Kids learn soccer skills and the fundamentals of the game as part of the Free Football for All program sponsored by NYCFC and Fidelis Care. Photo courtesy of Fidelis Care
Kids learn soccer skills and the fundamentals of the game as part of the Free Football for All program sponsored by NYCFC and Fidelis Care. Photo courtesy of Fidelis Care

Free Summer Sports and Outdoor Programs for NYC Kids

Just because we live in a concrete jungle doesn't mean our kids can't enjoy a summer filled with sports in the great outdoors. The best news: You don't need to be a banker to afford it. New York City offers many opportunities for kids to learn team sports and try swimming, tennis, golf, fishing, kayaking, camping, and more for FREE.

Of course, registering for these FREE programs takes a little legwork and (since many are first-come, first-served) punctuality. We've got the scoop on what's available 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

These free programs, formerly known as CityParks Sports, are offered by the CityParks Foundation. My kids have participated in the past, and I can't say enough good things about the quality of instruction and the opportunities the 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 golf, soccer, and track and field programs for kids who reside in NYC, though programs are more limited in 2021. 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 8-17 of all skill levels, from beginner lessons to tournaments and leagues.
How to register: Online registration is now open. Its popular Junior Tennis Academy is on hold for the 2021 season, but worth knowing about if your child takes to the sport. This tryout-based program runs year-round and may resume in the fall, so bookmark the website to check in August.

RELATED: Guide to SUmmer Camps for NYC Kids

City Parks track program
Participants in the CityParks Foundation track program can compete in local races or citywide events. Photo by Durst Breneiser/courtesy the CityParks Foundation

In CityParks Track & Field, children ages 8-17 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: C'mon Summer: 50 Things We Can't Wait To Do During Summer 2021 in NYC

Children play golf with the City Parks Foundation
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 8-17 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 debuted in 2016 when the organization teamed up with NYCFC to offer clinics at parks citywide, but the program will not run in 2021. Organizers hope to bring it back in 2022.

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. The free program requires in-person registration at your local precinct. A citywide playoff follows the regular season. Additionally, children ages 12-17 can visit their local precinct for career development and mentoring programs.

RELATED: Find and Book Drop-in Play, Classes, Camps, and More in the Mommy Poppins Calendar

kids pose with mascot on a soccer field
Kids take part in the Free Football for All initiative. Photo courtesy of Fidelis Care

Free Football for All

Fidelis Care and the NYCFC have teamed up to provide this program serving kids ages 7-14. It aims to introduce soccer skills and build sportsmanship, leadership, and a love for the game. The schedule is announced on an ongoing basis on the NYCFC social media platforms, but you can pre-register online for priority registration access as programs are announced. The summer goal is to reach 4,000 kids in NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.

New York Junior Tennis Community Tennis Program

NYJTL offers free 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. The summer session details will be announced in the next week.
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 347-417-8177 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 adult at public pools, but no determination has been made as to summer 2021 programming. All outdoor public pools reopen for the season on Saturday, June 26.

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 hiking, orienteering, canoeing, birding, and fishing 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. Space is extremely limited. The lotteries for the first family campouts of the seasons are already open!

RELATED: Parks & Playgrounds Guide for NYC Kids

Kids fishing in the Harlem Meer
Rent a FREE fishing pole to fish at the Harlem Meer, which is stocked with fish. Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservatory

The Central Park Conservancy

On Fridays, Saturdays, and 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.

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

Kayaking

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. Currently, it's using a hybrid system combining reservations, which open the night before, and walk-up access to the water. Capacity is limited. Its programming is also slated to return to Governors Island this summer, though a schedule is not yet available, but will be announced on Facebook soon.

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

Long Island City Boathouse hosts kayaking at Hallets Cove in Long Island City, Queens. Its 2021 schedule hasn't been released yet, but we have confirmed it will operate.

Kayak Staten Island operates at Conference House Park. We're still waiting on its 2021 hours, but follow Kayak Staten Island on Facebook or email kayakstatenisland@gmail.com for more information.

Manhattan Community Boathouse offers 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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