Sports Tennis

From the Tennis Court to Harvard

Competitive tennis: One family’s journey from summer tennis camps, clinics, and private instruction to competing for an Ivy League school.

By Laura Quaglio

Tennis to harvard
When Lane L. was age 4, he – like plenty of other kids his age – attended his first tennis clinic with a few buddies from his preschool. Today, as a high-school senior, Lane is ranked nationally in the top 40 players in his age group by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), and he recently was ranked in the top 250 junior players in the world by the International Tennis Federation. In fall of 2016, he will be taking those skills to Harvard, where he was recruited to play on their highly competitive Division 1 tennis team.

What does it take to rise from “summer tennis camp kid” to “nationally and internationally ranked player”? Could your child have what it takes? And is your family willing and able to invest the time and money needed to reach this level of play? To parents who haven’t participated in the elite level of a sport, these questions can be nearly impossible to answer without additional information. That’s why ActivityHero recently talked to Lane’s mom, Darcy, to find out more about what goes on “off the court” in competitive tennis from preschool through high school. Darcy shares her insights – and Lane’s winning training program – here.

Having a Ball with Buddies

Considering his family history, it’s no surprise that Lane was holding a racket before he entered kindergarten. Lane’s grandfather was an internationally ranked pro tennis player, as was Lane’s dad, Mark, who also played tennis for Harvard. So it was natural for the family to enroll Lane in a tennis clinic early on. Though there is increasing pressure to push kids to be coached privately earlier and earlier, Darcy and Mark agree that private lessons before age 6 aren’t a good way to spark a child’s interest in a sport. “Clinics instill that sense of joy and excitement,” she says. “To do a private lesson with a 27-year-old when you’re 5 or 6 years old is not fun. At that age they want to be running around with their buddies.” That is just what a tennis clinic or summer camp session provides.

See a List of Tennis Camps & Clinics Near You >>

For the next few years, the family limited Lane’s tennis training to experiences at summer camps and clinics, as well as court time with his Dad. Though Lane tried a few other sports in his elementary-school years, “tennis was always our anchor,” says Darcy. “I think that many parents who played Division 1 sports in college want their kids to play Division 1 sports, too,” says Darcy. “They want their kids to have a similar experience.”

Discovering an early love of tennisGetting Noticed on the Court

By the time Lane was in grade school, coaches were commenting on his special affinity for the sport. “At age 7 or 8, you start seeing kids’ skills emerge more,” she says. “Though they are still young, they start having the perception, ‘I’m good at this and not at this,’” she says. “Even at that age, there’s a difference between kids who are running around on the court and those who have natural skills.”

The first week that Lane’s family moved to Menlo Park,Calif., Lane’s parents enrolled him in a local fall recreational tennis clinic. The owner of the rec clinic was happy to work with Lane, but he recognized after the first session that the clinic wasn’t advanced enough for the boy. “He said to me, ‘Your kid really should be up at Alpine Hills [a well-regarded tennis club] getting instruction,’” says Darcy. The advice came as a pleasant surprise, and they heeded it.

Until then, Darcy and Mark weren’t sure whether Lane’s abilities were unique or not, since many parents see their kids as amazing or special. “If you are the only one who thinks your kid can excel at a sport, then maybe or maybe not,” says Darcy today. A better indicator, she adds, is when other people (especially coaches) have told you that your child shows promise. “Most people coach the sport because they love the sport. When they see natural skills, they will tell you because they want to see kids excel,” she says. (If you’ve heard a similar message from one of your kid’s coaches, let ActivityHero help you explore the options for additional or more personalized instruction in your local area.)

Getting Noticed in School

By sixth grade, Lane was becoming known by peers as “the tennis kid,” says his mom. “At that age, you want to be that kid,” she says. So Lane made the decision to become an even better player.

By seventh grade, Lane was attending both tennis clinics and private lessons from a former Stanford player. At this point, the family began talking extensively with other local parents whose older kids were ranked in the section and nationally. “Most parents are so happy to share their knowledge,” says Darcy. Talking to them, she says, is the best way to gain some insights into the sport that you hadn’t considered.

For instance, she explains, more “individual” sports like tennis don’t offer much opportunity for carpooling. That’s because kids who attend a tennis tournament will play until they lose, so they might be there for one match … or for a whole day. Or your kid’s match may start several hours later than their friend’s, so they may be at the same tournament but not at the same time. It’s far easier to organize carpools for soccer players, who attend games and practices together and for the same timespan.

Also, tennis doesn’t offer the social interaction or growth that a team sport supplies, says Darcy. Even if kids are on their high school tennis team, their teammates are also their competitors. So they don’t develop the same type of bond as do members of football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and other teams.

“You’ve got to be willing to pick up the phone and really do your homework when entering into a new sport, or you won’t be going down the most efficient path,” says Darcy. One caveat: It’s important to remember that what another family or kid experienced may not be what you would see if your child attended a camp or clinic. Meshing well with a coach depends a lot of personality, so one kid can dislike an instructor who might truly motivate your child.

Ramping Up Practice Time

Starting in middle school, Lane practiced tennis two days a week and competed in USTA tournaments on the weekends. By seventh or eighth grade, he was doing “pretty intensive tournament classes” three days a week for two-and-a-half hours at a time. He also spent some time learning about sports nutrition and overall fitness and conditioning. His homework and other activities began to revolve around tennis, and although many of his friends were playing flag football in the fall, Lane opted out of it in favor of focusing on developing his skills on the court. (Today, though, both Lane and Darcy say they wished he’d participated in a team sport as well as tennis, if only at the rec level, because of the social interaction and the benefits of extra conditioning that it would have provided.)

By high school, Lane was practicing five days a week, year-round, since tennis has no “off season.” But, explains Darcy, they knew that the tournaments were the key to Lane’s future success. “If you want to get recruited for tennis, it’s all about the tournaments,” she says. “Being on your high school tennis team has zero impact on being recruited to play tennis in college. It’s all about how you rank in the USTA.”

Courting College Tennis Coaches

In many ways, high school is a crossroads, particularly for young athletes, says Darcy. “High school is one of those frontiers where you decide whether you want to go to college for your sport or just have a lot of fun and enjoy your high school experience,” says Darcy. Though she thinks most kids choose the latter, Lane opted to further increase his commitment to tennis during his senior year. Having already been recruited by Harvard, his new goal was to compete in International Tennis Federation tournaments and earn the opportunity to play in a junior grand slam.

To achieve this goal, Lane traveled internationally for six months, enrolling in online high-school courses during the fall of 2015, the first semester of his senior year. Fortunately, the family’s financial circumstance allowed for hiring a private coach to accompany Lane on his trips to Switzerland, France, Mexico, and other countries. He ultimately achieved his dream and competed in the Australian Junior Open in January, in which he ranked in the top 250 junior players in the world. “We have three other kids, and you have to have an adult travel with your child,” says Darcy. “You don’t have to compete internationally to get recruited for college,” she adds. “That was part of his dream, and we are lucky enough to be able to support that.”

Considering the Costs

Expenses, adds Darcy, are also a big consideration when it comes to elite sports: They are typically very costly. In fact, the headline of one 2014 article says as much: “Want Your Kid to Win the Open? Spend $400,000 on Lessons.” “I had no idea how much money we’d be spending on equipment alone,” says Darcy. Lane wears through a pair of tennis shoes in two weeks at a cost of about $100 per pair. He also carries eight rackets in his bag, since he typically breaks at least one racket string per match, at a replacement cost of $25 per string.  As a result, Lane’s family has invested in their own tennis stringing machine. (Nice ones can be priced between 4,000 and $12,000, and a roll of 12 rackets’ worth of string costs about $250.) A corporate sponsorship helps offset some of the equipment costs for Lane, but certainly not significantly enough to make the sport an inexpensive activity.

Clinics, classes, and private instruction also add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars each year, with costs varying depending on location, duration, and the level of experience of the coaches. ActivityHero can help families find tennis programs that are best suited to their child’s needs, level of interest, and geographic location. The website can also help parents compare costs, cancellation fees, instructor experience, and more.

Tournaments each require an entry fee and often travel expenses, too, which can include a hotel stay and airfare, as well as meals and other incidentals. And if you’re going into an elite sport hoping that the costs may one day be offset by a college scholarship, that’s not a given. “You can’t go into a sport thinking, ‘My kid is going to get a scholarship.’ If it happens, it’s awesome, but it’s not a realistic expectation,” says Darcy. “Some schools may not offer athletic scholarships at all [the Ivy League does not], and others may only offer them to a few students – or they may offer only a partial scholarship. It’s very rare to receive a full scholarship for tennis.” Even recruitment (with or without a scholarship) can be iffy. “This year there are around 15 out of 150 kids in Menlo School’s senior class who were recruited by a college for their sport,” she estimates.

