4th grade beginner sports for girls?

As a child, I was a sports pariah. The last to be picked on teams. Dreading the mandatory PE where humiliation was guaranteed. Volleyball and basketball may as well be a dodgeball for me. I struggled socially due to my athletic inability. My spouse is not bad at sports but is not interested in them. We do not watch sports. So, our daughter has had zero introduction to any physical activities other than the usual running around and play or bike with friends. I read that it’s important for girls to play sports and it helps them feel confident as they grow older. I certainly felt that if I were good at a sport, I would have had an easier time in high school. Our daughter is brilliantly joyful, confident and extroverted and we hope she will maintain this personality as she enters puberty. I am a bit at a loss for where to start? I have asked her if she would be interested in sports. She said she would be interested in horseback riding or swimming. Neither seems easily accessible. She has enjoyed dance classes in the past but we do not feel comfortable sending her to indoor dance studio yet. We live on hills, so we have to go somewhere to play with balls. I would love to hear any ideas you may have on how to introduce a 9 year old to sports. Thank you. 

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I'll admit that swimming is a little hard to get into right now because pools are impacted and at least a couple of the local swim teams have waiting lists. Horseback riding is totally possible, we have friends with daughters in Berkeley who go to El Sobrante or Lafayette for riding. My daughter did karate at that age, which was great; would recommend trying. Yes, indoor stuff makes me nervous too but vaccines are coming so you might as well sign up now. I have heard good things about Albany Berkeley girls softball, which is a spring thing, and volleyball has a local league or two. We also got a trampoline, which is great exercise and teaches body awareness. My daughter also loves her scooter which she just does around the backyard.

Big picture though, your question was phrased with a lot about you and your history. I know it's hard, but try to approach the subject of sports and exercise with your daughter with less fear and leftover feelings from your childhood. Buy a fun playground ball from Target and go to a school on the weekend to play wallball together. Do an outdoor fitness course together, or a YouTube food ninja workout. It should be fun! I'm sorry you had bad experiences, but your daughter can have a different experience.

I'm a sports-loving mom, and I coach a girls' soccer team (have coached boys too). There's a large subset of girls who may not be super athletic or even that interested in sports, but they do it because it gives them time with their friends. I would ask around among your daughter's friends and just sign her up to do a sport with a friend. Age 9 is definitely still young enough to be new to a sport without feeling way behind. And there are so many options, including many outdoors. Soccer is great, and it is not at all unusual to pick it up at age 9. There's also softball/little league, lacrosse, track/running, tennis... all kinds of stuff that is relatively covid-safe. But I bet she'd be more likely to stick with it if she had a buddy.

A while back, the Piedmont Rec department was hosting free clinics to introduce elementary school aged girls to a variety of sports. You could give them a call or get on their mailing list to find out when they'll do that again.

ABGSL!  Albany Berkeley Girls Softball League. Both our girls started in the ‘80’s and the were involved in sports later at BHS and thru college.  They are proud Giants fans…it carries on.  Mostly it’s just fun team camaraderie at first but the skills are like you said, something to be proud of.  It does help to have a family member to “toss the ball” during the week at home… not just at practice.  
Also I see there are still tennis lessons at King Jr High courts.  Good Luck.

This is the best age for your daughter to get started on volleyball.  My daughter has attended both Absolute (in San Rafael) and Vibe volleyball club in Orinda (they also have in Walnut Creek).  There are a couple more out there which should work out for total beginners like your daughter (Golden Bear Volleyball club, RedRock in Alameda)  The tryout season is over but you can call the clubs and see if they are still taking in new players.  Good luck and hope she gets to like volleyball.  

I was about 10 when we moved from a Catholic school with no sports to a public school with lots of sports. I really enjoyed softball because it wasn't as physically demanding as soccer or basketball, not many kids start super early so everyone was learning together, and it was a real team effort (in soccer I never touched the ball bc I couldn't keep up, in softball everyone gets a turn at bat :)) I played softball through high school. 

