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?

  • 1
    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
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 14:44
  • 1
    What does the rest of the family do for exercise?
    – Remco
    Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 9:15
  • Try other sports - I did not like the team-like sports, but really fell in love with indoor climbing (which is still very social, but not competitive).... Boy scouts is also great. Commented May 23, 2016 at 2:07
  • Have you got a climbing wall near you?
    – Tim Galvin
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 5:32

14 Answers 14


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
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 23:24
  • Especially walking, yes! But also "hiking" -- in the woods if he's an explorer-type, or up a mountain if he's a goal-oriented type.
    – Jeff Y
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 19:08

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
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:08

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.

  • 1
    +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
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 19:25

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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:14

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.


Get rid of the video games for the summer. That's what I did. He only gets his games between 8 pm and 10 am, after that they are gone. Sign him up for camping where there are no electrical devices allowed.

If he keeps being allowed in video games he will continue sitting in his room, playing them.

Since I did that he got into basketball, and going outside we play tennis together. It's especially fun in the heavy rain on a hot humid day :)

Yeah he will cry that he wants his game system, but oh well. I went and threw it and survived. Invite his friends over and go swimming and play laser tags. Water balloon tag. It works great! Good luck!

  • Tracey, welcome to the site! Please note that other than in many internet forums where we type "full speed agead and grammar be d*ned" the posts here are meant to stay and we are asked to write to the best of our abilities. No, this doesn't mean that you need to be perfect and the occasional typo is fine or will be corrected by the comunity (as the "queen of typos" and non-native speaker, I know this well...), but capital letters and the like greatly increases readability. And if people like to read your post, you get upvotes....
    – Stephie
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 5:13

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.


A lot depends on what's available in your area. Where we live, there is a youth bureau that has sports offerings where fun and good sportsmanship are emphasized, and the volunteer coaches are tuned in to helping each child feel comfortable and make personal growth. Also, our YMCA has little intro sessions where one can get a taste for basketball, soccer, etc. in a four-week session, one hour per week. So it's not a big commitment.

I would try tieing in whatever physical activity you try out, with his natural geekiness, and with the notion of family fun. For example, if you play mini-golf, let him keep score. If you try bowling, have the person at the counter explain to him how to keep score, and let him be the scoring expert. (If he has trouble keeping the ball out of the gutter, don't hesitate to ask the manager to put up the bumpers -- inflatable tubes that keep balls out of the gutters.) If you want to go for small hikes, you could keep a journal of animals you have seen, or take a camera and document all the bodies of water you've seen.

A third option where we live is homeschooler groups, where parents and children play together, for example basketball, soccer, frisbee, etc.

My younger son just turned 12. Something happens to boys around this age. They get a little bit of breast. And they often get a little chubby in preparation for a big growth spurt. Our pediatrician explained this to us.

Now, to finish up, here is a list of some physical activities you can try together. Just go with whatever he finds fun! Badminton, tennis, swimming, canoeing, rowboat, paddleboat, kayak, croquet, volunteer dog walking at a shelter, trash clean-up in a particular area that would be your responsibility together, helping out with invasive species weeding or trail maintenance or blazing, cycling together or in a family cycling club, racquetball (you don't have to know or follow the rules to have fun), going to a park and just kicking a ball hard in a random direction, taking turns (for this, you are both heading in the same direction, not kicking the ball back and forth), kite flying, visiting a park for climbing and swinging, two-car hike, skipping stones in some quiet water, mowing the lawn, weed whacking, gymnastics classes, hip hop classes, circus arts classes, pick-up volleyball games at a park, roller skating, roller blading, ice skating, going through a marked exercise sequence in a park, visiting a science museum that has some physical activity options, such as powering a light bulb with a stationery bicycle, lifting free weights together to music, a martial art such as judo, capoeira (which is sort of a game, sort of a martial art, and sort of a dance form), throwing a ball back and forth to each other, such as a baseball, softball, football, digging a big hole and planting a tree.

Have fun!


Geeks tend to go for individual sports that emphasize skill over strength, and they also favor objective targets rather than competition. Definitely avoid team sports as they are often very geek-hostile.

Things to try include trampolining, table tennis (aka ping-pong), rock climbing, horse riding and BMX biking. Avoid buying lots of kit until you know you have something your geek likes; for now, emphasise lots of different things to try.


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.


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


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.


Assuming your son actually wants some physical excercise, consider getting him playing a videogame that actually encourages physical movement.

There are a number of Augmented Reality games out there that involve large amounts of physical movement to play them and they have a heavy social/team element to keep them interesting.

I spoke to some friends this weekend who plays a game called Ingress which is played from your smartphone and requires you to go to real-world "portals". One of them said that in the little over a month that he's been playing he's walked over 100km just to earn one of the ingame badges.


I am in the same boat here. I have a teen who has no interest on anything no to sports,swimming, walking, hiking. Simply wanted to stay home which is nearly impossible because I am a mom outdoor person and love outing. I gave enough options and did my best to encourage to join me hiking, walking but didn’t work so I made a 3 families hiking group and they have similar ages of children. Still it’s very hard to get out of the house but once we’re that we are good. They chat , sing and hike. We don’t hike every week but at least twice a month. It’s nice to make a group with couples people to get your kids out of house. If they don’t want to go alone or with us the parents then it’s always nice to try with friends. Better than staying home walking or hiking in the nature is not a bad idea. Bring their favorite snacks, drinks, and let them carry a camera and all will be good.

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