Thinking Past the End of His Racket

Lane is excited to get on the court as a Harvard player in a few months, but right now he’s focused on recovering from an injury – another factor in elite sports that parents shouldn’t ignore. “They ask you that question in Ivy League interviews,” says Darcy. “If you get hurt the first day of college, what are you going to do here if your sport is your whole identity?” Colleges try to get the kids away from thinking that they are just there to play their sport, so it’s not a bad idea to talk with your child about this throughout their years of play.

Bottom line, says Darcy, if your kids are still little, try to live in the moment and enjoy life one clinic, lesson, or match at a time. “Don’t say, ‘I want this kid to play this sport in college,’” she advises. There are simply too many variables that will occur over the ensuing years that can change that initial plan. Her third son, who recently dropped tennis to take up lacrosse in middle school, is proof enough of that. “Now I’m just having my daughter play everything,” says Darcy of her fourth child, who is 10 years old. Though Darcy and her husband would love for each of their kids to play the “family sport” in some capacity, they ultimately want their kids to be happy. And that, she says, is the best way to gauge how long they should stay in a sport and how far they should try to take it.

Tennis starTaking Your Child’s Sport to the Next Level

Darcy says that summer is the best time to explore kids’ new interests, build skills for their favorite sport, and check out different and sometimes more challenging programs. To see what your local area (and other areas in the country) have to offer, go to ActivityHero and enter your child’s interests to receive a customized list of providers that might be a good fit for you.


Soccer for Pre-K, Kids, and Teens: A Parents’ Guide

Never played soccer? Here, a former soccer pro, seasoned coach, and current soccer camp owner offers expert insights to help parents new to the game.

By Laura Quaglio

Coach Ken with Soccer Team
Coach Ken Mburu with one of his soccer teams in California

If your child is among those clamoring to dribble a bright-colored orb using only their feet, they’re one of several million American kids who are interested in soccer. In fact, the US Youth Soccer’s National Tournament Database reports that its organization alone registered more than 3 million soccer-playing kids in 2014. And that’s just one of the three largest youth soccer organizations in the United States. The other two are American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), which is a parent-run program with a more recreational and less competitive focus, and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which is the most competitive group. (US Youth Soccer falls somewhere in the middle in terms of competitiveness.)

For parents who never played the game, the different types of soccer camps, clinics, classes, teams, and leagues may seem shrouded in mystery. And the more we Google information on the sport, the more confusing things can become since the number of teammates and the rules of game play are different for different age levels.

To help clear the confusion, ActivityHero recently talked to Ken Mburu, who has been coaching soccer for young kids since 2003 and founded Coach Ken Soccer Academy in 2009. (Coach Ken played club and college soccer in Kenya, and he holds a diploma from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Coaching Academy.) Today, Coach Ken Soccer Academy offers soccer classes, camps, and private instruction for ages preschool through adult at locations in Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park.

Here, Coach Ken shares an overview of the different levels of soccer and what to look for in a soccer program.

toddler trying out soccer
Soccer for Preschoolers

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Coach Ken’s curriculum starts with kids as young as 3.5 years old. In his experience, kids who are younger than this will do better in a program that involves the mother or father. At the preschool level, Coach Ken lets each child have their own ball and ensures they will score goals very often. There’s no goalie, and if a child loses control of their ball or kicks it too far, the coach will quickly toss them an extra so they can keep playing.

Coach Ken doesn’t have kids going head-to-head until they are ready, which varies for different kids. He then has them play “1 v. 1,” which pits one player against another child or a coach. “If you haven’t prepared little kids and the ball gets stolen, they’ll cry or give up,” he says. “That’s the last thing you want.”

What Coach Ken says to look for:

A low kid-to-coach ratio. For 4-year-olds, look for 1 coach working with no more than 8 kids at a time. (There may be 40 kids in a lesson, he says, but they should be divided up among 5 coaches.)
A curriculum that ties drills to game play. It’s not enough for coaches to create drills that are fun. It’s also important for coaches to educate kids on how those games relate to a real soccer game. “People love what they’re good at, and if you’re good at something, you almost always love it. It’s a cycle,” he says. “The best way to make sure kids are having fun is to get them better.” Ultimately, kids won’t become better at soccer unless they learn specific skills that they will use when they later engage in a soccer game.

A focus on footwork. “Kids have got to be comfortable maneuvering the ball,” says Coach Ken. “That’s the main skill of soccer. We only get better by touching the ball.” Little touches, not big kicks, are the key to soccer success. One of the biggest problems little kids face is that they tend to boot the ball as far as possible, as they would in kickball. In soccer, though, it’s important to keep control of the ball, so kids need to learn to keep the ball close using little taps. Kids should also learn a variety of different ways to control the ball, using different parts of the foot to tap it. At this age, they should not be kicking with their toe because it’s very difficult to control the ball that way.

Use of correct soccer terminology. “The person who is harder to teach is not someone who knows nothing,” says Coach Ken, “but someone who has learned something wrong.” Your child will do better as they move up within the soccer system if they have a good foundation that includes using the correct terms. They should learn the names for different parts of the foot (inside foot, outside foot, shoelaces, etc.) and different soccer skills (pull back or drag back, throw-in, etc.).

Soccer for Ages 4 and 5 (U-6)

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At this level, kids will move from playing 1 v. 1 (one player versus another) to playing some real soccer matches. “They don’t have to follow all the rules,” says Coach Ken. “At that age, I carry extra balls and throw in another ball when one is kicked out of bounds.” Kids in this group have a very short attention span, he explains, so coaches have to keep the ball and the game moving quickly. “If you don’t, soon they will be chasing butterflies,” he says.

Also teams begin to be grouped by age, with the kids on each team being “under” the number listed. So kids in U-6 must be “under” age 6, usually for the majority of the season. (Different leagues have different cutoffs regarding birthdays, but the US Soccer Federation has now standardized it to calendar year.)

What Coach Ken says to look for:

Kids being grouped by ability. Some kids naturally pick up the game more quickly and easily than others. Coaches should begin grouping kids based on their abilities —beginners together, medium-level players together, and so on. This is important because it’s very frustrating for beginner kids to face an advanced player who is always stealing the ball. And this scenario won’t help the better players develop their skills either. “The kids need to be in groups where they are challenged accordingly,” says Coach Ken.

Some mini games. Coach Ken tries to do 3 v. 3, 4 v. 4, and 5 v. 5 at this age. If there are more players than that, the field becomes too crowded and chaotic.

No goalies. Coach Ken says goalies should not be used until around age 8 or 9. “Younger kids don’t have the body control yet,” he explains. That means that goalkeepers could easily get kicked and injured. To practice shooting, Coach Ken does drills where the players stand as many feet away from the goal as their age, then kick into the goal. (So if they are 5 years old, they would stand 5 feet away.) Sometimes a child will play goalkeeper in that setting, but the shooters never come into the cordoned-off goalie’s zone.

Lots of use of the feet, but no use of the hands. Kids in this age group are encouraged to touch the ball as much as possible with their feet and not use their hands. This is true even for those who want to be goalkeepers in the future. “When I got my coaching diploma, I learned that professional goalkeepers touch the ball 7 times more with their feet than with their hands,” says Coach Ken. “So even a goalkeeper has to be very good with their feet.”

Soccer for U-7 and U-8

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Starting at this age, kids who have been playing soccer since age 4 are already trying out for competitive teams, according to Coach Ken. Though he and many other coaches wish such tryouts didn’t begin until age 8, he realizes that clubs are forming teams at younger and younger ages – mainly because parents request it. Moms and dads want to ensure that their kids become part of a team early on so they will “grow up” with their teammates and not be left out socially or during game play.

In this age group, teams may play each other 4 v. 4 without a goalkeeper. Coaches will likely be watching from the sidelines. They also may serve as referees, with an actual ref being introduced for kids playing U-8 soccer.

Games will be broken into short time periods, such as four 8-minute quarters at U-6 and U-7 and four 10-minute quarters for U-8. Players won’t necessarily play positions at this point, but they should be getting a chance to touch the ball and dribble it. Games may be scored and reported, depending on the league.

At this level, rule enforcement will be more lenient, though. For instance, when a ball goes out of bounds, kids will kick it in or throw it in. In later years, throw-ins will be more regulated, with both feet needing to remain planted when the ball is thrown.

