Today's Older Adults: Strategies of Facilitating Sport Participation


  • Stephanie West James Madison University
  • Xingxing Wu University of Arizona
  • Toni Liechty University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Julie Son University of Idaho
  • Jill Juris Appalachian State University
  • Megan Janke Berry College
  • Jen Wong The Ohio State University
  • Guangzhou Chen University of New Hampshire



Sport, Recreation, Older Adutls, Leisure-Time Physical Activity, Park and Recreation Agency


As the U.S. population ages, park and recreation (P&R) professionals face increasing demand to provide age-appropriate and health-promoting programming for older adults. Recent qualitative research suggests older adults are interested in participating in sport programs tailored to their age group. Using socioecological theory as the guiding framework, and leisure constraint theory specifically, the current study explored participation and interest in recreational sport among older adults across the U.S. and their perceptions of how local P&R agencies currently meet, or fail to meet, their needs. Data, collected in 2019 via a nationwide online survey completed by 1,203 adults aged 50 and over, provided insights into the current population of older adults who are diverse in terms of health status, amount of discretionary time, and interest/experience with sport. Although most participants suggested they do not regularly participate in recreational sport, approximately half indicated they would be interested to try a new sport if opportunities were available, and they are motivated by health benefits, social opportunities, and enjoyment of recreational sport. Sports with the most interest were golf, pickleball, and softball. Additionally, participants expressed interest in bowling, hiking, tennis, volleyball, and swimming. Unfortunately, less than 20% of participants indicated they were satisfied or highly satisfied with the sport opportunities for older adults available through their local P&R department. Related to constraints, participants reported that constraints hindering their participation in recreational sport include physical or health-related factors (e.g., not being in good enough shape, not having the sport-related skills), lack of companions with whom to participate, lack of awareness of opportunities, lack of access to fields/facilities, and cost. The findings also relate to leisure facilitators within the constraint negotiation model, and suggests P&R agencies can facilitate sport participation among older adults by promoting the health, social, and fun aspects of participation; offering opportunities targeted at beginners with no skill/experience required; ensuring programs are age-specific and modified to reduce risk of injury; facilitating introductions among players or providing opportunities for individuals to join teams; ensuring that low-cost options exist, and increasing awareness among older adults through channels effective for this age group (e.g., personal invitation, Facebook). The findings highlight the importance of making older adults a priority when planning sport opportunities and understanding their sport-related interests and unique needs.


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