Christian Marin hops over plastic hurdles and weaves through plastic cones as quickly as he can, but the only competition he sees is himself.
"I'm just trying to go faster than I did before," says Christian, 8.
His brother, Gabriel, 6, and his sister, Hodrey Madriz, 11, also are among those working out at Markham Park in Sunrise. The three participate in Get Fit 4 Kidz, which three fitness instructors began this summer at South Florida parks.
"I like being outside, doing things," Madriz says.
They are among the growing number of children who are choosing individual exercise over team sports as a way to stay fit. Outdoor fitness classes, city and YMCA sports leaders and even parents with jump ropes and cones are providing the venues.
"Sometimes the simplest is what they like the best," says Christian and Gabriel's father, Hector Marin of Weston. "If you're on a team, there'll be one or two children who are super-athletic, then the rest. Here, they can feel more part of the group."
Marin says he enrolled the children to help them create an exercise habit.
"This way, they may do it all of their life," he says.
Nationwide, parents are enrolling their children in more exercise classes, sometimes forgoing team sports in order to keep their child in shape, says Stephen J. Virgilio, chairman of health studies, physical education and human performance science at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. "We see it as a growing phenomenon," says Virgilio, author of the 2005 book Active Start for Healthy Kids (Human Kinetics Publishers, $18.95). "Children are getting the message that their health is far more vital than competition and athletic prowess."
Virgilio says part of the increase in exercise classes is a backlash from the negative stereotypes associated with youth sports. "I think first of all, it's coming from the children, that have had it with all of the competition and all of the parents yelling at them," he says. "They know they're not super-super athletes. But they still want to play, want to move and recreate.
"That's the way they interact with each other."
Physical education classes have recently gotten away from the choose-up-sides mentality, and some parents also provide good habits by jogging, cycling or swimming themselves.
"It provides a trickle-down effect," he says.
The West Broward Family YMCA in Weston opened less than a year ago, but already has 16 fitness classes for children -- and a waiting list -- wellness director Debbie Hickey says. Zumba, yoga and a family spinning cycling class are popular. To increase involvement, she hopes to soon add classes geared for those whose doctors say they have to exercise.
"I think they see it as fun, and that's the goal," Hickey says. "A lot of times kids that don't play sports may not be as confident socially; the class atmosphere is great for them socially, as well."
Starting children at a young age is important, she notes, because sometimes 10- to 12-year-olds are reluctant to get involved in a new activity.
"With us, the 10-to-12 age group is the least responsive," she says. "I think exercise is perceived as [not] too cool, or maybe we're just not matching up activities with what they're looking for."
This is an age of concern as well, because children who are overweight as preteens are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults. Learning good fitness habits at this age can be critical to lifelong health.
Children in fitness classes learn exercise fundamentals, flexibility and endurance skills, says Nicole Boudreau, assistant health and physical education director at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie. The center began a 60-minute fitness class over the summer that involved crunches, pushups, plyometric work and running around the JCC's indoor track.
"The important thing is they see their own results," she says. "I don't push numbers on a scale."
Playball, a children's fitness business that visits schools, camps and child-care centers in Palm Beach and Broward counties, follows the same line of thinking.
"The elementary-age kids we have are either kids who weren't the superstars on team sports or moms that didn't want to put them under that pressure," said Adrian Cardenas of Playball. "Almost all of the older kids have some story like that. Either they're shy, or they had a sports experience they didn't like."
Meanwhile, Donna Kinsey of Davie has extended the grassroots fitness trend another step. During her successful attempt to lose 100 pounds, she set up a circuit course in the street outside and ran, jumped and lunged the calories away.
Soon her daughter joined her. Then another girl in the neighborhood, and another.
Now, each Friday night, about 15 children gather on the dead-end street and follow Kinsey's fitness lead. She even went to a T-shirt shop and ordered fluorescent yellow shirts, in case a wandering car would head down the road.
Are the kids interested in such a no-frills night of fitness?
"We usually start at 6:30 on Friday evenings, but by 5:30, they're usually knocking on my door," she says. "They just like running, jumping and playing."
Nick C. Sortal is a staff writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and author of the book Basketball Tip-Ins: 100 Drills and Tips for Young Players.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun