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My son is 12-years old, and he has never been into traditional competitive sports. I'm fine with this - not all kids are. He played baseball for a short period when he was 8, but he didn't really care to continue. He's into things like comic books, reading, drawing, video games (...Minecraft), and recently, computer programming! Total nerd over here ;)

He isn't overweight, and has always been a skinny child, but recently I noticed he is getting a little chubby around his waist and he actually referred to himself as getting 'man boobs and a muffin top' the other day. I am getting concerned with the onset of puberty and him possibly beginning to gain weight when his body starts to change.

He wanted to learn how to skateboard, so I bought him a very nice skateboard and gear from a local skateshop (not the cheap Walmart kind, but a really nice deck around $200) - it lasted about a week. He's actually pretty good, or doesn't fall at least ;), but I'm struggling to get him out there and riding the thing.

I guess I feel like he doesn't really have any motivation to try something new. Would it be pretty much impossible to try to get him into a sport like baseball or soccer if he were willing? I mean, in his age group, all the other kids will know all of the rules and be pretty good, while he would be a beginner. If that isn't really possible, I would love suggestions on other things that he can do that are physically active, that he might be interested in as a nerdy kid - karate? Fencing? Those are the only 2 things that I can think of. I thought about maybe just getting a gym membership and taking him with me and see if he likes any of the kids' activities there. Boy scouts?

What kinds of things does your sort of nerdy, different kid like to do?

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A few random thoughts, You go you out as a family how often to you cycle or wall rather than take the car? Does he like dogs? –  Ian Mar 28 '14 at 14:44
What does the rest of the family do for exercise? –  Remco Mar 30 at 9:15

9 Answers 9

Speaking as a former teen-aged geek, here's a few things that have worked for (and on me - thanks Mom and Dad! :) )

Organized sports are kinda hit-and-miss for a geek (esp. if it's not their interest). Teen years are rough to start with. And some people don't get "runner's high", so they lose the reinforcement that keeps some of those solo sports going.

What did work for me was "non-exercise" exercise. If he's got a skateboard but isn't interested in the sports angle, what about as means of transportation? He's still outdoors, he's still "exercising", but it serves a practical purpose (which tends to be a thing geeks like). Riding bikes works as well, even walking. And depending on your specifics of geography and neighborhood, that can be as simple as saying "nope, I'm not giving you a ride in the car. You've got wheels, take the 'board".

Chores is another angle - need a quart o'milk? Send him to the store. Sure, it'll take longer for him to walk, but you probably want the exercise more than the groceries anyway. :)

Barring that, just get him out of the house. The classic "go outside and play" gambit still works today. Maybe they won't go play tag, but if they go for a walk that's a win too. Look for opportunities - if he's stuck on a problem, tell him to go for a walk around the neighborhood and think about it!

Most of these tricks still work for me today as a grownup. I have no interest in sports, but I'll walk around town (or hills or whatnot) for hours mulling a problem.

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+1 because as a dyed-in-the-wool geek, I have always been more interested in "practical" kinds of exercise than I have been in dying of boredom doing repetitive exercises in a gym. I liked cross-country skiing as a kid, rowing was somewhat practical, but today the thing I do the most is cycling. For a long time, the way I got around was on a bike. Now, I bike the 25km into work as often as I can. Because I can. :) –  Ernie Apr 3 '14 at 23:24

As a former nerdy kid, I'd say that group sports, with their tendency to be full of cliques and popularity contests, were very hard for me. I've always been more at ease with biking, hiking and cross-country skiing - activities that did not depend so much on skill, that were pretty much individual in nature, and that weren't overly competitive. Many geeks I know are also avid rock climbers, or enjoy geo-caching (a way of incorporating electronics in the great outdoors).

