Not into team sports? Self-esteem boosting physical activities for kids

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1We all know that physical activity is an important aspect of our family’s health. An active lifestyle is linked with a number of benefits including:

  • increased bone strength
  • increased lean muscle mass
  • healthy weight
  • reduced anxiety and depression
  • improved mood
  • improved sleep
  • decreased risk of illness, such as cardiac disease and diabetes

But not every child is cut out for team or competitive sports. And that’s okay!

Your child can have fun, develop greater confidence and enjoy socialization without throwing a ball or running the 500-meter dash. Focus on variety and enjoyment to keep your child motivated to stay active long-term.


Yoga girl makes poses of yoga

Yoga is a simple, effective activity that can improve strength and balance while promoting relaxation. Kids who practice yoga have demonstrated significant improvements in anxiety, depression and psychological distress, and hostility. Yoga doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor; if classes are outside the family budget, try a home video geared toward kids or flash cards with instructions for simple poses.

Table tennis

Believe it or not, table tennis (otherwise known as ping pong) is considered a moderate physical activity. It’s also a fun game that helps build coordination and may entice kids who are resistant to other forms of physical activity.


Hiking is an activity that can be a fun family-bonding experience. Don’t think your child or teen will go for the idea of a hike? REI collected some advice from parents who have had success hiking with their kids. Tips include:

  • Let your child set the pace.
  • Pack plenty of snacks.
  • Substitute the word “hike” with “adventuring.”
  • Encourage friends to come along.
  • Have an end goal, whether that is a place to swim or a treasure hunt.

Martial arts

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 6 million children in the United States practice martial arts. Through martial arts training, kids can learn discipline, focus and social skills. Martial arts is also credited with improving concentration ability and motor skills, and promoting self-confidence. Many martial arts programs incorporate a bullying prevention curriculum to help kids learn how to handle bullies in a non-violent manner, as well as the importance of helping bullied peers.

Recreational running

For girls: A non-profit organization with chapters growing from state to state, Girls on the Run is dedicated to inspiring girls “to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” Girls on the Run places focus on self-esteem, confidence and accomplishment. Check here to see if there’s a chapter near you.

For boys: There are similar programs for boys, like Let Me Run, an organization dedicated to helping boys “learn teamwork, build relationship skills, create friendships, grow emotionally, amplify their self-esteem, empower themselves and others, and live an active lifestyle.” Look here to find a group in your area. If there isn’t one, you might want to start your own.


Bouldering is a solo, non-competitive activity that promotes strength, critical thinking and flexibility. The goal of bouldering is to climb in challenging places rather than climbing as high as you can go.

Bouldering is not without risk. Check out this brochure for tips about how to make bouldering safe for your child.

The most important thing is not that your child be the track or baseball star, but that they find enjoyment in staying active and learn to feel good about themselves and their strengths.

What activities has your child participated in that have fostered a sense of self-confidence and well-being?