I will second another commenter's suggestion of Albany Berkeley Girls Softball League.  The organization supports all of the positive aspects of a team sport.  The girls are taught to throw, catch and hit the ball.  The games are incredibly supportive, with girls rotating between positions and great care being taken to enable each girl to get a chance to hit the ball.  Parents regularly cheer for both teams.  The girls develop a bond with their teammates and also a sense of individual confidence.  My girls have played on various soccer and basketball leagues and ABGSL is hands down the most welcoming.  If you are looking for a team sport, ABGSL might be a good place to start.

We also were not into sports before kids - participating or watching.  Somehow our kids found fencing (foil) when they were 7 and just love it. They are fully masked and also wearing paper masks these days.  Check out M Team fencing in the East Bay.  They have learned so much about themselves and have learned how to lose plenty of times and get right back up.  Foil is a lot like physical chess and requires mental acuity and focus. It is a good introduction to the sport.  Both my son and daughter have found true friends through it.

If your child has any friends who play sports already or can be talked into trying, there's usually some benefit to trying to sign them up together. For carpool and also because they feel more comfortable with a buddy. In some ways it's less about whatever sport they are playing and more about finding a friend group and doing something fun together.

I would also try to get your kids to commit in advance to trying a few times, not just once. So they understand that the first few practices will be challenging, but they will work through it and improve with the goal of having fun in the long term. The first time at a new thing is always a little rough, and it's better to send them with a reasonable expectation instead of trying to convince them its super fun immediately when they know it isn't.  

If you don't want to be indoors, maybe try signing her up for a recreational soccer team. Albany Berkeley Soccer Club is one in the area. I'm sure there's some luck of the draw as to which coaches and kids you end up with, but we had a very positive experience signing my daughter up for the first time at age 11 (she's athletic, but had never played any organized sports). I think baseball is boring, but my sister says its easier than other sports to get up to a basic level of skills. So you could try that too. Hope you find something fun!

Maybe consider a multi-sport summer camp? El Cerrito city has a good one. Otherwise I would say soccer might be a good choice - lots of local leagues and options, generally promotes teamwork and skill aquisition, etc. Can watch the US Women's National Team - great role models there. 

I notice that your daughter mentioned non-team sports. The latter is a beginning. But since my husband and I follow women's basketball, I can't resist suggesting that you also take her to some high school or university basketball and soccer games, especially women's. We are long-time season ticket holders to Cal WBB, and our daughter loved going to games and screaming her head off for the Bears. Just watching a variety of live local events on weekends might give her some ideas. (I owe this thought to an interview with a Cal WBB guard whose athletic-minded parents made a point of introducing LaTasha and her brother to all kinds of sports, to their lasting pleasure and good health.)

Bladium in Alameda has soccer skills classes that end in a scrimmage. Enrolling in a series could help your daughter decide if she likes it. What about a rock climbing gym? Would you try a group lesson as a family? Studio Naga has some outdoor classes for martial arts. Many kid activities have returned to indoor sites.

Being a French-native, I am surprised at the level of athleticism of US kids at a very young age. My daughter is 5 year old. We've been playing sports since a young age without any emphasis on the technique and naively thought that it was the case of any parents. She started soccer and basketball this season and I can't wrap my head around that she is behind. The majority of the kids know how to play the sport. I am sharing this because 1. I believe that gap in sport skills only widen as the kids get the older; 2. Kids like sports and get motivated when they feel confident playing and have fun. 

With that in mind, I recommend to start progressively, focusing on one activity that she can master and get confident in and expand from there. To find this activity, I will choose from the interests she voiced: 

- dance class: you mentioned that you are not comfortable with indoor classes; there are dance studios in and around Oakland that propose classes in parks (example: https://destinyarts.org/programs/at-our-center/

- swim class: it can be quite costly but the benefits may be worth it from a safety perspective and building confidence (Aquatech and Oaklantis are on the least expensive side; if they have waiting list, be patient they usually clear up) 

- horseback riding: it is very expensive. I loved it while growing up but my parents did not have the means. What they found as a solution was to send me to summer camps with a horseback riding program. These are my favorite memories. I invite you to do some research if such programs exist. 

