No one who has ever seen me swing wildly and miss at a ping pong table would ever confuse me for an athlete.
But like many people, I hate the gym. After 4 1/2 years as a fitness model, I’ve probably spent enough time there for two or three lifetimes. Since I stopped essentially living in the weight room, I’ve discovered lots more fun ways to fit exercise in my life. One of those has been competitive sports–something I’d never even considered before (on account of my two left feet and utter lack of hand-eye coordination!).
If you’ve never considered yourself an athlete but wouldn’t mind finding an easy way to stay fit, here are the top 5 sports I’ve tried that are super accessible for even the most uncoordinated people (by the accounts of countless exasperated friends, that’s me).
Top 5 Easy Sports for Uncoordinated Non-Athletes:
What I love about surfing is that it isn’t only accessible to those in great shape, like say parkour or gymnastics. Sure, core and upper arm strength helps a lot. But almost anybody on a big enough board can paddle out and catch waves.
Every surf instructor I know has had a story of some cocky muscular bodybuilder getting on a surfboard and struggling to paddle just as much as everyone else. Sheer strength isn’t worth much in this sport without technique and practice!
I know very strong swimmers who flounder when they’re on a surfboard. That’s because the paddling technique is very different. However, swimming can help your confidence in the water. In surfing, as a rule, you should expect to spend a lot of time wiping out, and occasionally getting separated from your board. Other exercises that may help prepare you for surfing is simply building up your endurance with cardio or aerobic exercise.
Make no mistake: surfing is hard, and it can even be dangerous. I’ve spent hours and hours in the water, and still can’t catch every wave I paddle for. Or even stand up every time I do! But I love it, so I keep going back. It’s not easy, but with perseverance anybody can do it.
Summary: Surfing is democratic, everyone starts off at the same level. (That includes swimmers, and snowboarders, which you would think were similar sports!) Getting better depends solely on the ability to get smacked in the face by waves several hundred (thousand) times without giving up.
Where to Start: Do a little research beforehand about places with waves that are good for beginners. This is extremely important, because surfing is dangerous in certain conditions. In my opinion, the waves at Waikiki Beach in Oahu, Hawaii (the “touristy” island) is the perfect place to learn. The waves are not very high, break evenly, and go on forever. It’s extremely hard not to catch a wave on the big foam boards they put you on for lessons.
I recently spent a week with my boyfriend and his friends from college at a villa outside Austin, Texas. In addition to an absurd number of John Wayne paraphernalia, it also had its own tennis court.
The whole house was recruited into a casual tennis tournament. I lasted far longer than I thought I would (though still lost) and was instantly hooked! I spent the next 4 days dragging my boyfriend to the court to lob balls at me so I could practice hitting them!
Although nobody gets really, really good at tennis unless they play a lot, the game itself is easy enough to pick up and adjust for your level. For example, using the short and narrow lines to play. That way, you’re closer to the net and don’t have to hit the ball as hard to get it over.
Summary: The racket is way bigger than your hand (at least for most people). Plus, it has a springy net designed for tennis balls to bounce off, so it’s way easier to make the ball fly. Initially, your only job will be to just make contact with the ball. Over time, you’ll refine your technique and learn to hit the ball harder/farther. Any easy sports I can learn in baby steps
Where to Start: Tennis is a pretty international sport, especially around Europe. In my experience, it isn’t hard to find clubs or gyms with tennis courts, even while traveling. However, as far as sports go, tennis is pretty upscale. You’ll usually find them in the nicer gyms, or resorts catering to the wealthy, so it may not be the cheapest sport to play while traveling.
It’s like tennis, but in slower motion! And while a tennis ball can bruise if it’s hit with Djokovic-like power, a birdie/shuttlecock isn’t likely to hurt anyone.
Summary: It’s like tennis, but easier.
Where to Start: This I don’t have an answer for. The only time I have ever played badminton is in other people’s backyards!
4. Beach Volleyball
It’s extremely easy to find a pick-up game on beaches almost anywhere in the world. Bonus: language barriers are less of an issue because the game is so easy to understand and play. Unlike sports played with rackets (which, as an extension of your body, is another element you have to think about) you play volleyball with body parts that you’re used to—arms and legs!
Summary: No bats, rackets, or other equipment needed! Just 2-4 people, a ball, and a court. Those people don’t even have to speak the same language. If there’s a court and you have a ball, you’ll probably find someone on the beach who wants to play.
Where to Start: If you know that you will be spending a lot of time on the beach, a deflated volleyball and a ball pump doesn’t take up much space in your luggage, and you can easily start a pick-up game if you find a net. Even if nobody else was planning to play, you’re almost guaranteed to find some takers now that there’s a ball and other players.
I have a hard time categorizing this as “competitive” when I have only ever sparred with punching bags and trainers wearing mitts, but it definitely falls under sports with competitive spirit. Nothing gets my blood pumping faster than imagining my punches are doing real damage, or that I could one-hit KO an attacker if I get into trouble while traveling. (Although, let’s be real, the safest thing for me to do in that situation is probably to run away).
Summary: Fighting for sport is almost as old as the “world’s oldest profession” and nearly ubiquitous, although it may take different forms around the world (think Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Israeli Krav Maga, etc). Bonus: fighting is probably the only sport where uncoordinated flailing could potentially (though isn’t likely to) work in your benefit!
Where to Start: You can look for martial arts classes, which will usually be conducted in a safe environment. Some classes are more combative, and involve wrestling with an opponent. I prefer a one-on-one session with a trainer. Or, when all else fails, a punching bag workout routine (like this one) that you do on your own in any boxing gym.
Have you tried any of these? Are there any other easy sports for the uncoordinated that I’ve missed? Please share in the comment section below!