That said, is it possible that he was teased in some way because of his attempt at learning skateboarding? If he mentioned it at school, and was laughed at for "attempting to be cool" or something like that, it might have cooled down his enthusiasm. (I'm not saying this is the case, but this is the sort of things that can happen at that age, especially if you're a nerdy kid. It's worth opening the discussion about it, before assuming he's just bored or lazy.)

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I actually was exactly the same way - always been more into individual activities like rock climbing and running. I like the idea of geo-caching - I think he would love this! I'm definitely going to look into that one. Good point on the possible teasing, too. I hadn't thought of that and frankly his school does have some definite bullies (middle school, 6th/7th/8th) so I wouldn't really be surprised. I will have to ask him about that because his motivation dropped pretty dramatically. :( –  slackgeek Mar 31 '14 at 16:08

As your goal is physical activity and he seems averse to sport, perhaps you should consider non-sport things that you could do together. Doing things as a family activity takes away the competitive element and also the need to excel or get better at something. Go camping or fishing. Go hiking. Go to nerdy conventions and scour the exhibit hall (miles of walking). Work on the car together. Build something together. Bowl. Row. Get an active dog. Play in a swimming pool. Variety may be your friend here. Are there activities you enjoy that you could share with him?

Also, note that many children do put on extra weight ahead of puberty because their bodies need a lot of fuel for the growth spurt ahead.

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This is a very good point. We are very busy (full-time jobs and we also have an 11-month old daughter). We decided this past weekend that we are going to start taking walks on Mondays/Tuesdays/Wednesdays to start. He does do a bowling lesson every Wednesday with one of his friends and he really enjoys it. I actually am considering joining a gym and seeing if he will enjoy coming with. My biggest concern is that I feel he is developing low self-esteem because of starting to get chubby. I did not know about the weight gain prior to puberty; thanks! –  slackgeek Mar 31 '14 at 16:14

Even if he's a beginner, you should be able to find him a way to ramp up his skills and learn the sport. Maybe check with your local gym to see if there's a coach that can get him started on the basics before the upcoming season.

Also, this isn't a DIRECT answer to your question, but giving his proclivities it popped in my head: what if you game-ify his physical activity? Since he's a gamer and budding nerd (nerds FTW!), find ways for him to earn achievements and awards for doing physical activity. Skateboarded for 20 min? You just earned the "Skate N00b" award. Add another 20 min onto that and you can get the "No wipeouts" award. Tie an award to certain levels that will keep him motivated, and find a place in the house to post his current achievements in different areas.

Definitely do get him involved in this process. Have him come up with award levels, achievement titles, and suggestions for prizes after attaining a level.

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+1 for gamification! Ingress (www.ingress.com) is an excellent example: a mobile Android game that requires you to go to locations in order to claim them. A bit like geocaching for the 21st century –  Rory Alsop Mar 27 '14 at 19:25

The most important thing in doing sport is having fun continuously. When I was young I tried lots of kinds of sports and i had never found the absolutely right one. Then I started exercising in gym and it was fun and I've had a huge motivation for it and I've been doing it for years now. Just let him try out different activities and do never force him. This makes things worse. He will need some time to find his prefered kind of sport.

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If you are noticing those changes in his chest, first you should check out for something called 'gynecomastia' and make sure that it is NOT that. That's to rule out something which is very necessary.

Now the 'activeness' problem. Well, if a kid does not like any sport, they won't play it for sure. If you force, it'll make no sense. Also, remember that not all kids who play outdoors are physically fit and on the other hand not all who don't like sports are dull and unhealthy. Not all who play games are slim and trim and not all who sit in house are bulky! It depends on many other factors.

To me, if a kid is active in doing work (though household) is fine. Don't force the kid for any sport. If he likes, he'll surely go for it. Kids are highly influenced by surrounding and if his friends are playing and getting a lot of fun, maybe, one day, he'll also join the sport.

Liking sport is something that comes by birth and it cannot be developed. You are doing good by making the kid understand about the sports and buying him some stuff to try on. Educate him about the importance of outdoor games and probably get him into it.