What Coach Ken says to look for:

Coaches who are willing to let your kids try other activities. Coach Ken advises that no matter what option you choose (competitive team or rec league), encourage your child to try other activities too. “When you commit to one sport this early, I think you are denying the child the chance to experience other things in life, and I think it’s a big disadvantage,” says Coach Ken. He adds that kids who start playing competitively at age 5 might burn out by age 15 since they have been going full-tilt for a decade already.

One season, one sport. “There are four seasons of soccer,” says Coach Ken. “I commend parents who allow their children to do a different sport each season, and at most two seasons for the one sport their child really likes.” This approach helps kids avoid burnout and leaves them time for other things like scouting, homework, and free-play with friends.

Time for unsupervised soccer play. Coach Ken recommends looking for a program that is not overly scheduled. “You want kids to be in a program where they are not being too controlled,” he says. “The best thing you can do is let the kids play in the park by themselves with their friends.” When kids aren’t being guided by parents and coaches, he explains, they have the freedom to become more creative in their game play. This is important because during a soccer game the coach is on the sidelines and can’t tell players every little thing they need to do. Kids need to learn to think for themselves and make quick decisions. If your soccer program doesn’t make time for free play, arrange for teammates to get together during off-hours so they can have a fun game without adult intervention.

soccer player
Soccer for U-9 and U-10

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This is the age group where soccer practice and games really begin to change, says Coach Ken. For one thing, there will be more players in the games. It might be 6 v. 6, including goalkeepers, and referees will be used. Some leagues play 7 v. 7 at U-10. Games will likely consist of two 25-minute “halfs” and the kids will use a larger soccer ball (size 4, not size 3).

Additional rules will be introduced. For instance, referees will penalize kids who are “offsides,” which occurs when they are on the offense and place themselves between all of the defenders and the goalkeeper. (The upshot: An offensive player can’t hang out by the goal waiting for a pass.) At this level, the refs might only penalize kids who are blatantly offsides, rather than those who are just slightly ahead of the defenders.

If you’re interested in what the rules are for your child’s team and age group, ask the coach to explain them to you or to direct you to league materials that can do so.

Note: Recreational (rec) leagues may not exist for every age group, depending on the level of interest in your geographical area. For instance, teams might be U-8, U-10, and U-12, if there aren’t enough kids to also fill the U-9 and U-11 slots.

Tween girls playing soccer
Soccer for U-11, U-12, and U-13

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According to Coach Ken, the main change at this level, U-13 especially, is that kids start playing by FIFA standards. FIFA is the abbreviation for Fédération Internationale de Football Association, which is the international governing body for the sport of soccer, aka “football” in other countries.

Kids will play 9 v. 9 (at U-11 and U-12) and 11 v. 11 at U-13. Each game half will be slightly longer than before, lasting a full 30 minutes. Rules will be more stringently enforced. For instance, offside play (even if it’s just by a few inches) will be called out by refs, and when kids throw in the ball from the sideline, they’d better keep both feet planted until the ball leaves their hands! At U-13, kids will switch from a size 4 soccer ball to a size 5.

Again, the coach can help clear up any confusion you may have, but your child should be old enough to explain the rules to you.

Also important at this age: Soccer clubs will be more keen in their separation of players based on ability, grouping them into A, B, and C teams (and so on, depending on the number of kids in each age group). The best players will start honing their skills so they might one day play on the U.S. National Team. Elite players start being recruited by national soccer talent development groups such as the Olympic Development Program, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (for boys) and the Elite Clubs National League (for girls). In 2017, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy also plans to launch a program for girls. Parents who have a child on the A team might want to inquire about these organizations.

If your child loves the game, they have the talent, and you really want them to make the A team, you may want to consider enrolling them in private lessons at this point. However, Coach Ken says parents should be sure not to show disappointment if the child doesn’t make the A team … or if they were on the A team one year and are on the B team the next. There are great variations in how each player develops. Some develop early … others may hit a seasonal snag in development due to a factor outside of soccer, such as teenage issues, an injury, a change in coach or players, etc., and they may need more time to bloom or rediscover their form.

Soccer for U-14 through U-18

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As with U-13, kids will play 11 v. 11 (including the goalkeeper) and will play with a size 5 ball. Halves will be 30 minutes each, and there may be 2 or 3 referees on the field after kids progress beyond the U-14 level.

Coach Ken says that kids in this group may have been playing for 7 or more years. “At the beginning of each season, ask your teen, ‘Do you want to do it?’” says Coach Ken. “The kid should be deciding, not the parent.” He adds that you’ll likely have a gut feeling if your child isn’t interested anymore. “If Johnny or Jenny isn’t excited every single day or is not trying their hardest, stop wasting their time and let them do something they actually enjoy,” he advises. “Do not be adamant that your kid has to be a soccer player.”

One last secret: If your child does want to keep playing, Coach Ken advises that parents try not to be too invested in their success. “I’ve been coaching for more than 10 years, and the kids who I have seen go farthest in soccer are the kids whose parents don’t seem too eager to show like they care too much about their kid playing,” he asserts. Coach Ken shares the story of one mom whose son was doing so well during a practice that Coach Ken ran over to talk to her about “Johnny’s” progress. Her response? “She said, ‘Stop spoiling my nap!’” he laughs. “That boy was a really good soccer player,” he adds. “Those are the kids who go far in soccer. The ones who are doing it for themselves.”


What Your Child’s Soccer Coach Wishes You Knew

What should you shout from the sidelines during games? See what soccer coaches really think — and other tips they wish parents knew.

By Katherine Teel

Maybe you cheer from the sidelines, letting your child know how much you support her. Or maybe you coach from the sidelines, shouting things like “Take it up the outside!” or “Why’d you stop?!” Or maybe you drop off your child and run errands. As parents, we want to “get it right” as often as possible, but with many things in parenting, there’s no real rule book. That’s why we asked long-time coaching couple Lew and Ruth Ann West for some advice on how to encourage your kids, how to support the coaches, and what behaviors they never want to see again!

The Wests know whereof they speak: They’ve been on both sides of the field — as both coaches and soccer parents. For the past 15 years, they’ve coached co-ed recreational soccer teams ranging in age from 4 to 16. And two of their daughters are soccer players: Their middle child was skilled enough to receive college scholarship offers, while their petite, dimpled 11-year-old daughter tears up the field like a beast as part of the Wests’ current team. To be sure, these coach/parents have carefully considered what they think works best, and one look at their team records over the years tends to support their theories.

Ready for a little coaching of your own? Take a deep breath, and read on to see if it might be time to rethink a few of the things you’re doing at your child’s practices and games.

Find a list of soccer classes, clinics & camps near you > >

Sometimes It’s Good to Stick Your Nose (or Foot) In

It’s hard for parents to know how involved to be with their kids. If you sit and watch every practice, you might be helicoptering, but if you leave you might be abandoning them. “We like to have parents there,” says Ruth Ann, “because when the parents stay, they have opportunities to engage with the kids during practice.” For instance, when the team is one person short, a parent can sub in during a two-person drill or participate in a scrimmage as a player or referee.

Lew also likes the parents to see all of the effort the players put into practice time. “Kids these days work incredibly hard at the things they care about,” he says, “and I like for parents to see that.”

Yell All You Want … But You’re Not the Coach

“We love when the parents are positive and cheer from the sidelines,” Ruth Ann says. Her coaching style reflects that enthusiasm — she’s loud and laughs a lot, and every shout is a yell of of encouragement. “Definitely,” agrees Lew. “But there’s a difference between yelling encouragement and coaching from the stands. Sometimes parents contradict what the coaches are telling the players.” Other types of parent participation the Wests could do without: Criticizing the ref, yelling negatives (“Who were you passing to!?”), and working themselves up over a bad call. In general, if you feel your blood starting to boil, it’s probably time to take a lap — or a deep breath.

Parents behavior on the sidelines

The Kids Can’t Hear You Anyway …

Just ask your child, if you don’t believe it: The reality is that most of the time, those players can’t hear you — no matter what you shout. They are running fast, breathing hard, and battling over an ever-moving orb. The last thing they have time for is to stop and listen to parental advice.

But the Other Adults Sure Can!

“The worst part about rude or aggressive shouting is that it ruins the game for the other families,” Ruth Ann cautions. “Your child probably doesn’t know what you said, but the parents you have to sit near at next week’s game certainly do.” Also keep this in mind: Some of those parents may be recording the game on video (and audio) — including your shouts and conversations. Make sure what you say is worthy of being preserved for posterity.

A Good Soccer Coach Isn’t Necessarily Out to Win

As soccer parents, the Wests have dealt with their share of other coaches, which has helped inform their approach today. “A good coach takes a group of kids and helps them become a team,” Ruth Ann says. They do this, she explains, by helping children create a work ethic that includes hard work and team building, and at the same time, they make the experience fun.

