Fencing, mixed martial arts and swimming. They're not as mainstream as baseball, basketball and soccer. However, they may be a great fit for kids who want to participate in sports but shy away from team-focused activities.
Here's more information about the benefits and safety of these diverse, challenging sports that don't often get their due.
Fencing helps children develop coordination, balance, concentration, strength, speed and problem solving skills, according to the United States Fencing Association (USFA).
Kids can start as young as 4 years old; however, most kids probably start around the age of 10 or 12.
"We engage the children's minds, so that they can enjoy themselves more, learn more, and are then eager to excel," says Jason Sheridan of the USFA. "We have students who go from being these shy, timid children to really confident people who recognize their ability to transform themselves through the work they do."
Sheridan adds that he considers fencing one of the safest sports in the world. Equipment is designed to keep the fencers safe, and rules and practices allow for intense exercise while maintaining a safe environment.
Mixed martial arts
"In an age of fast food (and) video and computer games, mixed martial arts (MMA) provides children with a healthy outlet for their energy," says Sensei Jose Montes, head instructor and owner of Tiger Schulmann's MMA Monroe-Woodbury, New York. "And, in the process of teaching kids about self-defense, we help them stay fit and healthy."
MMA is a hybrid style of martial arts that aims to prepare students for real-life self-defense situations. Kids learning MMA engage in all three aspects of a physical conditioning program: strength, cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility. And Montes emphasizes that safety is a top priority in his classes.
"We teach in a way that allows students to progress from level to level at their own pace with the help and encouragement of their instructors," Montes says.
For children in the 3- and 4-year-old classes, instructors focus on separation anxiety, socialization and fine and gross motor skills while setting foundation skills in place. For kids ages 5-12, Montes emphasizes self-defense and self-discipline. Increased confidence, a non-quitting spirit and perseverance toward achieving one's goals are all benefits Montes attributes to participation in MMA.
"(MMA) is a life skill and an art form," he adds. "You can take it to any level you want with the proper leadership and guidance."
"Swimming is a great way for kids to stay active," says Penny Sorbello, a registered USA Swimming coach.
"From babies to teens, all you have to do is watch kids around any body of water to see the outright enjoyment," Sorbello says.
Swimming works your cardiovascular system without the stress, pounding and risk of injury that other sports might expose kids to, according to Sorbello. And it is often considered as physically beneficial as running and biking due to the cardiovascular demands that it places on an individual.
A child doesn't need to be a "star" swimmer to begin.
"All you need is a safe body of water to do it in and a bathing suit," says Sorbello. "Kids don't need any special equipment once they have attained 'water-safe' status."
Swimming requires dedication, focus and patience – and is a wonderful platform for kids to learn many life lessons, as well as stay healthy and fit. Sorbello lists the benefits of swimming that she sees with her own 8-year-old daughter as an increased ability to concentrate, boosted confidence, better mood and better sleep patterns – along with the notorious voracious "swimmer's appetite."
"Kids staring at a black line for hours on end might seem boring to some, but it strikes a resonant chord with others," says Sorbello. "The swimming pool can be almost like a protected world where they can get lost in their own ruminations and process their day while still getting exercise."