4 individual sports to get kids moving and more confident

The Villard family of Columbia is always on the go and can often be found rock climbing, mountain biking or competing in triathlons. Siblings Kai, 11, Brie, 8, and Tatum, 6, also participate in traditional team sports, but nothing matches the self-assurance they gain from sports they can do on their own.

"These kinds of sports help them problem solve," says their mom, Erin. "They encourage them to be self-reliant and deal with their successes and failures — and help them get to know their strengths and weaknesses."

Climbing Villiard Family WThe Villard family of Columbia after a climb.Though many kids love being a part of a team, some kids thrive on self-motivated sports they can do on their own. Indeed, experts agree that engaging in individual sports can build confidence and a sense of self.

"Athletes in these sports typically are 'working off of their own report cards' as opposed to handing evaluation off to someone else," says renowned sports psychologist Caroline Silby, author of "Games Girls Play: Understanding and Guiding Young Female Athletes." "These types of self-motivated sports are truly about figuring it out — what makes me tick, what makes me happy, what gets me engaged and challenged."

Self-directed sports like mountain biking, climbing, parkour or running are great ways for kids to stay active while setting their own pace and personal goals. Whether it's reaching a peak or competing in a 5K, these four sports show that sometimes your best teammate is yourself.

Click next below to learn more about how to get the kids into mountain biking, climbing, parkour and running.

Mountain biking

When Will McNeely, 11, began mountain biking with his father six years ago, he was instantly hooked.

"It's a lot of fun, and I like that in mountain biking, I can choose how hard I want to push myself," he says.

The Crofton resident began riding with his father, an avid biker, on the trails at Rosaryville State Park in Upper Marlboro.

"It's a family activity we can do together and a good time out in the woods," says his dad, James McNeely. "He has gained more confidence and it's good for leg strength and physical fitness. But it also helps a kid learn how to manage risk."

Mountain biking offers an intense workout that is easier on the joints than running or team sports, says local biking expert Jonathan Seibold, owner of Family Bike Shop in Crofton.

"In mountain biking, there is always room for improvement," Seibold says. "It's relatively safe because it's off the roads, and physically, mountain biking promotes body awareness and balance. It's an excellent cardio workout."Mounting Biking Villiards2 WThe Villard kids mountain biking.

Experienced mountain bikers can ultimately compete in races sponsored by USA Cycling, but Seibold recommends beginners visit a local bike park like Rockburn Skills Park in Elkridge where they can test their skills on the pump track or the trails ranging from beginner to difficult.

Other local parks like Patapsco Valley State Park and Rosaryville offer miles of trails for practicing. Organizations like Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) sponsor kid-oriented rides led by adults at several local parks.

Where to get started

Rockburn Skills Park
East Entrance, 5400 Landing Rd., Elkridge
410-313-4455, rockburnskillspark.org

Patapsco Valley State Park (Avalon area)
5254 South St., Halethorpe
dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands and click on Find a State Park and Patapsco.

Rosaryville State Park
7805 W. Marlton Ave., Upper Marlboro
dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands and click on Find a State Park and Rosaryville.

Family Bike Shop
1286 MD-3 South, Suite 13, Crofton
410-721-8244, familybikeshop.com

Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE)

Click next below to learn more about rock climbing.

Rock climbing

The Villard kids each began rock climbing at the age of 4 and they haven't found a peak they can't scale.

Climbing Villiards WKai Villard prepares to repel."Kids are natural climbers anyway, and when you put them on a rock, they just want to climb it," Erin Villard says. "My husband, Adam, is an experienced climber, and he started the kids early."

Adam had small harnesses made for each of the children so the family could climb Carderock, along the Potomac River. They soon joined Earth Treks Climbing Gym in Columbia where Kai became a member of the Junior Climbing Club.

"Kai has taken all the classes," Erin says. "He loves to rappel and knows how to tie all the knots. Climbing has given him confidence. He is proud of the fact that he does something that not many others can do," she says.

Rock climbing builds muscle endurance, coordination, flexibility and balance. It tests physical and mental strength and will challenge an athlete's problem-solving skills, according many experts, including The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Climbing is often compared to the game of chess, as strategy can often determine success, experts agree. Rock climbing can also promote focus and concentration, and kids must set goals each time they reach a new height.

