Kids who aren't interested in competition don't have to sit on the sidelines

Bleachers will be filled this fall with parents cheering on their kids' teams. But while many children are competing, others are choosing not to because it just isn't their thing.

Cheri Winter brings her son, Zev, to Gym Skills Gymnastics & Tumbling in Gahanna both for strength training and fun. Zev, 11, is on the autism spectrum and needs activities that don't involve competition, Winter said.

"I wasn't looking for anything competitive," Winter said. "Here, he feels like he's just having fun. It doesn't feel like work at all."

And that should be the goal in keeping kids physically active and fit, even if they are conscientious objectors to competition.

"I don't think any child should be pushed into a competitive sport," said Brooke de Lench, who founded the youth sports advocate site Momsteam.com. "Some of the best athletes are kids who don't go into competitive sports."

The Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio started a Swim Fit program for 12- to 18-year-old children after the owner's daughter wanted to stay in shape with swimming, but didn't want to compete with others.

The program, in its third year, focuses on swimming skills and fitness, but there are no meets and no pressure.

"I work to make the program a challenge for each person," said Erin Harris, the program coordinator. "Parents say they see a real change in the students' strength and energy."

Gym Skills Gymnastics & Tumbling prides itself on its non-competitive atmosphere, said Kenny Crump, the gym's owner.

Children learn tumbling, gymnastics and other activities including cheerleading and are rewarded for what they learn and not how they stack up to others.

Crump said some participants are students who were cut from their school's cheerleading program, or who do not want to be part of squads that are getting more and more competitive.

Some participants do choose to compete in teams after they've learned some skills, and that's fine, Crump said. They're referred to other gyms and organizations.

"I think kids stay in the program longer because there is no pressure," said Crump. "We're all about skill development and rewards. The kids seem to have a lot of fun with that."

The relaxed atmosphere has kept Winter coming back for four years. Her son Zev's strength and coordination have improved and there has been no pressure.

"It's very relaxed, and they're very patient," Winter said. "You can't say that about everyone."