Free Summer Sports and Outdoor Programs in NYC for Kids

Participants in the CityParks Track & Field program can compete in local races or citywide events. Photo by Durst Breneiser/courtesy of the CityParks Foundation
Participants in the CityParks Track & Field program can compete in local races or citywide events. Photo by Durst Breneiser/courtesy of the CityParks Foundation

The huge number of outdoor programs in NYC for kids means children can enjoy a summer filled with sports and fresh air while living in the concrete jungle. New York City offers many FREE opportunities for kids to learn team sports and try swimming, tennis, golf, basketball fishing, kayaking, camping, and more.

Of course, registering for these free summer sports programs takes a little legwork and (since many are first come, first served) punctuality. We've got the scoop on free summer sports in NYC and how your kids can vie for spots. You can find more no-cost activities in our Free in NYC Guide, or check out these free or inexpensive summer camp options around NYC.

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CityParks Play's Free Summer Sports

My kids have participated in the free summer sports programs offered by City Parks Play in the past, and I can't say enough good things about the quality of instruction and the opportunities the free summer sports program afforded them. My son was even invited to a pair of summer tennis tournaments, including one in the shadow of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was quite an experience for a first-time player.

In addition to tennis, the CityParks Foundation runs free summer sports programs in golf, soccer, and track and field for kids who reside in NYC. All equipment is provided. Call 718-760-6999 or email sports@cityparksfoundation.org for additional info about any of the following programs:

CityParks Tennis offers instruction for children ages 6-17 of all skill levels, from beginner lessons to tournaments and leagues.
How to register: Online registration is now open. If you've got more experienced players, it offers a Junior Tennis Academy, which requires a tryout.

In CityParks Track & Field, children ages 6-17 can jump hurdles, participate in relay races, and try the long jump, shot put, and javelin throw.
How to register: Online registration is now open.

RELATED: NYC Day Camps and Classes Available for Summer 2022

Children learn to play golf during the City Parks free summer sports programs in NYC
Practice patience and learn to putt with the CityParks Golf program. Photo by Justina Wong/courtesy CityParks Foundation

CityParks Golf offers lessons for children ages 7-17 at ball fields citywide. The summer concludes with a visit to a local course for a day of play.
How to register: Online registration is now open.

CityParks Soccer is a joint effort between the organization and NYCFC, which offers free summer sports at citywide soccer clinics at parks citywide. After being shuttered last summer, this soccer program returns to play another summer.
How to register: Online registration is now open

CityParks Everyday Play is the perfect program if your kid doesn't want to commit to just one of the free summer sports programs in NYC. In this six-week program, held at Kaiser Park in Brooklyn, Williamsbridge Oval in the Bronx, and Baisley Pond Park in Queens, coaches cover two sports each day. These free summer sports include all the CityParks Play programs listed above, plus general fitness.
How to register: Online registration is now open.

Patrol Services Bureau Blue Chips Basketball League

The NYPD Patrol Services Bureau sponsors an eight-week, co-ed basketball league for teenagers ages 13-16. A citywide playoff follows the regular season of this free summer sports program. Additionally, children ages 12-17 can visit their local precinct for career development and mentoring programs.
How to register: This free summer sports program requires in-person registration at your local precinct

Little Ballers Basketball Camp

This free basketball camp at Nathan Strauss Playground runs on weekends throughout the summer, catering to kids ages 5-14. In this free summer sports program, players learn the fundamentals of the game alongside life lessons in teamwork, discipline, respect, and sportsmanship. Each session runs for four hours and is action-packed with drills, conditioning, scrimmage time, and a healthy snack. There is a one-time processing fee of $20 when you register.
How to register: Online registration is now open.

New York Junior Tennis Community Tennis Program

NYJTL offers free summer tennis programs in all five boroughs for children ages 5-18 throughout the spring, summer, and fall. All skill levels are welcome. Visit the website for a list of locations and schedules
How to register: Because registration is ongoing, children can join at any time. Currently, all registration must be completed online before you head out to the courts. For more info, call 347-417-8125 or email tc@nyjtl.org.