“The difference between a good coach and a bad one is the focus that coach has,” Lew adds. “By focus, I mean, is their only goal to win, or to teach the love of the game and teamwork?” At heart, we all know that developing young minds and characters is more important than winning — and it’s a wonderful fringe benefit of being involved in a team sport.

How Does Your Child’s Soccer Program Measure Up?

Whether you’re interested in getting your child started in soccer — or maybe just finding a team that’s a better fit — ActivityHero can help. If you don’t love your coach’s style or the emotions it brings out in you and your child, don’t be afraid to take a look at what else is out there. And if your child is looking for a great team sport to try, there’s no time like the present.

Find a list of soccer classes, clinics & camps near you > >


Is My Child Ready for Swimming Lessons?

How do you know when your child is old enough to start swimming lessons? Here, what to look for, what to expect, & how to find swim lessons near you.

By Sarah Antrim

child learning to swim
The pools are about to open their doors again for the season, and big kids are getting excited to get back in the water.

For parents, it’s a good time to revisit pool safety tips. And if you’ve got little one, it might be time to consider swimming lessons. Swimming lessons can help improve kids’ safety near water.

But, how do you know if your child is ready? Here, some tips to consider:

When should my child start swim lessons?

Chances are that if you’re wondering if your child is old enough for swim lessons, the answer is yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently lowered its recommended age for starting swim lessons from 4 years to just 1 year of age. It has been shown that toddler who have had more exposure to water and even basic instructions are less likely to drown.

So even though most kids can’t necessarily swim at that age, it’s never too early to get them accustomed to the water.

How do I know if my child is ready?

Does your child express interest in the water?

Do they take to basic instruction well?

Do you plan on spending time at the pool this summer with them?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, your child is likely ready for swim lessons. Even though the beginning swim classes are little more than blowing bubbles and back floats, any amount of exposure to the water helps children grow more comfortable in the pool.

What sort of time investment is involved in swim lessons?

Beginner swim lessons can start as early as 6 months and require a parent present. Most lessons typically last from 30 to 60 minutes on average so as to avoid the child losing interest.

Once children become a bit more self sufficient, usually between 3 and 5 years, they can take lessons without a parent present. These lessons are usually the same time frame, about 30 to 60 minutes, to withstand a dwindling attention span (and avoid finger prunes, of course).

What if my child is uncomfortable with new people or doesn’t take instruction well?

Many beginning swim classes require a parent present. If your child has grown out of the age range for this, talk to the instructor and see if they’ll allow you to stay with your child during the lesson. Hopefully your child will become more comfortable and be more willing to take instruction with your presence.

The good thing about swim lessons is that they are a low level of commitment and tend to be pretty affordable. If your child attends a couple classes and find that it’s not for him, you can take a break for awhile. You won’t have to worry about falling behind if you wait and try again in a few months.

(For more tips about overcoming water fears, check out 10 Tips to Ease Your Child’s Fear of Swimming.)

Where can I find a swim lesson class for my child?

Start your search for swimming lessons on ActivityHero. You can see schedules for local swim schools, read reviews from other parents, and register online.

Just remember to be patient, listen to your child, and don’t push them into something if they’re not ready.

Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Parenting Resources Sports Super Activities for Super Kids

Summer Camps for Teens

Discover summer camp options (and alternatives) that are perfect for teenagers. From sports camps to robot camps, volunteering to leadership training, there’s lots to consider! Here, tips to make an amazing summer for your teen.

By Sarah Antrim

summer_camps_for_teensThe transition from childhood into the teenage years presents a lot of changes–changing bodies, attitudes, and of course, changing interests.

Things that your kids might have found interesting before are no longer “cool” to teenagers which may leave parents at a loss as to how to fill up their teens’ free time, especially during the summer.

So how do you find productive activities for teens during the summer?

1. Explore Summer Day Camps for Teens

Many camps have been designed specifically with teens in mind. Below are just a few selections which have multiple locations across the U.S.

See all teen day camps near you >>

Digital Media Academy – Coding, video production, photographic, graphic design, game design and other technical topics are available for teens.   

Gamebreaker Lacrosse Camps for Teens

Gamebreaker Lacrosse Camp – Play lacrosse and get specialized training from college coaches.


Adidas Tennis Camps – Learn from college tennis coaches.

See all teen day camps near you >>

2. Consider Overnight Camps for Teens

As teens develop more independence, they may be ready to travel to an overnight camp, ranging from academic to adventurous. Be sure to check out our tips to help you find the right overnight camp.

See all overnight camps for teens >

3. Counselor/Leader Training Programs

One of the most popular option for summer camps for teens is a counselor-in-training (CIT) or leader-in-training (LIT) program. Many camps offer these training programs to teens as an unpaid position or at a low fee to parents, sort of like an apprenticeship or internship on the road to becoming a camp counselor. Best of all, once they finish the required training, your teenager will have a job opportunity lined up for them!

See teen counselor/leader training programs near you >>

4. Look for Volunteering Programs

Summer is a great time for kids to learn about community service. Not sure where to get started? Check out our blog post with 6 tips to help you find volunteering opportunities for tweens & teens.

Teen Boys at Summer Camp

Football Ice Skating Marching Band Soccer

7 Sneaky Ways to Stay Warm at Fall Games

Autumn sports, color guard, cheering, and marching band activities never seem to end before the weather turns cold! Stay cozy all season with these clever tips.

By Laura Quaglio

people watching the game in 1-person viewing tents
Under The Weather Tents

You want to support your kids until the playoffs are done … but, baby, if you live in certain sections of the U.S., it’s cold outside! Maybe you’ve already gotten the puffy jacket, winter boots, and team knit cap. What else can you do to keep out the chill? Plenty! Here are a few options you may not have tried yet. They range from free to DIY to a tad pricey, but they all can help get the job done. Let us know which ones you try — and love — this season. Or, better yet, share some of your best ideas in the comments. Give us a W-A-R-M! Go, Team!

Take a Tip from Red Riding Hood

Hood Scarf by EricaPennieLayne on Etsy

No doubt about it: Hoods are both cute and cozy. And when it comes to keeping in body heat during a late-season match, a hood and scarf is a must-have combo for soccer moms. We found this item — billed as a Winter Hood Scarf — on Etsy. It was created by Erica Pennie Layne, who counts herself as among the “Canadian winter warriors; a woman on the constant move in a land of ice and snow.” If it’s warm enough for her to wear when braving Canadian temps, it’s bound to keep you cozy during the playoffs. Though this design is sold out, you’ll find plenty of similar products to purchase or make yourself, simply by searching the web.


Find sports classes & clinics near you > >

Cuddle Some Homemade Hand Warmers

Find instructions on

If your fingers are the first thing to get chilled, hand warmers can make a huge difference in your ability to enjoy the big game. To save money – and put your craft skills to good use – consider making your own version, using a little leftover fabric and some uncooked rice. Complete instructions are available on As a bonus, their creator says they can be tossed in the freezer and used as cool packs for, say, a bump or bruise.


Don’t Let the Winds Chill Your Wrists

Here’s a DIY project that’s great for fall and winter: wrist warmers made from a pair of socks. You can find complete instructions on, but the concept is simple. You basically cut off the toe, cut a thumb-hole in the heel, and (if you like) finish off the top with a nice cuff. If you’re likely to conceal the whole thing within coat sleeves and under a pair of mittens, you can skip the finishing work. These also are perfect for keeping wrists snow-free if you’re in a climate that allows for shoveling and snowman construction.


Treat Your Seat to Some Heat

Sunbeam Heat-to-Go Seat Warmer

Ugh — those cold, metal stadium seats! Sometimes even a blanket isn’t enough to keep your bottom from feeling the chill when you watch your kids play. This Sunbeam Heat-to-Go Portable Warming Stadium Seat offers you 2 hours of comfort and warmth, thanks to two reusable gel packs (that you warm up in hot water), a foam cushion, and a weather-resistant cover. It even has a carrying handle, so it’s easy to tote to the stadium, on a camping trip, or on a winter horse-and-buggy ride.


Raise Your Temp in a Tiny Tent

people watching the game in 1-person viewing tents
Under The Weather Tents

Admittedly, this item makes more sense on the sidelines than in the bleachers. Available in a rainbow of colors, this one-person tent from is water- and wind-resistant, weighs just 7.5 pounds, and will keep your surroundings up to 30 degrees warmer than the air outside. It even has an SPF of 50, so you can avoid pesky (and sometimes unexpected) autumn or winter sunburns. Similar tents are available in an XL size and a two-person model.


