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Kids can dive into fitness – literally – smack in the heart of downtown Detroit, thanks to a 100,000-square-foot center that's home to everything from swimming and gymnastics to basketball and ballet.
Boll Family YMCA, located near Grand Circus Park, teems with athletic activities for tots, teens and everyone in between.
In the D, it helps fill a gap for kids whose schools might not be able to offer as many extracurricular sports – or who just want to try something new. And best of all, parents can get involved, too. In fact, the Y encourages whole-family participation.
"It's such a good mix of bonding and being a good example of healthy lifestyle to your kids," says Nikole Constas, senior program director.
Variety and life lessons
And you definitely don't have to be a pro. Boll offers many beginner-level classes. Occasional free "clinic days" for basketball and baseball let kids learn basic skills and test out a sport they're interested in before signing on for a whole season.
Non-traditional options are a big focus, too – since team sports aren't for everyone! Gymnastics and modern dance classes help develop coordination, flexibility and self-confidence. Members also can access family yoga and gym time, Zumba for kids – and try scaling a 40-foot-tall rock wall.
"We really feel like there's a lot of character building and life lessons that can come out of not only your classic sports – like basketball, football, that sort of thing – but also from these non-traditional activities," Constas says.
That idea is part of each class. YMCA's core values – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility – are woven into every lesson, Constas says. So while a child is learning the breaststroke, she's also building relationships and developing skills that will help her succeed beyond the pool.
"We talk a lot about sportsmanship and teamwork," Constas says, "and I think those lessons apply in all of life – and especially in the academic world, where it is getting a little bit more competitive. It's important to be well-rounded."
Benefits of swimming and more
That's right: Getting active can pay off in school. Plus, it can help kids experience the importance of hard work and dedication for success in any activity.
"It can be really rewarding to see tangible results, whether that is learning a new skill – you made more baskets this week than you did last week – or seeing an improvement in your math test," says Constas.
At Boll, that can range from mastering some dribbling to turning a pirouette to figuring out how to freestyle.
Boll Family YMCA helpful hints
Swimming is Boll's most popular program. In it, kids learn to respect their classmates, take turns and work hard, says Michael Hamlett, aquatics coordinator and swim instructor. And, with classes for little ones as young as 6 months, they also can learn these values early, and build on them.
"We teach our youth – everyone, even our adults, but our youth especially – that trying hard makes results," Hamlett said. "That goes for in the pool, that goes for in the classroom, and for in life."
For the youngest tykes, classes help them get comfortable with how the water feels, basic arm and leg movements and splashing, with a parent in the water with them, Hamlett says. From there, Boll offers classes for every age and skill – even older kids and teens learning to swim for the first time.
"Once you make a new habit of exercising and being active as a family, it just gets easier," says Constas. Here are some great "starter" activities to kick off a fitness routine at Boll Family YMCA.
- Swim lessons: Boll offers them for every age and skill level. Be sure to register early; classes sell out quick, especially on Saturdays.
- Open swim: These dedicated times are an opportunity to try out the pool before committing to an entire session. Non-members can swim for a daily fee, if accompanied by a member (check online for guest pass details).
- Baseball clinics: Free to the public, these ongoing basic lessons are Saturday afternoons, 1-2 p.m. for beginners and 2-3 p.m. for more advanced kids. Check ahead to find out the latest.
- Basketball clinics: Also free, and open to kids ages 3-11, these happen on a Saturday every couple of months or so (call ahead for the latest). Or, for a cost, you'll also find 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday leagues or skill clinics (about $50/members, $65/others).
- Join the club: Family yoga, Zumba Kids, family gym time and a rock-climbing wall (ages 7-plus or at least 75 pounds) are fun alternatives to sports, and open to Boll members only.
- One-time try: Many classes allow guests to sample one day before committing to the entire session, Constas says – just ask!
- Healthy Kids Day: Typically held in April, this events lets families explore Boll and have fun for free for a few hours on a Saturday. Find the latest here.
Diving in early pays off long-run
Curious how the programs run? Hamlett encourages families to attend swim times (guest pass required), and ask the staff any questions they might have. "We try our hardest to not turn away anyone," he says. "We try to help out everyone we can."
Swimming is also beneficial as a safety skill, Constas adds – and can be more accessible and easier to pick up and continue. "Not everybody's going to be able to play basketball when you're 70 years old, but you can absolutely be a swimmer, and stay active in that way."
Encouraging kids' interest in athletics and fitness at an early age can have far-reaching benefits, Constas says.
"Kids just want to have fun, and they want to hang out with their family – especially at the beginning, when they're younger," she says. If you mix those two,
"They're going to be encouraged to try new things and stay active thei
r whole lives."