Senior Sports: A Win for Athletes (and for Host Cities) | Sports Destination Management

Senior Sports: A Win for Athletes (and for Host Cities)

May 01, 2024 | By: Susan Hlavacek

It’s no secret (to anyone)  that the population of senior athletes is growing. People who are active are continuing to age and as they do so, they are keeping up their healthy habits. As the National Senior Games Association, we give them a place to do that. Our Senior Games allow people to engage in competition with others their age, as well as to maintain their social interactions with their friends and colleagues. Itís a win/win/win.

We are fully back from the pandemic. All the way back in 2022, when we held our event in Fort Lauderdale, our numbers were robust and they have continued to be strong. People are comfortable traveling and competing and being with their friends as usual, and it is evident in the participation trends nationwide.

The 2025 Games

Photo courtesy of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA)
Photo courtesy of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA)

Our next edition of the National Senior Games will take place in Des Moines, Iowa in 2025, from July 24 to August 4. State qualifiers are taking place now, and athletes nationwide are working to punch their tickets. We’re hard at work too, crafting an event that will provide opportunities to all our athletes, from age 50 (the point at which they are first eligible to compete in the Games), to those who have been coming and competing for years – and by the way, some of those have passed the century mark in age.

Some of those individuals will come to Des Moines in search of a medal or a personal best while others will make the trip there not just to compete but to enjoy the experience of the Games themselves: sightseeing, visiting with friends and cheering on others, as well as taking part in events like our torch relay and our Celebration of Athletes. Some will bring family members to cheer them on.

Registration has not yet opened for the Senior Games; once it does, we are expecting strong attendance. Because Des Moines is in the center of the country, it will allow for easy travel from all directions. There is a lot to do in the city, with attractions like the Papajohn Sculpture Park, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Des Moines Art Center, Blank Park Zoo, Salisbury House and Gardens, World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, Science Center of Iowa, Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden, plus bars, restaurants, breweries, parks, trails, opportunities to take in live sports and more. We think Des Moines is really going to be an eye-opener for people who have never visited the Midwest.

Volunteers are Needed

Photo courtesy of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA)
Photo courtesy of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA)

We’re in the process of putting out a call for volunteers; it takes a lot of helping hands to put on the National Senior Games. We are hoping to have close to 2,000 people who can help out in all capacities. We need people to assist not just with providing information, checking in athletes and managing events but also helping out in a professional capacity; the Senior Games needs athletic trainers, physicians, EMS workers and so forth. That calls for a lot of organization and attention to detail on our part and on the part of our host city.

Changes in Sports Offered at The National Senior Games

Even though we have been producing our events for years, there will always be an evolution in how things are done. We’re going to be phasing out some sports. Racquetball, for example, has been dropping in participation overall; at the same time, fewer and fewer cities are able to offer enough courts in one location to host a full tournament. We will host racquetball at the national level one final time in Des Moines and after that, we will discontinue it.

At the same time, some new sports are being added to the lineup, including disc golf, beach volleyball, billiards, powerlifting and tai chi. Additionally, there will be some new events offered within sport classifications. To our running events, we will add a one-mile road race. To our basketball competition, we are adding a basketball skills event, including free throw and three-point shooting. Our golf tournament this year will include a scramble format. We’re also adding a new pickleball event for non-ambulatory players.

Decisions regarding new sports for the Games are made based on a number of factors. We have to evaluate not just which sports are up and coming but which sports have a senior division and what seniors are participating in nationwide. We’re always tracking that kind of information.

For a sport to be adopted at the national level, several other factors need to fall into place. We need to make sure that adding it is a fiscally smart decision, that facilities are going to be available nationwide (after all, the Games move from city to city), and that our state members have an opportunity to offer qualifiers in the sport. The sport has to be applicable to both men and women as well.

Once our staff does the research, our National Senior Games Committee and the Board of Directors will vote – but only after we present our research to the committee. All those pieces need to be in place for a sport to be added. Overall, we’re keeping a close watch on the trends in sports and in particular, what the younger generations are playing since, over time, they become our athletes at the state and national Senior Games.

Offering Opportunities for Women to Compete

Something very rewarding to us is the fact that we are offering opportunities for women who are ages 50 and up to compete in all our sports. This is incredibly important because many of our female athletes went to school before 1972, when Title IX was signed into law. Until that time, most of them did not have the opportunity to compete in sports in high school and/or college. It is great to see them competing now; you might say they are making up for lost time!

Site Selection

We’re sometimes asked where we’ll be going next. While do not have an announcement yet, it is safe to say we’re currently evaluating proposals from several destinations. Among the factors that come into play in site selection are the location and quality of facilities (of course) and the availability of accommodations for athletes, as well as opportunities for dining, sightseeing and more. We do not use a stay-to-play policy because we have learned our athletes like to choose their own accommodations.

Rotating the Games to different cities allows athletes to get a new experience each time, and to learn about new destinations. It’s also no surprise that the economic impact of our Games is very strong. Our 2023 Senior Games in Pittsburgh, which brought over 10,000 athletes (and family members, as well as friends) to the city, was honored as one of SDM’s Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism, and for good reason: the event consumed 13,745 room nights and resulted in a total economic impact of $30.9 million.

National Senior Games Week

One of our recent efforts was National Senior Games Week, which ran from March 18th through the 24th. We promoted our Games on social media, as well as on our website, and were rewarded with excellent social media pickup, as well as with the news of strong participation in special activities at the state level across the board. We look forward to offering this event once again next year.

Overall, senior sports, just like our population of athletes themselves, are healthy and growing. We are pleased to be able to play a role in giving these athletes a forum for competition, for recognition of their efforts, and for great experiences in exciting new cities. And since watching such athletes is inspirational for those who live in the host cities for the Games – and since the cities also benefit from the sports tourism they bring – the Games continue to be a win for everyone. SDM


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