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The Best Indoor Sports for Outdoor Athletes

  1. Baby, It’s Cold Outside
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    Baby, It’s Cold Outside

    Even though spring is on the way, for many after-work and weekend athletes it can’t come soon enough. While winter sports abound, skiing through deep powder isn’t exactly the best way to get in shape for tennis. So what are the alternatives? It turns out that an increasing number of indoor sports can easily segue into summer—and many of them have become seriously competitive in their own right. The C.R.A.S.H-B. Sprints, an indoor rowing championship, for example, is every bit as grueling as the Head of the Charles regatta, and victory can be just as sweet. Not a rower or a tennis player? A number of completely new sports might provide a more fun way to stay in shape than pounding out endless miles on a treadmill at the gym. From flag football to indoor soccer, read on for the winter athlete's best indoor options.
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  2. Rowing
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    Rowing

    Frustrated that your favorite river or lake is iced up and your rowing scull is gathering dust in the garage? Don’t worry, there’s always the C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championship. Founded in the early 1980s, the race is a brutal, 2,000-yard pull on a Concept2 rowing machine. It’s open to everyone and features dozens of weight and age groups. You can even enter as a coxswain.
    C.R.A.S.H.-B.
  3. Soccer
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    Soccer

    Although indoor soccer in the States is often known as a game with walls, the official indoor soccer game approved by the Fédération Internationale de Football Assn. (FIFA) is called Futsal and has an out-of-bounds. Invented in Uruguay in the 1930s, Futsal is a hybrid of the Spanish words for soccer, Futbol, and indoor, Sala. It’s five-a-side, fast, fun, and can be played in school gym.
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  4. Swimming
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    Swimming

    Do you ever miss those high school swim practices? Evidently an endless stream of competitive swimmers do. So most big American cities have masters swim teams. And it doesn’t matter if you’re 35 or 85. In fact, the main governing body for competitive swimming, FINA, holds a masters world championship every two years with age groups that go up into the 90s. The next one is in 2012, plenty of time to practice.

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  5. Rock Climbing
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    Rock Climbing

    Maybe you like going to your local climbing gym and doing a few routes. Perhaps you’ve even worked it up to a 5.9 or 5.10 and think it’s time to take it up a notch. So head for Boulder, Colo., in February for the American Bouldering Series National Championships. There are competitions for kids and adults alike, or you could just watch in awe.
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  6. Volleyball
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    Volleyball

    Break out the shorts and head to the gym for some volleyball. That is, if you want to be competitive. Last year, 557 teams from all over the country competed in the USA Volleyball Open National Championships for adults. This year the tournament will be in Dallas from May 28 to June 4. Bump, set, spike.
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  7. Track
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    Track

    Whether you run the mile or do the triple jump, it’s worth taking a trip to the nationals for some competition. Last year, 850 folks aged 30 to 96 competed in the USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships. This year they’ll be in Albuquerque in early March. In July, if you’re really feeling the competitive urge, you can head to Sacramento for the World Masters Athletics Championships.
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  8. Tennis
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    Tennis

    It’s difficult to find a city in America without the big white inflatable coverings for indoor tennis courts. And finding a league is nearly as easy. So whether or not you have a 100 mph serve, the competition is out there to make it fun and challenging.
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  9. Field Hockey
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    Field Hockey

    The two major indoor field hockey championships—Big Apple International Championships and the Field Hockey America’s Indoor Club Championship—joined forces this year to hold the 2011 International Indoor Championships. Teenage groups and adults alike will compete at the monster Sportsplex just outside Philadelphia in Feasterville, Pa., in mid-February, though finding the competition could be difficult amid 100,000 square feet of soccer fields, roller hockey rinks, and sport courts.
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  10. Boxing
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    Boxing

    Maybe you just watched Million Dollar Baby or The Fighter, and you’re ready to get all crazy on a speed bag. Perhaps you even think you’re ready to jump in the ring. Most cities have more than a few boxing gyms and trainers dedicated to making you into a qualified pugilist. You just have to be willing to live without a few extra brain cells.
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  11. Basketball
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    Basketball

    Basketball is probably one of the most accessible sports because of the ubiquity of gyms, and basketball tournaments abound. In March is the 18th Annual 2011 North American Championships Buffalo Masters Basketball Tournament, which has more than 50 teams competing in various age groups. In May, the Masters Basketball Assn. hosts a tournament in Coral Springs, Fla.
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  12. Box Lacrosse
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    Box Lacrosse