Create a Spectator “Uniform”

You’d never let your kids on the field without the proper gear. It’s time to think of yourself as one of the team, and invest your own uniform of sorts—one that will keep you toasty so you can cheer for the team without your teeth chattering. Insulating underclothes and outerwear can help, but if you live in a really cold region, check out the wide array of high-tech togs that use portable batteries to radiate heat. Sporting goods stores and websites offer mittens, gloves, jackets, vests, socks, boots, insoles, pants and more. Another tip: Store an inexpensive rain poncho in your coat pocket for the entire season; then, when there’s an unexpected rain shower, you can stay dry, which will help keep you warmer too.

Find after school camps, classes & workshops near you > >

Warm Up by the Hot Dogs

Here’s a tip that won’t cost you a dime — and it might score you some points with your kid’s coach or marching band director: Work in the concession stand or hot dog truck during the coldest games of the season! This strategy will keep you warmer since the walls will buffer those late-autumn and early-winter winds. And if you’re actually serving warm foods or standing near the grill, you may even get toasty enough to take off one of your coats.


Looking for Still Another Way to Warm Up?

Consider becoming a coach or assistant to your child’s team! As you’ve probably noticed, adults in these roles rarely sit down, and the more you’re up and moving, the warmer you will be. Wondering if this might be a good option for you? Check out our exclusive blog on the topic: Want to Coach Kids? 4 Tips to Make It Work for Your Family.

Martial Arts Sports

11 Martial Arts Movies, Books & Shows for Kids

Your Karate Kid will get a kick out of these movies, shows, and books. Even the funny ones deliver key messages on building self-esteem and standing up to bullies.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed


Imagine this rainy-day scenario: Your lovable, active child, who is normally bouncing off the walls when cooped up indoors, instead is dressed in a crisp, belted uniform, standing tall on a mat, in a straight line, with a dozen other boys and girls their age. Your child proceeds through the class exercises with focus, enthusiasm, and discipline. Not there yet? Here’s another scenario for your next rainy day: Your lovable, active child cozies up on the couch to read a good book or watch a movie or TV show about kids like these. Kids who are martial artists and use their skills to overcome evil in the form of bullies, bad guys, or simply self-doubt.

Below is a hand-picked list of movies, TV shows, and books about martial arts that may inspire kids to give this popular activity a try … and that will endlessly entertain students who already are working on earning their next belt or sash.

Martial Arts Books for Kids

Bunjitsu BunnyTales of Bunjitsu Bunny
Ages 6+
This beginners’ chapter book shares stories of a bunny martial arts student. She is strong and good at solving problems.




PhoenixPhoenix: The Five Ancestors Out of the Ashes, Book 1
Ages 9+
The unusual combination of martial arts, bicycle racing, and Chinese mythology come together in this book — the first installment in a new adventure series featuring well-balanced characters and strong life lessons.



Ages 12+
The heroine of this fantasy is a Korean-American girl uprooted to and transplanted in Korea. She battles mythical beings with martial arts and archery. This first book in a series is sure to leave readers wanting more.


Find after school martial arts programs > >

Martial Arts Movies for Kids

Kung Fu Panda 2Kung Fu Panda 2
Ages 6+
Filled with its familiar entertaining cast of characters, this sequel is top notch. Kids will be mesmerized by all of the martial arts action supplied by this well-trained team, and parents will appreciate the added notes of emotion and history.



Wendy WuWendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
Ages 8+
While running for homecoming queen, Wendy learns of her legacy as a warrior against evil spirits. Wendy shows that balancing demands of the present along with her heritage is a worthy pursuit.



Shaolin SoccerShaolin Soccer
Ages 8+
This enjoyable, funny film offers a delightful mashup of martial arts and soccer in a format that’s fun for the whole family.



Karate KidThe Karate Kid
Ages 11+
This classic original film is still the best of its series. In this coming-of-age tale, teenager Daniel learns how to mature, make friends, and defend himself thanks to the discipline of karate and the guidance of a demanding and eccentric (but endearing) instructor.


Find after school martial arts programs > >

Martial Arts TV Shows for Kids

Kung Fu PandaKung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness
Ages 6+
Po and his crew are back, waging martial arts battles with villains … and prevailing. Po is a great role model, showing that his uniqueness also makes him both heroic and worthy of respect.


AvatarAvatar: The Last Airbender
Ages 9+
This terrific animated martial arts/fantasy/mythology series is entertaining for the whole family.


The Legend of Korra
Ages 9+
An inspiring heroine is at the heart of this excellent animated sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. As she trains for an important role, she learns important lessons about herself and her family’s history.


Samurai Girl
Ages 13+
Here is a great action-packed series, led by a fierce female warrior defending her family from evil. Each episode culminates in sword battles and martial arts fighting, so keep that in mind before sharing this series with younger viewers.

Soccer Sports

For Kids Who Love Soccer: 9 Books, Movies, Shows & Apps

After the cleats come off, your soccer-playing kids can keep their head in the game with these expert-approved watchables, readables, and soccer apps.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed

With soccer a worldwide phenomenon, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Lionel Messi, and Neymar aren’t just some of the most well-known stars in women’s and men’s soccer … they are also heroes to young athletes. Kids love books, apps, movies, and TV shows that feature relatable heroes too: particularly heroes who love the same things they do and who face some of the same challenges, both on the field and on the sidelines.

The following soccer-themed games and stories range from soccer simulation apps for grade schoolers to more mature novels that reinforce the importance of perseverance and teamwork. All have been rated by SmartFeed’s media experts and critics based upon their inclusion of positive role models and messages, and their avoidance of negative themes, foul language, and violence.

Soccer Books for Kids

Ellie McDoodles DiariesThe Ellie McDoodle Diaries: Most Valuable Player
By Ruth McNally Barshaw
Ages 7+
Having to choose between a soccer tournament and an academic competition is a tough dilemma for Ellie McDoodle. Her teamwork, dedication, and friendship help her succeed at both!



By Kwame Alexander
Ages 10+
A soccer-obsessed middle schooler copes with his parents’ divorce, a bully, and typical school struggles in this unique novel, composed entirely in verse. (Think: Hamilton with shin guards.) It also offers its share of heart-warming scenes, including those featuring friendship and young love. Yes, it discusses serious issues; however, this book is also fun, energetic, and relatable to teens. It’s a sequel to the Newberry-winning novel The Crossover.


Find after school soccer programs > >

Soccer Game Apps for Kids

Soccer Kick 2Soccer Kick 2
Ages 6+
This simple app is a fun diversion for younger soccer fans.



Score! HeroScore! Hero
Ages 9+
This soccer simulation game has great graphics and easy-to-learn swipe-based play. Be aware there are in-app purchases available, as well as ads.



Soccer Movies for Kids

Air BudAir Bud: World Pup
Ages 5+
The sports-loving golden retriever Buddy is back, this time starring on the soccer field.




Shaolin SoccerShaolin Soccer
Ages 8+
This enjoyable, funny film offers a martial arts and soccer mashup for kids (or families) who get a kick out of both of these sports. Underdogs rule!




Ages 13+
Based on a true story, this movie shares the story of a girl who shows grit and determination as she fights to compete on a boys-only soccer team. Gracie rebels and faces down discrimination in this thought-provoking soccer movie.


Find after school soccer programs > >

Soccer TV Shows for Kids

The KicksThe Kicks
Ages 6+
This Amazon TV series follows Devin as she adjusts to life in a new state, new school, and new soccer team. This self-proclaimed “Soccer Beast” teen sets out to prove her worth as a player and a leader on her new team.




Inazuma Eleven
Ages 8+
Adapted from a video game, Inazuma Eleven features a group of misfits who join together to form a soccer team. In the process, they learn to work together at the game they all love.




Find after school soccer programs > >

Mindfulness Yoga

Tired of Yelling at Your Kids? Mindfulness Tips for Families

Our kids sure can push our buttons! Here, a mom and mindfulness expert offers a 5-step strategy to break the cycle of scolding and find family peace.

By Laura Quaglio

“Mindfulness isn’t really for times when everyone’s happy. It’s a tool for dealing with breakdown,” says Michelle Wing, founder of the San Francisco studio It’s Yoga, Kids, located in the Presidio. “It allows us to push the pause button.” When something stressful happens, Michelle offers these steps: Stop! Breathe. Think. Choose love. Act.

Maybe your child just whacked her little brother because he had her toy. Or perhaps the kids are wrangling over the last cookie or control of the remote. When you feel that tension building up in your body, put Michelle’s steps into practice using the guidelines below. This process is just as useful kids as it is for adults, so teach it to your children, too!

