Outside, Inside, On The Water: Innovation in Sports Toys

While the indoors may hold myriad ways to entertain a child, ranging from television to the internet to children’s electronics, it’s not time to shut the door to the backyard just yet. “Kids will always love sports,” says Jason Engle, brand manager at Little Kids. “Today, with all the stories about childhood obesity and health problems, parents are taking more notice of things that can get their kids outdoors.” In addition, today’s children are entering organized sports programs and afterschool programs as young as 4 or 5 years old. While both these factors have kept the category of children’s sports toys going strong, nothing has been more important to the category in recent years than the innovation that companies have been pushing forward to keep children coming back to sports toys.

This innovation has taken multiple forms. For Little Kids, innovation has involved bringing sports indoors safely with its new Hall Stars line of indoor sports toys. “We’re trying to help make sports a year-round category, instead of seasonal,” says Engle. The Hall Stars line, along with Little Kids’ long-running Junk Ball line, both aim to make sports fun and easier for children. In a similar vein, Spalding has introduced the Rookie Gear line of sports products. “These aren’t just toys,” says Paul Sullivan, brand manager of the Rookie Gear line for Spalding. “They’re actual sports products designed with children in mind.” Rookie Gear balls and sports gear remain the same size as official-quality sports gear, but with reduced weight to make sure that children can play with them without being frustrated by the difficulty. “Basketball can be fun, but it won’t be if you can’t get the ball up to the hoop,” says Sullivan.

While making sports easier for children has definite merit, other companies have chosen to add new elements to sports activities. Wibit’s new Wibit Sports line, for example, currently produces a full line of water-based sports sets that, in addition to providing classic water sports gear (such as water polo goals and kayaking), take track-and-field-style activities and place them in the aquatic setting, such as with the water-based high jump and long jump, as well as a trampoline and swing. “We wanted to find a way to motivate kids to be active,” says Robert Cirjak, CEO of Wibit. “We found that the addition of water can definitely do that.”

While most manufacturers have stated that their business has remained strong despite the economic downturn and the prevalence of electronics, there is some worry about how the state of today’s children’s health and fitness could alter the business in the future. “Half of today’s children wouldn’t even know how to climb a tree,” says Wibit’s Cirjak. Other manufacturers believe that this will actually lend strength to the category, as “parents will always want to push their children to go outside and be active and healthy,” says Little Kid’s Engle. In either situation, as long as companies can continue to make sports an attractive and innovative play pattern for the changing wants of today’s children, parents can look forward to answering the age-old question “Can we go out and play?” for a long time.

  • Spalding: Rookie Gear


    Spalding’s Rookie Gear is a line of full-size sports equipment that weighs 25 percent less than standard youth equipment for children 8 and under.

  • Monkey Business: E-Z Bat

    Monkey Business:

    The Monkey Business E-Z Bat lets children swing or launch the ball off the tip of the bat with the same action as swinging a real baseball bat for a home run.

  • Little Kids: Hall Stars Net Sports

    Little Kids:

    New from Little Kids, the Hall Stars Net Sports set allows children to play volleyball, badminton, and tennis indoors.

  • Wibit: Sports Park


    The new Wibit Sports Park features interlocking sports activity stations that float on water to add a new dimension to sports and obstacle course play.

  • Fisher-Price: I Can Play Golf


    Fisher-Price’s I Can Play Golf lets toddlers put the ball in the hole with two clubs and a guide ramp.

  • Stansport: Sport Bag


    Stansport’s Sport Bags are kid-friendly, durable bags.