Seniors Diving Back Into Competition | Sports Destination Management

Seniors Diving Back Into Competition

May 12, 2022 | By: Susan Hlavacek

After a delay necessitated by the pandemic, the National Senior Games return - our first event since 2019, when they were held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The upcoming Games are being held in Fort Lauderdale from May 10-23, 2022.

Effects of the Pandemic

We were curious as to whether people would be coming together to compete again but judging from the numbers of athletes registered – close to 12,000 – it’s obvious they are excited to be back, and we certainly are excited to have them. Athletes haven’t been able to participate on a regular basis in their state games or any competitions during the pandemic, so there was no outlet to be physically active in a competitive environment.

Trends in Sports

Photo courtesy of National Senior Games Association

We keep a pulse on what sports are trending in the senior population. Pickleball, for example, continues to grow at a very fast pace. People often ask us how we decide which sports to add to the Games. We have to evaluate not just on which sports are up and coming but what sports have a senior division and what seniors are participating in nationwide. We’re always tracking what sports are out there and how many senior athletes are participating in them.

For a sport to be adopted at the national level, several factors need to fall into place. They are as follows. The staff needs to research to see if the suggested sport is a viable one for our seniors. We need to make sure that adding it is fiscally a smart decision, that facilities are available, and that our state members have an opportunity to offer the sport.

We also need a high percentage of our state members to hold competitions in that sport so that athletes have a chance to qualify to compete at the national level. 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 in order for a sport to be implemented.

Overall, we’re keeping a close watch on the trends of what is happening 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.

Future Sites

We just announced the dates for the 2023 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. The Games return to the City of Champions July 7-18, 2023. The city previously hosted the Games in 2005. We are currently working with the SportsPITTSBURGH group.

We currently have an RFP out for the 2025 Games. When we select a city, we look at several criteria. A few of these are city support, proximity of venues to our main hub, appropriate size of venue to host the number of athletes for that particular sport, special events space, proximity of airports and enough hotels to support the size of our event.

Beyond the competition, we want our athletes to have an opportunity to explore the city and all that it offers. We have a variety of athletes with different skill levels. They all want to come and compete, whether it be to play hard in pursuit of a medal, or just to participate and take in all the excitement of the Games.

Something else interesting about the demographic of our athletes is the fact that many (women, especially, in this case) were attending high school and college in the era before Title IX took effect (it was passed in 1972, making this – fanfare, please – the 50th anniversary of its passing).

At the time Title IX was passed (and before that), there were few, and sometimes no, opportunities for women. In fact, women were not encouraged to pursue athletic activities in general. It was only later that they were able to find outlets for competition.

We are thrilled to give the female athlete an opportunity to express themselves through sport. We are starting to see the gap narrowing between the number of male versus number of female athletes participating.

Age Trends

Photo courtesy of National Senior Games Association

The National Senior Games is open to all athletes ages 50 and up. Sometimes. people are surprised to learn what the minimum age is; they might not feel like a ‘senior’ at age 50. We often have to make them understand that senior does not mean elderly. Seniors aren’t necessarily retirees.

We’re cognizant that many people who are between the ages of 50 and 60 are still working, so we try to accommodate them by scheduling events for their age group closer to the weekend. We would like to grow the participation in that 50-60 age group.

Our Event

The National Senior Games Presented by Humana hold the distinction of being the largest multi-sport championship event in the world for adults 50 and over. It enjoys a great reputation among senior athletes and it’s also an enormous win for the host city; officials in Albuquerque reported the event generated $37 million for its economy in 2019. We like to think we bring as much to the city as our athletes take away from it in good memories and lasting friendships.

As we enter the homestretch for our Games in Fort Lauderdale, we are fine-tuning the details and looking forward to another successful Games. Competitions will be held at the convention center and at multiple venues throughout Broward County. We know the city has a great vacation appeal, and that many athletes will be taking some time to relax both before and after they have competed. We are looking forward to working with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, to welcoming our athletes back and to celebrating activity at every age. SDM

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