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Feature Article - September 2013

Programming: Recreational Sports

Never Stop Playing
Trends in Adult Recreational Sports

By Chris Gelbach


Adult recreational sports offer recreation managers a potent way to encourage lifelong fitness and build a sense of community among patrons of all ages. These programs can also be a great way to fill facility space during both peak and off-peak hours. And more and more recreation managers are doing this through a variety of approaches, including the introduction of nontraditional sports, shorter-term programs, gender-specific leagues and adapted versions of popular team sports.

Traditional Sports Hold Strong

According to Dara Meinerth, specialist for sports and recreation at YMCA of the USA, traditional stalwarts such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis and softball have sustained their momentum in recent years at YMCAs across the nation. The change she is seeing in these sports is a shift toward more gender-specific leagues. "We're seeing more women's sports programming such as women's soccer, basketball and tennis leagues," Meinerth said. She's also seeing baseball fade a bit in lieu of softball, a reflection of the aging adult population.

Likewise, core sports like volleyball, softball, football and soccer continue to remain staples at the sport and social club level, according to Jason Erkes, president of the Chicago Sport and Social Club and board director at the Sport and Social Industry Association. "Those sports continue to grow, but they're not evolving into ridiculous numbers," he said.

Flashback Sports Spike Among Young Professionals

Instead, Erkes is seeing more growth in low-skill, high-nostalgia sports at the sport and social club level. "The things that have evolved in the last five years are those flashback sports—kickball, dodgeball, wiffle ball, things like that," said Erkes, who is seeing this trend nationwide among the sport and social industry's typical clientele in their 20s and 30s.

According to Erkes, these sports provide a great way to reach new audiences. "They enable us to market to and pull in more of a nonathletic clientele to sign up and play in our leagues," he said. They can also be more appealing to women intimidated by more traditional coed sports. "Some of our sports, when you're on a coed team, some of the girls feel like they're not competitive enough to play, and it turns them off," he said. "But when someone says do you want to get a dodgeball or kickball team together, they have nothing to be scared of."

Adult recreational sports offer recreation managers a potent way to encourage lifelong fitness and build a sense of community among patrons of all ages.

At the college intramural level, however, dodgeball and kickball are declining a bit in popularity, according to John Rosick, assistant director of campus recreation at Grand Valley State University and state director of the Michigan Intramural Recreational Sports Association. Rosick attributes this in part to the fact that dodgeball has fallen out of favor over the past decade in the physical education curriculum, which has minimized its nostalgic appeal for today's college students.

Instead, Rosick has seen the popularity of these sports wax and wane along with trends in popular culture. "Five to 10 years ago when the movie Dodgeball came out, dodgeball became a huge intramural sport," Rosick said. "When you saw the rise of the World Series of Poker about 10 years ago, you saw that being brought onto intramural programs. But today I'd say the two most prevalent are Quidditch and Battleship."

Nontraditional and Short-Term Programming Grows

Quidditch, a field sport based loosely on the sport described in the Harry Potter novels, is popping up in more college campuses across the nation, as is Battleship, in which teams in canoes throw pails of water at opposing teams to try to sink them and remain the last boat afloat. "The downside of these nontraditional sports is, while you might get huge popularity today, my philosophy of intramural programming is to find sports that are going to sustain over time," Rosick said.

In today's fast-paced culture, Rosick is also seeing a trend toward more short-term programming. "Whereas traditional intramurals goes by the idea of four or five weeks of regular season events and then a couple more weeks of playoffs, you're seeing more one-weekend events, one-day events, and two-weekend events," he said.