Good Question: Is There Such a Thing As Youth Recreational Sports Anymore?

Is there such a thing as recreational sports anymore?

Shortly after the Christmas tree comes down and we trudge through the second half of the school year, the spring sport registration season begins. For years I was blissfully unaware this was even a thing.

We gave soccer a try when Elena was 5 and quickly realized it wasn’t for her. She was happier picking dandelions behind the goal, and we were happier not having to scramble to the soccer fields twice a week with an infant in tow, and so we shelved the idea of team sports for a few years.

In the meantime, Elena has been content to choose a few activities here and there – Girl Scouts, the school musical, Math Bowl team – and not participate in any sports. And when we did opt to try an athletic endeavor again, it was summer swim team at our local pool. It was just our cup of tea. The coach was laid back, there was little pressure to win, the season was short, and Elena could ride to and from practice by herself.

Recently she’s noticed that most of her friends are involved in some type of competitive sport. It’s been tough sometimes to find a friend to hang out with on the weekends, because many of them are at tournaments or traveling with their team. And while I still don’t think she’s really interested in playing a particular sport, she is aware that she’s missing out on the sense of belonging and comradery.

She mentioned that she’d like to try softball, so I looked into signing her up for a spring league. I was very quickly discouraged. At her age, the teams are by try-out only. She’s never picked up a bat in her life. Say by some minor miracle she’s placed on a team (I couldn’t tell if they take everybody or not) – how will she fit in with girls who have been playing for years? The same goes for soccer, volleyball, and basketball.

It seems that by choosing to spend her elementary years out of organized sports, we’ve effectively cut her out of participating in team sports for the remainder of her school career – at least in the sense that she can learn and play with others at the same level as her.

Would we choose the same path again? With her, probably. While I’m temporarily frustrated for her, and she’s moderately disappointed, we both agree that life was pretty good without organized sports. The majority of her time after school and on weekends was spent playing, unconstrained by time or other obligations. We ate dinner as a family nearly every night of the week. Will we choose the same path with Eli? I don’t know. He plays basketball at the YMCA right now, one Saturday a week. We signed him up for his first soccer experience this spring, with one practice during the week and one game on the weekends. It feels manageable, and he loves team sports in a way Elena never did. He has fun with the other kids and hangs on his coach’s every word. Will we have a  hard decision to make should he pursue a sport and it becomes too competitive for our liking? Definitely.

It does make me sad for families who feel they have to choose between organized sports, with the hectic schedule and increasing competitiveness, or an unscheduled, less ambitious early childhood. I wish we could return to a time when youth sports didn’t ramp up until you were in middle school or even older.

How have you fit organized sports into your family’s life? Do you see benefits that trump the inconvenience? Have you been able to find less competitive leagues? Or do you think it’s better for your kids to sit the whole thing out?


Winter Kayaking


Most people think of kayaking as a warm weather activity, but have you ever tried winter kayaking?  Lisa tells us how … and why you’ll want to give it a go!

My friend Linda flew in from Michigan to kayak one weekend last year. We’d planned to do three different rivers in three days. With two rivers down and one to go, I asked Thomas if he would like to join us for Sunday’s paddle. He surprised me and said, “Yes!” I admit, I freaked. It was March in middle Tennessee and it was cold. The temperature had been hovering right about freezing. We’d had snow all for the two previous days. They were the beautiful delicate flakes that melted as soon as they hit the water. But still? He didn’t have the right gear and he had never paddled in the winter.

Linda looked at me and said, “Your son wants to go with us and we’re going to make it happen!” It pays to have risky friends!

We chose a closer river, pieced together the correct gear, arranged an early exit option for Thomas and packed lots of snacks.

In preparation, we told him what to do in case he flipped his kayak. Swim to the nearest shore, don’t worry about your boat, get out of the water and take off all of your wet clothes  (things we didn’t imagine saying when we signed up for motherhood).

We had the best paddle ever!

We practiced our stealth mode. This is useful for floating under low branches.


