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Promoting Team Sport Participation among Older Women

Stephanie West, Jill J. Naar, Julie S. Son, Toni Liechty


Sport and other leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) can provide meaningful opportunities to promote health and wellness in later life. For women specifically, sport provides opportunities to improve physical and mental health, increase social support, and experience empowerment as they resist stereotypes about age and gender. Unfortunately, compared to men or younger women, older women generally participate in lower rates and face increased constraints to participation in sport. The purpose of this study was therefore to identify programmatic strategies that parks and recreation (P&R) agencies might pursue for promoting and facilitating team sports as a means of encouraging older women to remain physically active. In this qualitative study, researchers conducted six focus groups with 64 women, aged 55-85 who were currently participating in softball as part of the Senior Games program. Focus group interviews lasting 50-70 minutes were conducted by two researchers at locations chosen by the participants. Focus groups were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed thematically.

Six themes emerged related to ways P&R professionals can facilitate sport participation for older women: 1) tailored rules, 2) team organization and development, 3) player recruitment, 4) promotion outlets, 5) facilities and resources available, and 6) community and organizational support. Rule modifications were perceived as a way to help older women remain safe and free from sport-related injuries. In terms of team organization and development, P&R professionals need to educate seniors and provide opportunities for sport programs. For example, a brochure or pamphlet could illustrate the competitive and noncompetitive sports programs available for older adults and the benefits of maintaining LTPA in old age. Additionally, P&R professionals can provide opportunities for seniors to engage in competitive team sports by hosting meetings, socials or off-season and foul-weather practices. Most respondents had been personally recruited by someone else, but they recognized the limits of their social networks. As such, some respondents indicated it would be helpful if P&R professionals offered community interest meetings to allow potential participants opportunities to ask questions, meet other players or learn if this is the right activity for them. In terms of promotion, findings suggest that P&R agencies should utilize social media, local newspapers and print flyers. P&R professionals may also need to help teams get started with using social media. For example, they could provide instructional classes to teach teams how to set up their own social media sites, or how to incorporate team info into departmental social media sites, such as Facebook groups, or how to increase web traffic. Regarding facilities and resources, communities were seen as favoring youth sports in terms of funding, equipment, and access to facilities. P&R agencies are therefore recommended to provide a more equitable balance. Supporting and promoting opportunities for older adults to engage in sport within local communities supports the model of successful aging and promotes LTPA benefits for seniors. 

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Competition; older adults; physical activity; recreation programs; Senior Games; softball; sport

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