After-school sports activities offer kids a way to put their budding talents to use, imparting valuable skills that can last a lifetime even if they don’t make it to the pros. While traditional activities like baseball, soccer and dance are a good fit for many, other young athletes are looking beyond the traditional sports for something to pour their energy and passion into. The popularity of alternative sports is on the rise and, as a result, a plethora of options have become available in the Oklahoma City area. Here are extreme sports that might intrigue your blossoming thrill-seeker.
While many have witnessed the graceful power on display as acrobats twist and spiral on draped fabric suspended high above the ground, few have likely experienced the excitement of aerial silks themselves. If your son or daughter is always the first to the top of the jungle gym or constantly scaling the limits of the playground, learning aerial silks might be an exciting opportunity. Metro Gymnastics in Oklahoma City offers kids ages 10 and up the chance to learn this high-flying acrobatic art form. Certified instructors teach climbs, wraps, descents and drops as kids build strength, flexibility, self-confidence and body awareness, said Carol Lee, owner of Metro Gymnastics.
“Silks are very individualized. When a child accomplishes a skill, they do it all by themselves,” Lee explained. “It is hard but as a child achieves their goals and progresses in the class, it is very rewarding and fun.”
Aerial silks require a lot of upper body strength, cautioned Lee, which is why they have set the minimum age requirement of 10 years old.
Like all sports, safety should be a primary concern and the same holds true of aerial silks. Despite the inherent risks involved in any aerial sport, there are important safety precautions that can be put in place to reduce the risk of injury. Beginners learn the basics down near the ground and work their way up as they increase strength and mastery of the daring feats.
“Since silks are an individual sport, instructors can guide the height so that each child can learn safely and within their abilities,” Lee said. “We also use six-inch mats below the silks.”
Not much is needed to get started in aerial silks beyond the child’s desire to be adventurous. All they really need is snug, form-fitting clothing and to enroll in a class. Metro Gymnastics offers classes year-round to boys and girls ages 10 to 16.
A bike is most kids’ first taste of freedom. Once they conquer those training wheels, they can feel the wind whip through their hair as they cruise the neighborhood as fast as their legs can pedal. For bike riders looking to raise the stakes, BMX racing just might be the ticket. Gaining popularity since the 1970s, BMX Cycling is now an Olympic sport. BMX racing is a bit more than your average race around the cul-de-sac. Eight riders at a time hustle at full speed around a dirt track lined with big jumps, deep turns and steep hills at serious speeds.
“It’s a 30 to 45-second full-speed sprint over obstacles,” said Jason Willey, president of Yukon BMX Raceway. “If you have a high-energy, active child, BMX is your ticket for them to rest easy at night.”
BMX racing offers many levels of competition, from beginners all the way up to the national and world stage. The Yukon Raceway even has a balance bike race for kids under 5.
“We offer multiple levels of competiveness and kids are matched at their level of experience,” Willey explained.
Kids will need some safety gear to get started including a full-face Motocross helmet, knee pads, gloves, long sleeves, closed-toed shoes and an official BMX bike.
Weighing a child’s commitment to a sport against the potential financial cost is a factor to starting any sport. Kids can test the water with a first-time rider, one-day membership at no cost. After that, families can modify the investment based on the child’s interest and abilities.
“Riders will need to buy a one-year membership from USA BMX for $60,” Willey said. “Practices are $5 and races are $10.”
The racing season starts Jan. 1 and continues until mid-December. While there aren’t official coaches at the Yukon Raceway, volunteers and track operators engage with young riders during practice times offered from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We will help grow your child in the sport,” Willey said. “We have traveling clinics and regular practice times.”
Making its Olympic debut in the 2020 Summer Games, skateboarding is considered by many to be more than just a sport.
“Skateboarding is a lifestyle,” said Kyle Upton, administrator of the Facebook group Oklahoma Skateboarding Kids. “It is about facing your fears and overcoming obstacles as you pull from within yourself.”
As Upton’s 7-year-old son, Kash, began to show significant interest in skateboarding, Upton also began to see the limitations for young kids in the sport, which is one of the reasons he started the Facebook group.
“Skateboarding is more common for teens,” Upton said. “However if you start young, younger kids tend to learn quickly.”