I'm an adult taking rock climbing lessons from a coach, and have not yet enrolled my kids in lessons, but it's a sport that kids pick up and thrive in very easily. I take my kids to local crags and they are agile and excited to climb. Try some climbing lessons. If your student fits the profile of her clientele, check out Emily Taylor's Brown Girls Climbing program.

I was like you, I dreaded PE, was the last to be picked for team sports and was mediocre at everything. I joined the swim team as a junior in HS because it meant I didn't have to suffer through a whole school year worth of sports (football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, running...), only one semester of swimming, and it being more or less an individual sport, I could try to make friends without needing to prove that I'm a good swimmer. I just had to attend all the practice, be nice, and then cheer people on when they raced (I rarely raced). 

If I had a child who is new to sports, especially during covid times, I would suggest (1) rock climbing, (2) swimming, or (3) tennis. These are sports that are primarily outdoors (low covid risk), and they are individual enough so that she can practice and play without worrying about whether she is good or bad compared to others.  

Rock climbing has low barrier to entry and is not expensive. Just need to buy shoes and harness/belay. She can join a climbing gym to learn the ropes, sort to speak, or she can start outside with climbing camps and groups. Everyone in the climbing group is going to be supportive of a kid who is trying to learn how to climb, and it's a sport works the whole body and builds strength.

Swimming is one where there are lots of ways to excel. If she's a slow swimmer but has good endurance, she can be a distance swimmer. If she's fast, she can do sprints. There might be a stroke that she can excel at and gives her confidence. The hard part is finding a spot to swim these days. But it's a life skill and can lead to sports like water polo, diving, or scuba. I played water polo in junior college (also was mediocre, but by then I didn't care as much), it's a tough sport, but I felt like superwoman. 

Tennis, need to find a court, but she can play against someone of comparable skills, so even if she is starting out, it shouldn't be a problem. 

Your daughter sounds amazing and wonderfully adjusted.  She may not need sports to continue to be confident in who she is.  It's absolutely possible to develop confidence in all sorts of ways, and sports is only one of those ways.  That said, I have a daughter who plays soccer and swims.  She has strong friend groups in both sports, and her abilities in each sport does lend to her confidence.  As far as how to introduce your daughter to sports, you can have her try different things (say at the rec level) and see if she falls in love with anything.  Places like the YMCA or your city's parks and rec have short and generally affordable programs like dance, basketball, and swim.  During the summer, I recommend a sports camp, like Cal Youth Camps, where she'll get a little of everything.  Good luck!

I gotta plug swimming though the parental commitment can be enormous if your daughter takes to it and wants to do year round. I have 2 daughters who swam from a young age through high school and one played water polo as well in HS and college. Here are the pluses: it’s a team sport yet one is really competing against one’s last fastest time and improving one’s strokes. It’s amenable to all body types and I really believe it builds body positivity. Wearing a bathing suit around others becomes totally natural and because it’s coed, kids tend to become used to being around each other and their bodies. The $ investment is reasonable for the amount of practice time and instruction. The equipment is minimal. The kids who swim tend to be nice and nice to one another. A good coach creates that expectation. The older swimmers are often great role models and can be warm and supportive of younger players. You child is always clean and tired. Swimmers tend to take their academic work seriously and down time at swim meets is often used for homework. Swimming can be stress releasing and meditative and it’s a life-long sport.  
As an alternative, how about you both trying pickleball? It’s easy to learn, great for parent and child to learn and compete with one another—it’s not too taxing physically  and one improves quickly with practice—much faster than with many sports. It’s social. Equipment (paddle and balls) is inexpensive, courts are popping up everywhere. If she sticks with it, she can be beating adults quickly. She can get some friends to join. You may like it too. Easier and less costly than tennis and kinder in the body. Try it. 

How about tennis or pickleball.  Both are played outside at a safe distance.

