variety of categorically athletic pursuits that may not have crossed your sports radar. Here are few to consider.
We all know martial arts, and you may be aware of the growing popularity of archery thanks to The Hunger Games, but you probably don’t know about the unique blend known as Martial Archery. That’s because it is the distinctive creation of Zach Johnson, founder of Golden Archery (martialarchery.com).
“The discipline, focus, and conditioning of the two forms support each other in ways that make the student both a better archer and a better martial artist,” explains Johnson.
Students not only learn to shoot arrows, but also to shoot them with increasing complexity of poses, obstacles, and movement garnered from several martial arts traditions. While martial archery is the foundation, as students move up in rank they can add on classes in multiple kinds of weaponry (short sticks, staff fighting, knife throwing, swords –yes, swords!), bush craft (shelter-building, fire-starting, survival skills), and conditioning.
Unlike many of the local archery ranges and martial arts gyms, martial archery places little emphasis on competition. While there are optional opportunities to compete, Johnson and his teachers are mainly focused on students “establishing a practice” that will provide them with tools and skills. These can serve the athlete in Olympic archery, field archery, or just a life-long enjoyment of the sport.
This summer, for the first time, Golden Archery is offering a selection of single or multiple-day summer camps. Check out all their offerings for age six and up.
You’ve seen that group of brave and lithe young people in the park drawing a crowd by vaulting over walls, jumping fences, swinging across ditches, and flipping off of playground equipment. That’s parkour: not only a sport, but also a philosophy. Developed in France by David Belle (parkour.com), parkour involves seeing one’s environment in a new way, and imagining the potential for navigating it by movement around, across, through, over, and under its features. It’s usually practiced in urban settings and is commonly referred to as “urban gymnastics.” There is no emphasis on competition, but rather on overcoming mental, as well as physical, barriers, conquering fear, solving problems, and setting goals.
Apex Movement Denver (apexmovementdenver.com) offers introductory parkour classes for ages six and up. Path Movement in Littleton (pathmovement.com) offers ongoing classes for all levels as well as birthday parties, an afterschool program, and a full roster of summer camps. For similar options, check out the Advanced Movement class at 5280 Gymnastics in Wheat Ridge (5280gymnastics.com) or classes at the Warrior Playground in Longmont (warriorplayground.com).
Living in Colorado, climbing is a recreational activity but its popularity as a serious sport has grown in the last few years—so much so that it will be featured for the first time in the upcoming Olympic games. Last year, more than 40 new teams joined the Colorado High School Climbing League. Elias Johansson, a junior at Front Range Christian School, recently competed in the state tournament. Johansson was a dedicated gymnast for years, and then played basketball.
“I did basketball because my parents wanted me to, but I never liked it,” says Johansson. “I’ve definitely found my sport in climbing. It’s so laid back and everybody is really nice and supportive, even toward the other teams. I mean, it is a competition but it doesn’t feel like one—there’s not all the pressure like in gymnastics. I love it.”
While teams do receive a combined score, climbers essentially compete only with themselves and the rocks in a mix of non-roped bouldering, roped “sport” climbing, and speed climbing. Front Range Christian’s team trains at Earth Treks in Golden (earthtreksclimbing.com) where individual climbers can take classes, join climbing groups, or just come try out climbing at their open climb sessions. For more options, check out the Denver Bouldering Club (denverboulderingclub.com), The Spot Bouldering Gym in Boulder (thespotgym.com), or recreation centers with climbing walls.
Skateboarding improves core strength, balance, posture, and flexibility. Equipment is fairly inexpensive, with just a board, helmet, and protective guards. If you don’t have a skate park nearby, you can get started on your own sidewalk and driveway. Go Skate (goskate.com) is a worldwide skateboarding school that offers online tutorials and will match you up with instructors in your area for group or private lessons. If you’re ready to go all-in, Skate Start (skatestart.com) offers camps, lessons, and even birthday parties, or sign up for a day or weeklong camp at Progresh in Thornton (progresh.com), or the Apex Center in Arvada (apexprd.org) to learn skills in a safe environment with qualified instructors. Make sure and join the crowds on June 21 for International Go Skateboarding Day.
There is whole circuit of indoor and outdoor annual youth triathalon events in Colorado, many of them right here in Denver. Greenwood Village is about to host their 10th annual Tri-Our-Village event this September. They host between 250-300 athletes, ages five-16, many who come from all over the city and even the state.
“The event is not timed,” says Crystal Garland, organizer of Tri-Our-Village. “Distances are tailored to age groups and every athlete gets a medal. Sure, kids push themselves to win, but it’s really just about coming together for fun and fitness and that huge smile of accomplishment in crossing the finish line.”
Greenwood Athletic Club even offers a three-day training camp for the modest cost of $30. Go to greenwoodathleticclub.com/triathlon, or trifind.com/co.html to find other youth triathlon events in Colorado.
Cycling is a sport that allows for all levels of competitiveness: ride to race or just ride to ride, alone or with a group.
“Our goal is to make this sport available to everyone because bikes are great for racing and fitness but they’re also fun, and they take you places,” says Deirdre Moynihan, executive director of the Front Rangers Cycling Club in Denver (frontrangersdenver.org).
FRCC has a junior cycling team for those who want to race, but they also have a monthly outreach ride in the Sun Valley suburb of Denver where athletes from age five and up of all colors, backgrounds, and income brackets ride together for the joy of it. Cyclists who want to further their skills can train and ride with the team or attend skills-focused summer camps for mountain biking, road biking, or hybrid (triveloseries.org).
Extreme Obstacle Races
If you’re looking for a family sport that’s all about the fun, consider entering an extreme obstacle course together this summer. While some of the courses are pretty intense, there are a number of mud runs, inflatable races, and obstacle courses designed with families in mind, like the Kids Obstacle Challenge coming to Westminster City Park on June 17 (kidsobstaclechallenge.com/denver). Kids ages five-16 are welcome and parents run for free. Or how about The Bubble Run (bubblerun.com) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on July 8? Get ready to run, walk, dance, and play across three miles of colored foam bogs. Even strollers are welcome!
Played on a court with a lightweight racket and a whiffle-like ball, Pickle Ball has elements of tennis, badminton, and Ping-Pong, and is quickly gaining popularity. Several areas, such as the Apex Park and Recreation District in Arvada (apexprd.org) now offer both indoor and outdoor Pickle Ball courts. To find others across Colorado, visit pickleball.net/locations/tag/state/colorado.
Marianne Henning discovered Pickle Ball through colleagues at work and now has her whole family playing. “It’s an absolute hoot, and great for families because it’s easy to learn and it’s a sport for all ages, all fitness levels,” she says. “The fittest person might not be the winner because you have to play smart.”
Kristi Hemingway is an Arvada-based writer, educational consultant, artist, mom, and kitchen dancer. She is proud to be a Colorado native.
11 More No-Team-Required Activities