Thomas elected to do the entire paddle with us. He was a rockstar. There was no drama, no complaining, no tears. Just pure joy and pride. I am so grateful that Linda encouraged me to take Thomas with us.


We all made it safely to our take out spot. I got to spend the day sharing my passion with my son. I got to see him spend time in nature. He got to talk and paddle and be still and float. It was an amazing day.

Please remember that paddling in cold conditions is not only risky, it can be dangerous. Linda and I are experienced cold water paddlers. We dressed appropriately and packed for emergency situations. We both had cell phones in dry bags around our necks at all times. Depending on water and air temperatures, hypothermia can start with as little as fifteen minutes of exposure to the water.  If it’s something you’d like to try, don’t let these things stop you, but please be smart and find an experienced paddler to accompany you the first time.

While you definitely have to take different precautions to kayak in the winter, it’s worth the effort to experience nature in winter’s light.


Parkour: Bouncing Off the Walls (On Purpose)

B.A.S.E. Fitness Parkour

Have you heard of Parkour?  Until very recently, I hadn’t.  Parkour is a holistic training discipline in which you use only your body to overcome physical obstacles as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

Or – as Eli would describe it – Spiderman training.

Parkour was originally developed as a training method for the French army, but gradually gained ground around the world as a way to get fit, have fun with a healthy dose of an adrenaline rush, and as a different way to explore an urban enviroment.  It’s closely associated with freerunning.

Intro to Parkour

We came across it quite by accident.  It turns out that Fishers is home to the one and only facility that offers Parkour instruction in Indiana. We drove by B.A.S.E. Fitness one day and Elena pointed it out.

Running, jumping, climbing, and taking risks? Well, it was right up The Risky Kid alley. We had to try it. And when I say we, I mean Mike, Elena and Eli (someone has to take the pictures, right?). They signed up for a one-hour Intro to Parkour class.

The class was a mix of males and females, kids and adults. The beauty of Parkour is that it can be adjusted to just about any age level (although it is recommended for 9 and up) and any fitness/bravery level. It can be as risky as you want it to be. While Parkour can be done anywhere, having an indoor training facility is a nice luxury. You can practice all year long out of the elements, can adjust the difficulty level easily, and the big bonus: pads on the ground if you fall!

Beginner Parkour

Is it something for the whole family? Not necessarily, but different people will like it for different reasons. Mike enjoyed it and would like to keep going for the fitness aspect of it. Elena could take it or leave it. Eli, of course, loved it. I can see the appeal for all kinds of groups: urban kids, people who want to get fit in a non-traditional way, kids who aren’t into traditional team sports, thrill seekers, anyone interested in survival skills, and many more I’m not thinking of.

Have you ever tried Parkour? Is it something you’d want to try (or have your kids try)?


50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Master the Perfect Somersault

Task: Master the perfect somersault before they’re banned at your school.



  • Lawn or soft play area

Possible Hazards:

  • Getting clonked on the head or back
  • Bumps and bruises

How It All Went Down:

When was the last time you did a cartwheel or a somersault?  Unless your kids are in some kind of tumbling class, chances are it’s been awhile for them … and probably years for you!  Of course, somersaults are not dangerous, but like many of the things we did during recess as kids, they’re increasingly not allowed at school for fear of injury and litigous parents.  We had a beautiful afternoon with nary a safety patrol in sight,  so we went for the gold!

Believe it or not, there are instructions for The Perfect Somersault in Gever Tulley’s book.  They are as follows:

  • Prepare.  Find an area that is free of sticks and rocks.
  • Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Start with the roll.  Lean down, tuck your chin, and imagine curling up into a ball as you fall forward.  Place your hands on the ground in front of you as you encounter the ground.
  • Roll over.  Keep leaning forward, curling up as you go, and keep your back curved as you contact the ground on the wide part of your back between your shoulder blades.  If any part of your head touches the ground, you haven’t curled up enough.  If the ground hits you in the back with a thump, then you probably didn’t lean down far enough.
  • Follow through.  Try to maintain your momentum and roll up onto your feet.