I think the best way to introduce a sport is to have your child do it with a friend(s). My daughter started Fall volleyball (indoor) and will play Winter soccer (outdoor) through CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). We're at a public school so we tagged onto nearest parochial school since the parochials essentially have their own league. Are there any parents from your child's school organizing any group sports? If so, hop onto that. 

On a side note, I was always picked last and never played sports as a child. I did play on high school teams and wasn't very good. I don't watch sports either but did enjoy watching some of the olympics. I guess I viewed sports as something fun to do and something new to learn (I took archery lessons at the local community college a few years ago); to get exercise and stay strong (because my job is physical and I don't want to hurt my back from work), and it's something fun to do with a friend. I don't emphasize winning but maybe because I'm not good at sports and that's ok :)    

As the mother of a college-age super athletic girl (all sports) and now a grandmother of a non-sporty 4th grader (all sports), here are some suggestions.  We're getting our 4th grader involved in a sport and here's what we found:

Swimming - Can be extremely difficult to get on a swim team, esp during Covid, and because it's often exclusive (not inclusive) and involves tryouts.  What is possible if you hop on it early are spring/summer swim lessons.  Semi-private or private lessons are great if cost is not an object.  You can try a couple of the hills clubs, El Cerrito Swim Center, and Canyon Club in El Sobrante.  Many places offer swim lessons and they fill up fast.  Great for confidence and possibly a future swim team without pressure.

Horseback riding - We tried a couple lessons and camps.  Be aware that some group lessons by 4th grade are more for the experienced rider with the de riguer outfit and gear.  My daughter (back in the day) was mocked in a 2nd grade camp for not having "real" riding boots.  So you'll want to check for an experience that's truly for beginners. 

Yoga -- Try yoga!  We found a kids class, our 4th grader loves it and it's something she can do at home too.  This might fit in with your daughter's interests.

Tennis - There are places like Montclair Rec, Piedmont Rec or clubs that offer tennis lessons.  We liked this option because there's exercise and the opportunity to hit the ball around on public courts with parents or friends, actually fun.

Recreational Sports -  So far, our 4th grader has confided that she's intimidated that most other kids around her seem experienced and already on teams for a couple years.  So we want to expose her to group sports in a welcoming setting. (We know about the competitive teams, so this is a switch!)

After research, we found the local association in Lafayette (LMYA) that is recreational, no tryouts, no drafts, for the elementary school level. They offer seasonal sports with modifications for Covid.  We checked in to make sure these sports were appropriate for a 'late' beginner.  We also check the sport rules on the website which say a lot about whether it's recreational or competitive (half court or other modification of team rules, does every kid play, one practice, are games once a week).

On your side of the tunnel, Piedmont Recreation has had good, inclusive sport programs.  Also Montclair & Albany have had options. No residency required. Two tricks are whether it's called recreational/intramural, and whether there are try-outs.

This year, our 4th grader will be trying a rec sport, and she has to go 3x to try it.  She's confided that she's mostly nervous she 'won't be any good.' The positives are that the kids come from a mix of schools, there's opportunity to feel a sense of team, and to make a new friend.  We plan to play with the ball a bit at the playground or park ahead of time, so it's not an alien object!  We're taking this approach because neither parent was very athletic, one was shy, and now they wish they'd tried a rec sport when they were young. 

There's a mile between being great at sports and being a 'pariah' and most all kids are in between. <smile>   You can see if she likes a team sport, or stick with solo activities like swimming, dance, yoga. Any or all of these activities are positive outlets! 

Your daughter already is joyful, confident and extroverted -- you are so lucky! 

From a grey-haired but kinda sporty grandma

Here is one option for private swim lessons until you get on a team:  Sherman Swim in Lafayette, but there are many.  Tennis is kind of good because if your child needs a short-term "catch-up" then she can take a couple private lessons.  At 9-years your child would be starting tennis earlier than most.  Both are life long sports.  I had a lot of stress after reading about the dive in self-esteem for middle schools girls, myself, but I wanted to say that too much "engineering" based on statistical outcomes, in my opinion just adds to stress.  I have one girl on the high school tennis team, but she almost took a turn into musical theater, and that would have been great too.