1. Stop!

Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Pay attention to how stress is affecting you physically. Is it making your shoulders hunch and tighten? Your brow furrow? Your heart “squeeze”? Awareness is the first step in dealing with a tough situation in a mindful way, rather than falling victim to responding with a knee-jerk reaction.

2. Breathe.

Take deep breaths, focusing on exhaling forcefully. “I mean really, really big, exaggerated breaths. It takes three breaths — a full 15 minutes – for cortisol [a stress hormone] to settle down in the body,” says Michelle. Fun fact: This is why the British make tea when they’re facing a tense situation, says Michelle. Preparing tea “properly” takes 15 minutes, she explains, which gives everyone time to calm down.

3. Think.

“Accept the current situation without judgment,” says Michelle. It’s like being a reporter. You might say, “You hit your little brother because he had your toy and you feel angry.” If you did yell, you might add, “And I yelled at you, and that didn’t feel good, did it?” We need to state the facts about what just happened so we don’t let our brains trick us into thinking that “didn’t just happen,” she says. “We want to tell ourselves, ‘Oh, she didn’t really hit her brother on purpose.’ But she did, and now we have to deal with it and figure out why.”

4. Choose love.

Michelle says that this is not the time to admonish. “Every outburst and every stressful moment is deeply rooted in fear,” she asserts. “If you choose love, it will make your next actions more beneficial.” When our kids do something “wrong,” we often know why. More likely than not, it’s because one child feels like they’re not getting enough attention. Or they’re competing for resources like food or a toy. Think about the times that we, as adults, do something that’s not particularly nice, such as when we snap at our spouse. It’s not because we’re bad people, and neither are our kids. We’re just not getting something that we need, and it’s making us scared and upset.

5. Act.

Keeping step 4 in mind, decide what to do next. If a child did something wrong, reinforce the rule. We don’t hit. Hitting is not okay. Then ask: What is it you need? Or: Do you need a hug? Remind your child that if they need a hug or they want their toy back, they can just ask for it. Also try to handle future situations differently. Maybe you will tell your older child that you’ll always be sure to hug her before you pick up the baby. Or maybe you will ask your older child to help you give the baby a big hug. The more loved a child feels, the more secure they will be and the less they will act out in the future.

What if you’re the one who needs a little forgiving? Treat yourself with love, too, and try to figure out what it is that your inner, fearful child needs. Then ask for it. The more you feel loved, the happier you will be too.

Find “Mindful” Activities for Your Kids

Yoga classes offer plenty of additional benefits to mind, body, and soul. To find local after school yoga instruction for your children, visit ActivityHero.

Find kids’ yoga classes near you >>

It's Yoga, Kids
photo credit – ActivityHero provider: It’s Yoga, Kids

Martial Arts

Why Kids Who Hate Sports Will Love Martial Arts

Just because your child doesn’t love sports doesn’t mean they’re not an athlete. See why they might love martial arts, plus 3 questions to ask when choosing.

By Rachel Stamper

girl learning martial arts

Great news: Your kids don’t have to be “natural” athletes to excel in martial arts. In fact, this type of organized physical activity offers all of the perks of team sports (and a few extra benefits, too, such as self-defense skills) — without the aspects that tend to stress some kids. We asked one ActivityHero provider to share her observations on why this is true … and what kids can gain from trying a class in karate, taekwondo, or another type of martial art. Here’s what we learned …

Sports can boost your child’s self-esteem, improve coordination, enhance fitness, and encourage lifelong healthy habits. If you’re like many parents, though, you may have found that your kid didn’t dig the team sports vibe. One team member of ActivityHero from San Jose, California, says her daughter, Anushka S., thought that team sports were cool … until she was actually playing them.

“When she would go to soccer games, all she was interested in was sitting by the side and playing with the grass,” says her mother, Shilpa D. “She was happier to be subbed out so she could socialize with her friends.” Since trying martial arts, though, Anushka has found an activity that challenges her in a way that she thoroughly enjoys. “She likes that it is not competitive with others,” says Shilpa. “But at the same time she has her own milestones to achieve. She loves moving on to the next belt-level. She is very persistent about achieving her goal.”

Maybe your child, like Anushka, isn’t the competitive type. Or perhaps your kid played sports as a youngster and lost interest when the age level — and intensity — increased. Or maybe you don’t see team sports as a good fit for your child who has special needs. Whatever the reason, if you are looking for a positive alternative to team play, you might want to do as Shilpa and Anushka did and consider adding martial arts to your child’s after school activities.

I recently spoke with Meggie Presti, owner and primary instructor of Core Taekwondo in San Mateo, California, to get her thoughts on martial arts as a healthy alternative to team sports. “I have all types of kids in my classes that benefit in their own way,” says Presti. “I have kids that have ADHD or dyslexia, kids that just march to a different drummer, and kids that tend to get lost in the shuffle. I also have students that are simply more into academics or prefer video games to outdoor games.”

Here, Presti shares some of the perks of martial arts training for all types of kids, along with some tips to help you choose a martial arts school for your child.

Shop for kids’ martial arts classes near you > >

Shop for online kids’ martial arts classes >

What is the biggest difference between martial arts and team sports?

PRESTI: Team sports force everyone to do the same activity at the same time. The big difference with martial arts is that everything is individualized and self-paced. Children have instructional time in class, but then it’s up to them to develop learning habits to address areas where they need more practice.

For example, if I’m struggling with a front snap kick, that’s on me. I can ask for help, turn to other students, or ask the instructor. And at tournaments and belt tests, you’re scored for your performance and success is on you. This teaches accountability and encourages and rewards individual effort.

How does martial arts training compare with team sports in terms of inclusion and competitiveness?

PRESTI: Team sports for younger kids are more inclusive, with everyone getting equal time, but as kids get older, those less confident or less skilled may be benched. But with martial arts, your child will never be excluded.

There is also a different sense of competitiveness. On a team, if you can’t hit the ball, you let the team down — that’s a lot of pressure. But with martial arts, you are challenged at your own ability level. You progress on individual merit and it’s a powerful experience because it was all on you. Your child can say, “I did this.”

Are martial arts best for a certain “type” of child?

PRESTI: No. I work with all types of kids. We instruct kids who struggle with weight or self-esteem. Kids that are smaller than their classmates, that struggle academically or socially, or that would rather be at home behind their computer. All kids can enjoy martial arts. It’s different from other sports they’ve seen or tried. Kids that stick with martial arts are those that need success outside of a group setting. No matter what age your child is now, they can develop athleticism, confidence, and a love of physical activity. And martial arts can benefit kids with a wide array of special needs, as long as it’s developmental appropriate.

What are the benefits of martial arts beyond fitness?

PRESTI: Not only is martial arts athletic, but it builds amazing coordination. Martial arts wires your brain differently: Studies have shown martial arts helps in math, logical progressive reasoning, and standardized test performance. Studies show a correlation between physical fitness and test performance. And other studies specifically show martial arts students score better on memory and other cognitive functions. Martial arts involves moving your arms and legs in different directions, which builds cross-coordination. And it’s helpful for kids with weight issues, since an hour of martial arts burns close to 700 calories.

kids kneeling in martial arts classHow do martial arts impact socialization?

PRESTI: We live in a team sports society where teammates are also friends. But if you’re not on a team, you don’t have that opportunity to socialize. Many martial arts schools are a community. At Core TKD, we have a Halloween carnival, parents’ night out, ice skating, and all sorts of non-martial-arts activities outside of class. We also offer camps in summer and during school breaks. Plus, while the kids are in class, parents get to know each other and become resources for each other. Even though kids compete individually, there is a definite sense of camaraderie and community that helps improve socialization skills.

How do martial arts increase self-confidence?

PRESTI: In martial arts, there’s a notion of ‘this is my success.’ We pay attention to and build up each child. A lot of kids come in with low confidence. They may be picked last in PE class so they don’t want to do physical activities. I’ve noticed over years of teaching martial arts that every child does something well — whether it’s doing a certain kick, doing push-ups, or putting in extra effort. We notice areas where they excel from the start. A good instructor will make each child feel special. We train as a group, but we see each child as an individual. Low-confidence kids that may hide in the back in other sports can’t do this in martial arts — and they don’t want to.

Can you share a recent success story?

PRESTI: Yes. I have a female student now who is on track to complete her black belt this Spring. She is from a family of 12 people that live in a cramped three-bedroom apartment so she doesn’t get a lot of ‘me’ time or space. She has two special needs siblings and is the glue that holds her family together. Her dad enrolled her here because he wanted her to have something that was all hers. On her first day, she said, “I can’t do this,” but her dad told her to try. Now, she’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve had. After two-and-a-half years, she’s completing her black belt — and other kids have told me they want to be like her.