Poor Elena … I think having directions to do something she already knows how to do made her overthink it!  It also didn’t help that she’d eaten 6 slices of pizza just before we attempted our somersaults.  Plain old somersaults were too easy for Eli (so he said), so he moved on to cartwheels … with debatable success (light pole 1, Eli 0).  Mike had to show off, doing the combo cartwheel into a not-so-graceful somersault.  I do think mine was the best, no?

The best part was that we were all outside as a family, goofing off.  And of course nothing draws in the neighbors like seeing you act like circus performers in the front yard!  So drop what you’re doing and master the perfect somersault today!

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).


Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience {September 21-22, 2013}

Last week I was working my other job as a cheerful salesperson at a store which sells containers for very organized people, when I came across a charming older couple who had just moved to Indiana from Kansas. The gentleman was cracking me up … while they’d come to the store for supplies for their new home, he was obviously prepared to use every opportunity to glean information about his new town from anyone he met.

Let me ask you this …” he said.

I was prepared for a question about organizing kitchen drawers or a good container for pet food, but instead he peppered me with questions about where can one get good, local milk, who’s the best vet in town, what’s my favorite pizza place? He whipped out a notebook and began furiously taking notes. We had a nice chat and I wished them well as they settled into their new home. As they began to walk away he turned around and asked one last question.

“You know, I love the outdoors – hunting, fishing, camping, hiking. What’s the best way for me to find out where I can do those things in Indiana?”

“Sir, you are IN luck!  Let me tell you about the Hoosier Outdoor Experience.”

The Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience is a free, 2-day event presented by the Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation. Held on the grounds of Ft. Harrison State Park September 21 & 22, the goal of the weekend is to expose Hoosier families to more than 50 outdoor activities. And by expose I mean hands-on, try-it-you’ll-like-it! experiences.

We attended as a family last year and had a blast. We went off-roading in a Jeep,  had a family skeet shooting competition (Elena won), tried our hand at cross-bows, mined for gold, went canoeing, fished … and those were just a few of the highlights.

Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience Crossbow Shooting 101

Much like our camping experience a few weeks ago, this is an excellent program for families who like the idea of trying some new outdoor activities but just aren’t sure where to start. Nearly every activity gives you the chance to try it in some form.  If you enjoy it, there are friendly experts just waiting to answer each and every question you might have.

The event is free, and you do not need tickets to enter, but they are kindly asking that you register to attend.  It helps them both in planning as well as evaluating the event to make it bigger and better each year.

As I told my inquisitive customer all about the upcoming Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience, his grownup eyes lit up like Christmas morning. People, if it makes a grown man that excited, imagine what it will do for your kids!  If you’re one of my Hoosier readers, don’t miss the wonderful event.  See you there!

Have you attended the Hoosier Outdoor Experience in the past?  What was your favorite activity?  What activity are you most looking forward to trying this year?


How to Change a Bike Tire

thomas and tire

Thomas blew out a tube on our last biking trip. What a great opportunity to teach him how to change a bike tire. I’m certainly not an expert, but trust me – it gets easier and faster with each change.

First you need to remove the wheel from the bike frame. This, like so many things in life, required lube. Thomas grabbed the WD-40.


I highly recommend unlatching the brakes first (I always forget this step). The wheel won’t slide out between the brake pads without first unhooking them. If you have to remove the back wheel, get ready to get a little greasy. You have to remove the chain from the gears.

Once you have the wheel off, you need to remove the tire. They make these special tools that you shove between the rim and the tire. Pop off the tire and the tube. It’s a good idea to inspect the actual tire because you can usually find a thorn or rock or piece of metal that punctured the tube. If you put in a new tube without removing the offending item, the second tube will puncture as well. I have never done that.

Inflate the new tube just enough. I still use trial and error here. Shove it in the tire and put it back on the wheel. This part either goes remarkable well or takes forever and the kids learn all sorts of new and creative language. That nifty little tool comes in handy here too.