Another thing is if nothing works, at least you start acting. Take him for a jog. This is beneficial for both of you. If not jogging, try something else but involve yourself. Some kids tend to participate in action if their parents are involved -again, this is a try.

A 12-year-old kid is not a small kid and he must have seen almost all games. He still hasn't shown any interest in any game which means he's actually not interested. At school or at home, he'll see people playing some game and it comes from within to try the sport. If he likes it, you don't need to motivate him - he'll go for it.

Again, try to involve yourself (or some family member) for jogging, brisk walking or the like. Don't force for any sport if he does not like it. Many friends of mine have never tried any sport still they are fit and fine. You need not worry until he's active enough in his routine work. About preventing his obesity, it's an all different issue!

All the best.

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There are lots of great answers here about alternative activities and I agree that those should be explored. Just to provide a different perspective, I'm definitely a nerd and I love team sports, mostly because I get great exercise without thinking about all the running I'm doing :) I can also geek out on basketball because I know it from all the angles and feed my inner math nerd with advanced stats.

Team sports are still an option if he's willing, but it will require a little leg work on your part to find a team/coach where beginners are welcome. I've coached a few "everyone plays" teams for the Y and other rec centers. I had a 17-18 team with talent ranging from a future junior college player down to the kid who was terrified someone might pass to him.

My experience is that it's very disheartening at first to be the worst player on a team. It's usually so bad that first week that you want to quit and never play again. But if you can stick with it (I've heard a lot about grit lately), then it's very rewarding to transition from zero to hero. On a team where you have to work harder to keep up, the transformation can be amazing. I'd love for all my kids to have that experience, if only to teach the self-confidence that one needs when they're dropped in an overwhelming situation.

Finding a coach and team where that can happen can be difficult. I think interviewing prospective coaches is quite reasonable for a parent. You also want to include your son in the conversation, the coach may wish him to commit to extra work, which might be more than he wants to sign up for. Also keep in mind that many coaches are already sacrificing their time to coach the team and may not be willing or able to do more for your child - better to know that up front.

I'm against forcing kids into sports, but I also find that some are afraid to try without knowing why. On my less competitive teams, I actively try to find the players that are withdrawn and see if I can get them engaged. I'll freely admit that a few of my players didn't have fun playing for me and I'm not sure what else I could have done. But when it works, it's pretty amazing to see a kid open up and take pride in their skills.

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My Grandson is afraid to try out at school, because he is afraid of not getting picked. So we signed him up for basketball, where everyone gets put on a team. I'm hoping this will give him the confidence to try out at school next year! Plus he ll have more skill by then

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I'm one of the fellow nerds. I was required to play sports. Didn't work for me. Don't like them, never will. But that doesn't mean all physical activity is out...

Sometimes a show can spark the interest he needs to find the activities that speak to him. He likes skateboards? How do you know? Does he watch skate videos? Does he play games like Tony Hawk? Knowing that may help. Personally I have injured myself so many times on skateboards I would never recommend them to anyone, but should his interest be there then more power to him. If he gets really into it I can print a deck with him on it (custom design or some such). My cousin runs an underground skate company and I could easily bargain that.

But I decided to answer because of a show called American Ninja Warrior which has this mind warping effect that just makes you want to try running obstacle courses, climb rocks, parkour which is just insane but it looks fun, etc. Like alternative sports for people who just don't get football.

I used to play a lot of paintball and airsoft. Don't think that's an easy time there. You have to be in shape to not get killed on the battlefield.

And if he's a true nerd... join the SCA and live like Bilbo Baggins in Middle Earth! Thereby paving the way to eternal nerdism, but he will probably have a great time.

I think lastly my thoughts are that the nerds tend to be outside thinkers anyhow. Mainstream tactics are probably going to just fall short. I wouldn't even try to get him into soccer or basketball. I'd bring home a Tippman Army Black one day, toss him in the car, take him to a local game and see how it goes.

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