    Cover a hockey rink with Astroturf, and you’ve got the makings of box lacrosse. Depending on the area, it can get serious. Cities in the East, such as Washington, D.C. (Metro Area Box Lacrosse League and Baltimore Indoor Lacrosse League), have tough teams and regular games. If you’re good enough, you just might make it to the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Prague during mid-May.
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  13. Cricket
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    Cricket

    Perhaps you’re a wicketkeeper or allrounder and you just can’t wait to get out to practice. Or maybe you’re just itching to play before the cricket World Cup starts in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh on Feb. 19. Either way, the indoor variation of cricket is fast and fun, with runs scored depending on where the ball hits the netting that surrounds a small field. In the States, there are even a few spots, such as Indoor Cricket USA, that focus on the sport with leagues and batting cages. In some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, the sport has caught on enough to have a national championship. The girls above are cheering their team at last year’s tournament in Australia.
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  14. Team Handball
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    Team Handball

    We’re not talking about the racquetball-esque version of handball (known as American handball) but rather the team version, with goals of indoor soccer-size and teams of seven. A team handball court is larger than a basketball court, but in a pinch, a basketball court will do. So there are plenty of places to play. It’s a truly global game, with championships on every populated continent and a national team from nearly every country. Plus, it’s fast and high scoring. So if you haven’t tried it, get out there and find a team.
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  15. Cycling
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    Cycling

    Sure, you can hop on an exercise bike at the gym, but if you really want to get crazy in the winter (and you’re tired of biking with studded tires in the snow), hit up a velodrome indoor cycling track. Around two dozen indoor velodromes are in the U.S. The best or worst part, depending on your perspective, are the banked walls. Some of the tracks bank just a little, while the most serious hit dizzying slopes of 45 degrees or more, like the wood velodrome at the Boulder Indoor Cycling in Colorado. For something a little more reasonable, Atlanta’s track is banked at a somewhat more reasonable 36-degree slope.
    C.R.A.S.H.-B.
  16. Table Tennis
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    Table Tennis

    Some might not consider table tennis a real "sport." But some others, like the folks at the New Jersey Table Tennis Club, call it "one of the fastest, most exciting sports in the world." At the top levels, ping pong is lightning fast and extremely competitive. You could keep playing in your basement. Or you could take it to the next level.
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  17. Martial Arts
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    Martial Arts

    Martial arts are not only a great way to learn self-defense; they are also pretty terrific exercise. For everything from judo, to kung-fu, to savate, there are dojos and trainers across the country, and competitions are held for all ages and skill levels across the U.S. To find out more, visit www.uskick.com.
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  18. Racketlon
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    Racketlon

    We promise this is a real sport. It’s something of a combination between tennis, squash, badminton, and table tennis, in which each sport is played to 21 points and every point counts. It has caught on in Europe, to some degree, but hasn’t quite hit critical mass in the U.S. Still, it could be good for a winter afternoon.
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  19. Flag Football
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    Flag Football

    You might remember flag football from high school. But in adult life, it sometimes gets much more competitive. Take the 20th Kelly McGillis Classic International Women’s and Girls Flag Football Championship, that ends/ended on Feb. 14, down in Key West, with more than 30 teams of women and girls competing. If you’re really serious, you could spend the winter getting your team ready for the 12th Annual International Flag Football Festival in Foxboro, Mass., on the weekend of July 29. Teams can be anything from four-man, no contact up to eight-man with contact.
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  20. Squash and Racquetball
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    Squash and Racquetball

    We apologize in advance to purists for grouping these two sports together, but hey, they’re similar. The bottom line is, there are ladders and tourneys in cities across the country. And to some degree, it’s like golf: You can play while making a business deal. The Grand Open, a big amateur singles tournament with more than 200 entries was held in January, but that just means there’s time to train for next year.
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  21. Floorball
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    Floorball

    Basically, it’s low-contact hockey in sneakers. If you haven’t been playing floorball regularly, you have an extra year to prepare for the Floorball World Championship, held only on even years. The competition is tough and dominated by countries that have significant amounts of snow, all year round. Only Sweden and Finland have won.
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