He also discovered a lack of local resources for younger skateboarders. The lack of readily-available resources means parents will have to help fill many of the safety and preparations responsibilities.
“You might have to look online to find equipment in youth sizes,” recommended Upton. “Kids can get hurt so it’s very important to learn how to fall the right way and to invest in good quality protective gear that is better cushioned for impacts. The right kind of equipment is important. Find a board that fits your child so that they can be successful and progress quicker. Skate Excess makes kids’ skateboards. The decks are made of bamboo, which is lighter.”
As a result of skateboarding’s culture of community, development in the sport can be contingent on forming connections with other skateboarders. Local skate shops are great resources for connection to skateboarding events as well as lessons, equipment for older kids and more. Upton also recommends frequenting local skate parks.
“When you start going to a skate park, you are going to build relationships and learn more,” he said. “Local competitions as well in surrounding states are also a good way to plug into the sport. Beginner brackets are a fun way to experience other kids their age.”
However, there are a few important things to learn before you and your child step onto a board. Upton said it’s important to teach young skateboarders to fall to their knees and not put their hands down to reduce risk of injury. Start that skill on flat ground before progressing to ramps.
“You also need to learn skateboard etiquette,” Upton added. “The park is there for everyone so if everyone is following the same procedure then there is less chance for injury.”
Whether done inside or outdoors, climbing is an adventurous form of physical activity. There are a variety of climbing types including bouldering, top-roping, auto-belays and a more advanced form of climbing called lead climbing. Also a new Olympic sport in the 2020 games, climbing is as much a mental workout as it is physical said Aaron Gibson, owner of Climb UP, a local climbing facility with locations in Norman and Oklahoma City.
“Kids can not only benefit from the physical fitness benefits that climbing provides (like) balance, strength, coordination and flexibility, but it also encourages participants to learn problem-solving skills, overcoming fear and challenges and boosts self-confidence,” Gibson said.
With the growing popularity of indoor climbing gyms, climbing has become much more accessible in the past few years. Climb UP offers many programs throughout the year for kids as young as 3.
“We want to encourage all ages and abilities to try climbing,” Gibson said. “Climbing is a unique sport in that it can be done for a lifetime. It can also take you climbing all over the world.”
Though not a team sport, group climbing is popular. As part of your child’s development, climbing can become something the whole family does together. Some families even incorporate climbing into family vacations.
Because climbing involves heights which create an inherent risk, it is important to know the qualifications and experience level of your potential instructor, Gibson cautioned.
“There are several reputable climbing organizations, like the American Mountain Guide Association and the Climbing Wall Association that provide education and certifications for instructors,” Gibson said. “Our staff and instructors are trained to help parents and kids identify the risks and understand ways to minimize their risks when participating. We also require all visitors to complete an orientation class.”
While river sports are not new, they are new to many Oklahomans. In 2006, the Chesapeake Boathouse opened a whole new world of sports for many in the city. Rowing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting are now part of Oklahoma City’s culture, evident by the city’s hosting of the Olympic trials for the 2016 games.
“Lots of kids who haven’t found their niche in ball sports find they really enjoy rowing, kayaking or sailing,” said Elizabeth Laurent, senior director of marketing and sales at the OKC Boathouse Foundation. “These are sports you can do either competitively or just for fun.”
Kids as young as 8 can participate in summer camps and coached programs.
“RIVERSPORT offers rowing, kayaking and sailing lessons for both youth and adults,” Laurent said. “Typically, lessons are taught by age group, but once the basics have been mastered, families can get on the water together and enjoy their new sport.”
While these are usually individual sports, RIVERSPORT has group options and most activities encourage teamwork.
“Kids learn important life lessons about working together to achieve a greater goal, the value of self-discipline and how to focus their energy in positive ways,” Laurent said. “They also have the opportunity to be around high-performance athletes, which can be really inspiring. We’re a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.”
Because safety is a concern, parents will want to find an instructor who is experienced and committed to creating a great experience for your child, Laurent said.
“Anyone participating in our lessons, camps or coached programs receives safety training and appropriate safety gear, it’s all included,” Laurent said.
Whether your kids are ready to take on the challenge of one of these extreme sports or they want to go a more traditional route for after-school activities, our After-School Activities Guide has dozens of ideas throughout the metro.