Do martial arts also appeal to kids who do like team sports and are natural athletes?

PRESTI: One of my most determined students is a girl that competes in cross-country and track at school and decided to try martial arts. She’s on my elite team that competes at a high level. She is on our demo team, is at the top of the class, and usually wins awards, but sparring was one area where she was lacking. I encouraged her to recognize this challenge and meet it. She dedicated herself to mastering this weaker skill and is now in the master sparring class. She admits she still doesn’t love sparring, but she appreciates the challenge in an area where she struggles.

Shop for kids’ martial arts classes near you > >

Shop for online kids’ martial arts classes >


What’s the best way to choose a martial arts studio?

PRESTI: Not every instructor is the right fit for every child. Your child needs to make a connection with their instructor — this is important to keep kids motivated to keep going. When choosing a martial arts program for your child, I encourage shopping two or three schools and asking three important questions:

  1. What do you do if a child misbehaves? Some programs will do push-ups or time outs. At our school, we rely on our culture to prevent misbehaving. Make sure you are comfortable with the school’s disciplinary model and that you will be allowed to observe classes.
  2. How long does the contract last? Some programs ask for a commitment of six months or a year, but others may ask for up to five years. Avoid a contract that locks you in too long. If your child wants to quit, you may be asked to keep paying until the contract runs out.
  3. Who will be teaching my child? Some studios take anyone with a black belt as an instructor. And large programs with hundreds of students may offer no consistency in instruction. You want a studio where your child has the same instructor at every class.

The bottom line is that if a program doesn’t feel right, don’t sign up: You want to make it a good experience for your child. Do your homework first and look for a program you both feel good about. Try a free lesson or a month-long trial before you sign a contract so you can evaluate the programs thoroughly.

Check out Meggie Presti’s Core TKD on ActivityHero and see class and camp offerings as well as after-school programs. Or, if you live in a different geographical area, visit ActivityHero to find martial arts programs near you. Martial arts may be just the thing to get your sedentary or sports-hating kid off the sofa and into the dojo!


VR Chomitz, MM Slining, et al, “Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States,” Journal of School Health, 79 (1) (Jan 2009): 30–37.

Alesi Marianha, Antonino Bianco, et al, “Motor and cognitive development: the role of karate,” Muscle, Ligaments, and Tendons Journal, 4 (2) (Apr 2014): 114–120.

Martial Arts

How Martial Arts Training Breaks the Cycle of Bullying

Parents expect that learning self-defense techniques will keep their kids safe from bullying. But that’s only one of the benefits of martial arts.

By Laura Quaglio

Martial Arts Helps Kids Build Confidence
Learning self-defense techniques in martial arts class can certainly help kids feel stronger and more confident, while providing them with the skills to protect themselves if need be. But this type of after school activity can also help kids who are not typically the targets of bullying. First, martial arts training often includes life-changing skills that can help the bullies themselves transform into “good citizens.” And it can help kids who may be bystanders (observing others being bullied) by teaching them how to react when they see someone else being targeted.

Here’s how two ActivityHero providers say today’s martial arts programs are tackling the topic of bullying — and why all kids can benefit from this type of after school activity.

Parents who feel their kids are “bully-magnets” have long sought the martial arts to help their children gain the skills and self-confidence they need to stand up for themselves. And with good reason. “Whether on the bus, in the playground, or at school, bullies pick on kids that look like easy targets,” says Victoria “Tori” Navarrete, an instructor and co-owner of Navarrete’s Black Belt Academy in San Francisco, California. Tori and her husband, Master Fernando Navarrete, have more than 30 years of experience in martial arts, are members of the American Taekwondo Association, and are certified in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. “We believe that teaching kids the skills needed to defend themselves both physically and verbally will make them a less likely target, and help them act when they see bullying going on.”

Bill Soto (“Mr. Soto” to his students) — who has been owner and chief instructor at Soto’s Martial Arts in Appleton, Wisconsin, for more than 28 years – agrees. Further, he asserts that kids are often first taught one of the least effective strategies for preventing bullying: avoidance. “In my experience, trying to avoid a bully doesn’t solve anything,” says this fifth-degree black belt in American Martial Arts. In bullying situations at school, he explains, the kids are showing up at the same place as the bully every day. “So the bully usually continues to track them down,” he says. To help combat this very real problem in a more effective way, Bill’s school hosts free bully-prevention seminars for both his students and the local community. “Some martial arts schools focus on what to do during a fight,” he says. “But we need to talk about what kids can do beforehand to prevent the fight.”

Here, some details on how these ActivityHero providers are enabling kids to stop bullying in its tracks.

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They’re Building Physical Strength

Training in martial arts typically involves a variety of exercise, including cardio and strength-training. Students also build endurance by participating in class. Perhaps just as important, though, martial arts students learn how to carry themselves in a way that discourages bullying. “The bully will prey on the child that seems to be walking with their head down, shoulders slumped,” says Mr. Soto. “Putting a child in a martial arts program where they can be constantly encouraged and in a place where they can achieve success – this can help them hold their head high outside the martial arts program,” says Mr. Soto.

The Navarretes agree: In fact, they begin by teaching students to make strong eye contact and walk “tall and strong” before they progress to showing kids how to respond to verbal, then physical attacks. “Taekwondo teaches you to be strong in your body and your mind, and this gives students a certain air of confidence that is evident to those who would mean them harm,” says Tori.

They’re Learning How to Be Good Citizens

“In our school, you are expected to treat others with kindness and respect, help those in need, and do the right thing, no matter what,” says Tori. She’s proud to report that one of their students recently stepped through a circle of kids to put her arm around a boy with physical disabilities who was being bullied. “She told them that he was her friend and not to pick on him, and then led him away,” says Tori. “He told her this was the first time that anyone stood up for him. We could not be more proud.”

Mr. Soto refers to this type of intervention as being an “upstander” instead of a “bystander.” “The problem with a being a bystander is that you’re standing by, doing nothing,” he explains. Instead, kids need to know how to recognize bullying and report it to an adult. But telling kids is not enough, he says. That’s why, during bully-prevention workshops, Bill has two kids role-play a verbal bullying situation, then instructs another child to stand up and tell the bully to stop. Then he has another do the same. And another. “Saying those words can be harder than throwing a punch or a kick,” he says. “Kids have to role play this over and over so they will be able do it when necessary. Knowing what to do isn’t enough: It’s not in the knowing, it’s in the doing.”

They’re Learning to Be Good Leaders


“The biggest misconception is that martial arts training will make students more aggressive and more likely to engage in physical fights,” says Tori. “While it may seem counter-intuitive, the opposite has been true in our experience.” In fact, Tori says that counselors have referred many “physically aggressive” kids to their school to help the kids channel their energy in a positive way. What’s more, martial arts instructors pride themselves on showing former bullies how to become a positive role model and leader. “We actually have several black belts who were once bullies who now help teach the younger kids,” says Tori.

In fact, a big focus of the curriculum at Soto’s Martial Arts is on “leadership life skills.” “Whether it’s discipline, confidence, courage, focus … those are skills that kids can use every day,” says Bill. “Sometimes people ask me if martial arts is a seasonal sport. I say, ‘Is confidence seasonal? Is attitude?’ Kids are not going to use their self-defense moves every day, but the leadership skills, they will.”

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Start Bully-Proofing Your Kids Today!

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The Participation Trophy Debate

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the emergence of a modern trend that emphasizes positive reinforcement in sports. The result? Kids in many activities have begun bringing home awards, trophies and ribbons simply for participating in an activity or on a team. Is rewarding a child for simply showing up sending the wrong message — or is it a team-building and esteem-building tool?

By Jillian Chamberlain

The great Participation Trophy Debate received renewed attention last month when James Harrison, a professional NFL player for the Pittsburg Steelers, posted a photo on his Instagram account stating that he was going to have his two sons return the participation trophies that they had received. Harrison had the following to say in his Instagram comment:

The post garnered scorn from trophy supporters, who argue that participation trophies remind young kids that they are part of something, and they may help build enthusiasm so the kids will return for another season. The trophies, some feel, are along the lines of the team T-shirt and car magnet — a pleasant reminder (especially during the off-season) of time well-spent.

Others argue that there are different ways of accomplishing camaraderie, while still awarding only excellence or unique achievements like, say, most improved player. Team pizza parties and post-game gatherings can be held to honor the team for their collective accomplishment. Such gatherings remind kids that their effort is valued, regardless of ability or results.

