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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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 email@example.com 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
Participants in the CityParks Foundation track program can compete in local races or citywide events. Photo by Durst Breneiser/courtesy the CityParks Foundation
Practice patience and learn to putt with the CityParks Golf program. Photo by Justina Wong/courtesy CityParks Foundation
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.
Kids take part in the Free Football for All initiative. Photo courtesy of Fidelis Care
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Set up camp in the Bronx with the Urban Park Rangers. Photo courtesy of the 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!
Rent a FREE fishing pole to fish at the Harlem Meer, which is stocked with fish. Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservatory
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.
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.
Paddle the harbor and East River with a free kayak. Photo by Charlie via Flickr
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.
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.