Tired of tripping over toy trucks or reorganizing your game shelf? When shopping for a child who loves sports, think outside the box this year.
A great gift for the hockey enthusiast -- or any child who likes to scamper all around the floor on his or her butt and knees -- is the mini-sticks game. My son spent hours playing this game, and I have to admit, I got caught up in the action more than once.
You can just buy two sticks and a ball (they come in one pack as a set for less than $10) and make up your own goals (hint: glass vases are not a good idea), or you can buy one or two small goals ($20 each) designed specifically for this game.
Hallways are ideal for mini-sticks, from a child's viewpoint. From a parent's perspective, I'd suggest making a basement or den the venue for this indoor sport. Your child can practice alone, play with one or more friends or siblings, or sucker you into a knee-scabbing game (kneepads recommended).
For the baseball player, Derek Jeter's Hit-a-Way (less than $30) is one of the best inexpensive training devices I've come across. The Hit-a-Way gets strapped to a basketball stanchion or clothesline pole and the player does just as the name suggests -- hits away. I've even seen them strapped to poles in the basement in the dead of winter.
Kids can work on their swing and focus on making consistent contact, and you don't have to chase the ball. The ball wraps around the pole after it is hit and then unwraps to be hit again. One of the nicest things about this gift is the child can play alone. And it's portable. Grandma will love hearing it in her backyard on Christmas Day.
Think back to your youth -- didn't we all have a small, spongy Nerf basketball (less than $10)? Unlike today, we didn't have TVs, laptop computers and cell phones in every room of the house. On those cold winter days, I spent hours tapping the sponge ball against the wall while I was watching TV or listening to the radio. Or a friend and I would do the same, hitting it back and forth to each other. I didn't realize it, but I was working on hand-eye coordination, a skill used in every sport. I'd probably still do it today, if not for technology.
Without a doubt the best gift I bought for my son relating to sports was Sports Illustrated for Kids. I think I purchased the first subscription when he was 6 and just learning to read. He didn't read all of the articles, but loved looking at the pictures, doing the puzzles and reading the captions. When he turned 13, we switched to the real Sports Illustrated, which today at the age of 20, he still reads cover to cover as soon as it arrives. It may not have raised his SAT scores significantly, but certainly helped more than hanging out on Facebook.
Jon Buzby's columns appear in newspapers and magazines around the country as well as numerous websites. Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.