Learn to Swim

Traditionally the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation offers free summer swimming lessons for children as young as 18 months through adults at public pools.  All outdoor public pools reopen for the season on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
How to register: Registration dates for 2022 have not yet been announced, but you can bookmark the Learn to Swim page for updates so you can take advantage of this free summer sports program in NYC.

RELATED: Best Free NYC Swimming Pools for Toddlers and Kids

Pitch a tent with the Urban Park Rangers
Set up camp in the Bronx with the Urban Park Rangers. Photo courtesy of the Urban Park Rangers

Urban Park Rangers

The Urban Park Rangers offer lots of free outdoor programs for kids. The organization's online calendar includes free summer sports like hiking, orienteering, canoeing, and fishing, plus birding and other activities for families. It's also smart to subscribe to the quarterly Nature and Outdoors newsletter because some cool events don't seem to make it online until the last minute.

The Urban Park Rangers Weekend Adventures include canoeing, birding, hiking, survival skills, astronomy, and more. These activities let you experience New York City's thousands of acres of parkland as you never have before. You'll forget you're in the city entirely!
How to register: For many outings, you just show up and enjoy. Others require entering an online lottery.

The Urban Park Rangers also offer free family camping at various city parks.
How to register: You must enter an online lottery to nab a spot. Usually, the lottery takes place about 10 days before the outing. Check the website for program information and availability as space is extremely limited. 

RELATED: Parks & Playgrounds Guide for NYC Kids

Kids fishing in the Harlem Meer
Borrow a fishing pole and drop a line at the Harlem Meer for an afternoon of summer fun. Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservatory

Free Summer Sports With the Central Park Conservancy

On Wednesdays through Sundays, head to the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (110th Street at Lenox Avenue) to borrow FREE catch-and-release fishing kits and drop a line in the Harlem Meer. To borrow the kits, parents or caregivers must leave a valid picture ID. You can also learn about Central Park's history, geography, wildlife, and more on various walks and talks, including some catering specifically to families.

Battery Park City Parks Conservancy

This organization sponsors many FREE (or inexpensive) programs for children of all ages, including gardening, bird-watching, fishing, and more. Toys, games, and play equipment can also be borrowed from the park house near Rockefeller Playground. Registration varies depending on the offering. Visit the website for a complete schedule.

Free Summer Teen Gym Memberships at Planet Fitness

High schoolers ages 14-19 can sign up for a FREE summer gym membership at Planet Fitness. Registration can be completed online, though kids under age 18 need a parent's sign-off. Once the registration is complete, kids can enjoy all the benefits of membership through Wednesday, August 31.

RELATED: The 25 Best Spraygrounds and Sprinklers for NYC Kids

Kayaking in the East River
Paddle the harbor and East River with a free kayak. Photo by Charlie via Flickr

Free Summer Sports on the Water: Kayaking, Sailing, and More

If your ideal free summer sports take place on the water, take note: Several volunteer-run organizations offer no-cost, walk-up kayaking at various launch points throughout NYC over the summer. Rules vary, but usually, children under age 16 must ride in a double kayak with an adult.

Downtown Boathouse at Pier 26 offers kayaking from May to October. Its Governors Island location reopens Saturday, June 4, and runs Saturdays through the end of September from Pier 101 in a small cove. 

Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse offers kayaking Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and introduces a new family-friendly Sunday afternoon session this season where kids ages 7+ can kayak alone, as long as a guardian is present. Reservations are required for all kayak programs, which are held between Piers 1 and 2.

Kayak Staten Island operates at Conference House Park. We have confirmed programming will run for the 2022 season, though a schedule is still forthcoming. Follow Kayak Staten Island on Facebook or email kayakstatenisland@gmail.com for more information.

Manhattan Community Boathouse offers weekend kayaking at 56th Street on the Hudson River, and reservations are required. Check the website for the current schedule.

Community Rowing & Sailing

Local Bronx organization Rocking the Boat offers free walk-up rowboat trips on Saturdays all summer long. Select dates also bring community sailing to the Bronx River. Local students build the rowboats used, and program staff acts as escorts and educators, teaching visitors about the local waterway ecology on every paddle.

This article was first published in May 2010 and is updated annually.

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