Put the wheel back on the frame. You probably want to really take a look at how the frame and wheel go together before you remove the wheel. Memorize how the chain fits back on too. I’m just sayin’. Make sure the wheel is tightened. Hook the brakes back up. Fully inflate the tube.

I always like to do a final check. Make sure the brakes work, kick the tire, make sure the wheel isn’t going to fall off.

It took me forever to change my first tire and it wasn’t a pretty sight. But really, it’s easy and if I can do it, so can you and so can your kid. Thomas can’t do it on his own quite yet, but someday soon he will be able to change a bike tire and maybe even a tire on the car….


Summer Break the Risky Kid Way

Today is the last day of school and ten weeks of summer break stretch out in front of us.  Whether you’re the Summer Bucket List kind of family or more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-shorts family, here are a few ideas to add some risky play to your summer break.

S'mores for summer via The Risky Kids

Build a fire:  If the kids are old enough, teach them how.  If they’re too young, let them fetch the sticks.  Either way, reward their hard work with s’mores!

GoApe! Zipline

Zipline: Search your local listings to find a place nearby and zip through a summer day.  In central Indiana we love GoApe!  In middle Tennessee try Adventureworks.

DIY Darts via The Risky Kids

DIY Darts:  These darts were no joke, which of course made them very appealing to my kids.  Assembling them is a great rainy day activity, and if you set up a dart board in the garage they can hone their skills all summer long.

Rock Climbing via The Risky Kids

Rock climb:  When the kids are climbing the walls, give them rocks instead.  Traditional indoor climbing facilities are a great way to beat the heat, but don’t forget that even the littlest climbers enjoy tackling big rocks.  Scout out parks and playgrounds that have rocks and boulders for scaling.

Diet Soda & Mentos Explosion via The Risky Kids

Explode something:  This summer we’re going to work on our first rocket launching kits.  Last summer we did the Diet Coke and Mentos explosion and it was a big hit.  The kids are still talking about it.

Kayaking with kids via The Risky Kids

Kayak:  Lisa, our resident kayaking expert, shared some great tips on how to kayak with kids.

Organize Outdoor Games via The Risky Kids

Organize a game:  Whether you get them started in a game of kickball or flashlight tag, or they come up with their own game, getting a group of kids to play outside games together is such a valuable part of childhood.  Keep in mind, this usually doesn’t happen naturally.  Most kids aren’t accustomed to this, having everything planned and organized for them.  Put in some time getting them organized, and watch the tradition unfold and take off on its own!

Water balloon fight via The Risky Kids

Water Balloon Fight:  The perfect way to beat the heat!

Let the kids decide:  I like to make our collection of books and magazines available and tell the kids to pick something that appeals to them.  It’s a great boredom buster (they’ll usually spend a good chunk of time just looking at all the options) and I’ve found, especially with older kids, they’re more apt to be cheerful participants if they picked the activity.  This year I’m also curating a Pinterest board they can turn to for ideas.  Here are a few books I like to keep around for inspiration:

Most of our suggestions are outside activities because we’re so passionate about getting kids outside.  If outside play seems daunting to you (and believe me, you’re not alone), check out our suggestions for making it more appealing.

Of course, don’t forget to do the riskiest thing of all: free time and a hefty dose of relaxing.

Relax via The Risky Kids

What are you doing this summer?  We’re always looking for new ideas, so let us know that one thing you can’t wait to try with the kids this summer!


Let the (Backyard) Games Begin!


Nearly every afternoon the neighborhood kids gather in the cul-de-sac in front of our home and play.  There are the usual draws: riding bikes and scooters, shooting hoops, maybe a game of tag.  Lately they’ve taken up kickball, and it’s not unusual to see a mom or dad drawn into the game.  Who wouldn’t rather put off weeding or mowing the lawn just a little bit longer for the chance to feel the satisfying thwack of a rubber ball against your foot?

The other day I glanced out the window to see an unfamiliar game getting started.  The kickball was lined up in the middle of the street, flanked by a line of tennis balls.  The serious task of picking teams was underway.  The teams lined up to face each other, and when the countdown was over, they made a mad dash for the balls.  And so began “War Ball,” a version of Dodge Ball they’d made up on their own.