Rewarding children for for their participation and effort certainly is important — just think how you’d feel if your boss didn’t care whether or not you showed up to work or, worse, how hard you tried to do well at your job. But should everyone get an actual trophy? Or should certain awards be reserved only for those who are exceptional? Or are physical trophies and awards not necessary (or desirable) at all?

To be sure, many coaches, instructors and teachers have strong opinions on the subject. And many parents take matters into their own hands, as Harrison did, if they disagree.

One thing, though, that almost everyone can agree on — kids deserve to stretch their legs and their minds, to enjoy more friend-time and less screen-time, and to find a fun activity or two to rejuvenate them. Help your child find a class or activity that they are passionate about: Check out the thousands of activity listings that we have in your area!  If you like, you can give yourself a gold star for checking us out — or not. It’s really up to you!


10 Tips to Ease Your Child’s Fear of Swimming

Does your child dislike swimming? Changing your mindset can prep your child to take the plunge with confidence. Here, 10 tips to help them learn to love the pool.

By Reesa Lewandowski

Having a child who has a fear of swimming can lead to some pretty tense times for your family — especially if the rest of you love to spend time at the pool. So what is the best way to start teaching your child to swim? First, try to work on getting your child comfortable in the water, and do so as early as possible. The older your child gets, the harder it may be to ease their fears. There’s no time like the present: In fall and wintertime, indoor pools offer the perfect place for you to introduce kids to swimming, get some aquatic exercise, and cure the cabin fever that can be all too common in colder climates!

Sometimes it’s a challenge to think like a child, but that can be just the ticket to easing your kid’s fear of swimming. Here are 10 great tips to help you get your child comfortable in the water:

1. Focus on the future.

While you may want your child to be comfortable in the water as soon as possible, resist the urge to push them to do too much too soon. Remember, they have a lifetime of swimming fun ahead of them; there’s no reason to stress over learning a lifelong skill in one day.

2. Follow your child’s lead.

If your child is comfortable in the shallow end, stay there.

3. Put the emphasis on fun.

Bring water toys and buckets for them to splash and play with. Let them see that the water can be a place to enjoy.

4. Let them sit on the edge.

Kids (and adults) love to dangle their feet in the water! Think of this as a time to cool your toes, and don’t worry so much about what comes next.

5. Stay on the steps for a while.

Imagine how big and scary a pool can look to a child! Pools with steps in the shallow end give kids a great place to sit until they are ready to go deeper at their own pace.

6. Say yes to splashing.

As a parents, we often discourage splashing, but it is a great learning tool to help your child to get comfortable in the water. Splashing helps them learn the feel of the water and how their limbs work in the pool.

7. Help them feel safe.

Once your child manages to get into the water holding on to you, be sure to hold on to their trust. Let them decide when they’re ready to do more or have you walk in a little bit deeper.

8. Show them the peaceful side of swimming.

One way to help kids see the pool as a soothing (not scary) place: Show them that they can float on top of the water! Buoyancy can be a hard concept for kids to understand. A great way to get them comfortable with floating: Stand in the water and hold your arms out straight in front of you, just below the surface, then have your child lay on his back with his head resting on one of your arms and his lower back, legs, or feet resting on the other.

9. Get a little silly.

One of the first things a child is taught in swim class is how to blow bubbles in the water. This is a good trick to keep the water out of your child’s nose when she dips her face into the water. And your kids will think it’s hilarious to watch you demonstrate! Turn it into a game: See who can blow bubbles the longest. Or pretend to be a motor boat.

10. Know when to towel off.

Once your child shows disinterest in the situation, allow her to take a break. This may be a good time to have a snack, take a nap, or or play a game out of the water. Keep each experience around the water positive and happy, and your child will likely come to love the water as much as you do!

Another great way to get a child swimming is to sign them up for a swim class or swim camp. Swim teachers and summer camp counselors often have a lot of experience easing kids’ fears of swimming. With time, the pool can be a place your child loves!


Will Your Kid “Love” Tennis?

According to the United States Tennis Association, tennis offers plenty of perks for kids and teens, including making new friends, learning teamwork and sportsmanship, building discipline, enhancing coordination and flexibility, and increasing bone strength. Those are strong incentives for parents to sign up their kids for tennis camp—but will they actually enjoy it? And how can you tell which tennis camp is the best fit?

To find out, I interviewed the dynamic duo Danielle and Brittany (commonly referred to as The Beauty and The Beast around their high school tennis court) and Colleen (another accomplished tennis camper and instructor), who spent a collective 14 years in tennis camp during their teenage years. Here are their best insights for tennis players of all levels. I hope this helps you find the perfect place for your kid!

tennis-campD.H. and B.K at Tennis Camp in 2006, Morrisville, PA

Why attend tennis camp?

For Brittany, tennis camp was a great way to spend time with friends while training for her upcoming high school tennis season. “Kids should expect to play a lot of tennis and get into good shape since there will probably be a lot of conditioning as well,” says Colleen. Tennis camp also teaches kids a skill set that will be with them forever, says Danielle. “Campers should expect to learn correct form and the rules of the game, while also learning how to work with and communicate with a variety of people.” Colleen still treasures the new friendships she built with many of the players. “It was a fun environment where I could hang out with people my age,” she says.

How can you choose a camp that meets your goals?

“I think it’s important to understand what you want to get out of the camp,” says Danielle. “If it’s for summer activity instead of for training, the instructor should be fun and patient.” Her advice: If your child doesn’t know how to play and needs to learn the basics, you’ll want a camp that is more low-key. “If you are there for training—to really improve your skills—you should be looking for a camp with more structure,” says Danielle. Some questions to ask the camp director: What are the skills that are being taught each day/week? Are there different levels? How quickly can a player move between the levels? How will the players’ skills be tested throughout the camp?

What should you look for in an instructor?

“Instructors should be knowledgeable, in shape, uplifting, and fun!” says Brittany. “They will also strongly value the instructor-player relationship.” Colleen’s thoughts: “I would recommend looking for an instructor who has experience running a tennis camp and also encourages you to participate in other activities outside of tennis.”


What do kids like most (and least) about tennis camp?

“My camp included fun and exciting activities outside of the game itself, like pie-eating contests and races, which helped bond the tennis pros and the tennis players/campers,” says Brittany. Her least-favorite part? Running a type of sprinting drill called suicides. “During the summer, I was more interested in having fun than being at any kind of tennis boot camp,” she says.

Danielle says that her camps were organized by skill level. “The age range of each group could be very wide, especially when I first started attending,” she says. “As the years went on, that changed, though, and the groups became competitive and I became less age-conscious.”

How can tennis camp help kids in the long run?

Danielle’s love of tennis grew, along with her skill set–thanks, in part, to her summer training. “I made it on my high school’s varsity team during my sophomore, junior, and senior year. I was also a hand-selected tournament player throughout high school, and I played on the club team while in college,” she says. Brittany also played tennis throughout high school, and Colleen even taught tennis for four summers!

Any tips for kids starting tennis camp?

I would say just go into it with an open mind and have fun,” says Colleen. “Don’t take it too seriously or it could become a chore.” On the other hand, says Brittany, do remember that tennis camp involves a good workout. “Be prepared with lots of water and sweat towels, which will definitely come in handy on a hot summer day,” she suggests. Also remember to pack snacks, sunscreen, and other summer essentials each day. Most of all, enjoy yourself, says Danielle. “Get ready to have some fun being active and meeting new people!”

If you are looking to enroll your child in tennis camp or tennis lessons check out some of the facilities in your area!

Soccer Sports

Kidz Love Soccer: A Non-Competitive Approach

Discover a kids soccer program with a different philosophy. Kidz Love Soccer focuses on teaching the fundamentals with fun, not competition!

kidz_love_soccerThere’s a good chance that Kidz Love Soccer is offering camps and classes near you – they now have programs in more than 160 communities in California, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

And they’re worth looking for — they have a completely different approach from typical league-based soccer programs! Kidz Love Soccer focuses on teaching the fundamentals of soccer in a way that improves skills, instills confidence, and teaches sportsmanship and respect for others.

Kidz Love Soccer has developmentally friendly programs ranging from parent-child classes starting at age 2 … right up to weekly classes for 10- to 12-year-olds that maintain the thrill of match play without the intense competition and time commitment required in competitive leagues. In between are Tot-Soccer, Pre-Soccer, and Soccer classes for younger grade-schoolers. All abilities are welcome, and kids are nurtured, built up, and developed as athletes — all within a positive framework.

The fun of soccer without the drama of a league. Look for locations near you!

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