USA Climbing sponsors nationwide competitions and offers resources for kids, but most recommend beginning climbers start at their local climbing gym.

Where to get started

Earth Treks Climbing Center
7125-C Columbia Gateway Dr., Columbia
410-872-0060, earthtreksclimbing.com/md-va

Roger Pip Moyer Recreation Center Annapolis
273 Hilltop Lane, Annapolis

Roger Carter Community Center
3000 Milltowne Drive, Ellicott City

13200 MidAtlantic Blvd, Suite 130, Laurel
301-3171970, climbzone.us

USA Climbing

Click next below to learn more about Parkour.


When people think of parkour, action movie stunts and television shows like "American Ninja Warrior" come to mind, but this dynamic sport is so much more.Parkour WParkour at Urban Evolutions Gym in Baltimore.

In parkour, athletes aim to negotiate over, under, around or through an obstacle in the most efficient way possible. It can take place in a gym or in an outdoor urban or natural setting. It is also considered a non-violent form of martial arts.

"The ultimate goal of parkour is freedom of movement at any time," says Adam McConnell, owner of Urban Evolutions gym in Baltimore, which offers parkour classes for kids.

Athletes start out at an indoor gym by learning body control and coordination combined with exercises to build strength. At Urban Evolutions, kids traverse an ever-changing landscape of movable boxes, gymnastic floors and mats, aerial silks, vault boxes and rails of varying heights in the 15,000-square-foot "indoor jungle gym. "

Once athletes have learned the basics, they can take their skills outdoors, using any manmade or natural landscape.

McConnell's 5-year-old son, Micah, has been practicing parkour for two years and has gained balance and strength.

"He is extremely comfortable with his body," says his father.

Parkour is rapidly gaining popularity with kids and teens alike — a phenomenon that doesn't surprise McConnell.

"The new trend is fitness as entertainment. That's the magic behind sports like crossfit and parkour. People do it because it's a good time," McConnell says. "The fitness aspect is a side benefit. It's really just all about having fun."

Parkour photo courtesy of Adam McConnell

Where to get started

Urban Evolutions
6801 Eastern Ave., Baltimore
855-646-5271, urbanevo.com and click on Baltimore

Alternate Routes
10939 Philadelphia Rd., White Marsh
443-317-8063, alternateroutesgym.com

Click next below to learn more about running.


Jenna Mish, 13, has been running athletically almost since she could walk, and the eighth-grader from Annapolis has no plans to quit.

"I feel like running is different than other sports. At any time, I can just put on my shoes and go," she says.

Jenna credits her running to improved performance in other sports, like lacrosse, but it's the mental rewards she loves most.

"When I start running, I feel like my mind is free and everything I was stressed about melts away," she says. "It makes me feel relaxed and happy."

Jenna's younger sister Lucy, 9, is also a runner.

"It's fun and it helps me accomplish a goal. And running also helps with conditioning for other sports," Lucy says.

Both girls began running in Annapolis Striders' Junior Striders program at age 4 and participate in Girls on the Run, a national youth development program for girls in grades 3-8.

The Mish sisters agree that running has made them stronger and more confident, and they love that it's a family affair. Mom Lara, a triathlete and marathon runner, is executive director of the Greater Chesapeake chapter of Girls on the Run, head coach of the Junior Striders and the middle school cross-country coach at St. Mary's Elementary. She believes that kids should start running early, and they will reap the rewards throughout life.

"If kids set the patterns at a young age, running will yield a lifetime of enjoyment," she says. "It is a sport that can reach almost anyone, at any age. It's inexpensive, great for your bones and a good way for kids to get outside and unplug."

Kids as young as 4 can start in the Annapolis Junior Striders program or take advantage of the group's summer cross-country series held at area public schools. Mish also recommends starting out with a family-friendly 5K.

"In running, kids can learn to set goals and accomplish them," she says. "When they cross that finish line, they know it's an achievement that they can keep and apply to other things. One can find a lot of life lessons in running — there's nothing else like it."

Where to get started

Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake

Annapolis Striders

Howard County Junior Striders

Healthy Kids Running Series
Multiple locations

By Katie Riley

Click here for a list of Turkey Trots and other fun runs this fall.