For generations kids have been improving traditional backyard games and making up their own.  But as organized sports and an abundance of technology overtakes their lives, they are spending less time outside … and even less time freely playing with each other.


The good people at CLIF would like to see that change.  This year they are hosting the 3rd Annual CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year.  Kids ages 6-12 are encouraged to enter by submitting their made-up game.  You don’t need any fancy equipment or elaborate rules, just your creativity.  Kids can enter as individuals and have a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship or a Specialized Bike. Contest finalists will win a trip to San Diego to present their game.  New this year is an opportunity for kids to enter as a group.  To reward kids for their teamwork, the group winner will receive $15,000 to donate to a nonprofit of their choice, as well as a trip to San Diego.

The judges, Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, will have tough decisions, I’m sure, but their background makes them a perfect fit. Stacy and Ken have authored a book together: “The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to do in Nature Before You Grow Up.”

Backyard game ideas can be submitted now through June 17, 2013 at  We hope to be playing your game soon!


Does Spring Break Have You Climbing the Walls?


It is Spring Break here in Middle Tennessee. Our entire city has packed up the kids and headed out of town. A few of us survived the rapture and are still rattling around in the freezing cold and snow. The Artman family and the Bass family agreed to hang with us this week and we made a plan which included several fun, outdoor activities. Then we checked the weather … even I won’t bike in less than 50 degrees. We adapted and decided to climb the walls, literally.


Ben declared that he wasn’t going to climb.

This lasted all of 30 seconds.

We headed to The Crag to do indoor rock climbing. We have to put on harnesses and sign a waiver?  I’m in!  

We had four kids and two adults.  The adults took turns belaying the kids.  They raced up the walls.  They encouraged each other to climb higher and try new paths.



The kids climbed for two and a half hours, and are already begging to go back. If you have indoor rock climbing in your area, give it a try. It is a great way to establish trust and overcome your fear of heights. Plus, it is a darn fine workout.

On a side note, I texted Angie while we were rock climbing.


Oops!  Texting while rock climbing can be risky.


Risky Places We Love: The Skatepark


My older son, Thomas got a skateboard for his birthday. We signed him up for skateboard lessons and headed to the skatepark. He did great, and it looked like fun. I got tired of watching all the skating and decided what better way to bond with my kids than to try it myself?


I had my friend, Jessie, build me this sweet board. She and her husband, Donny, own our local skate shop, Franklin Skate Shop. Jessie offered a class in beginning skateboarding for moms, so of course I signed up. She said it would be a total workout and she was right … a totally thrilling workout. Skateboards are unstable and they move fast. They have four wheels, but I swear, you really only need two.  The only problem is that the kids make it look so easy. It’s not.

I took a lot of classes and that video is pretty much the summit of my skating skills.  Not too shabby for a mom whose had knee surgery, though.

You can do more than just skateboard at the skatepark, though.  Thomas and Ben got rollerblades recently, and we spent most of Thanksgiving break at the skatepark.


If wheels are too much for the kids to handle, no worries.  Ben enjoys running around the bowl in his sneakers.

As with anything risky, there can be a downside to the skatepark. There are bound to be teens at the skatepark, and where there are teens there’s probably some colorful language. In the photo above, Ben is perched next to a few salty words we’ve edited out (we’ve already hit our quota on R-rated blog posts this year). The way I see it, you can shelter your kids or you can use real life occurances like this as an opportunity to talk about what we do and do not say as a kid. Swearing aside, I’ve found that most skateparks are filled with polite kids who are more than happy to show off their skills and to give tips or helpful hints.

Disclaimer: Skateboarding is an actual RISKY sport. Buy a quality skateboard and take a few lessons. I recommend wearing a helmet and pads. A lot of pads. You are going to fall and it will leave a mark! Just ask to see the scar on my chin. Yeah, I got that falling off my skateboard.