Feature Article - September 2013
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Programming: Recreational Sports

Never Stop Playing
Trends in Adult Recreational Sports

By Chris Gelbach

Collaboration Increases

As facility managers look to achieve full utilization of their facilities and serve their communities effectively, they're also collaborating more and more with other entities on their recreational sports programs. "Because there could be the potential to run a program, but maybe the parks and rec department doesn't have the space, but the Y does, or vice versa," Meinerth said.

According to Erkes, the Chicago Sport and Social Club is the largest user of the Chicago Park District outside of the park district itself, and he sees similar usage by other sport and social organizations in other major and midsize cities. "The biggest challenge our industry has is trying to identify and lock in space," he said. "If you have a gym, a field or any kind of court that's underutilized, reaching out to someone in our industry is a great way to A) make money off it and B) put it to use in the community."

At the college level, Rosick is seeing more collaboration between intramural sports and the college as a whole as recreational facilities increasingly become the hub for campus activity. "Any university you talk to, you can't get enough space, whether it's storage or programming space," he said. "It's more important than ever to make sure that you're collaborating with your fellow departments on campus to make sure that everybody gets the appropriate amount of time that they need to program."

Adapting the Classics

To utilize spaces more effectively, more facilities are also trying nontraditional takes on popular sports. For instance, Erkes noted that his club recently got access to the rooftop of a school that has a small turf field on it, and has started a nighttime three-on-three soccer league using glow-in-the-dark soccer balls. The organization also runs flag football leagues on a multiuse area with football, soccer and softball fields. "We turn it into 15 smaller football fields that we use every night of the week for six-on-six football," Erkes said.

Modifications to existing sports are also increasingly being made to suit specific audiences, as the National Senior Games does with its medal sport basketball by making the competition half-court and three-on-three. "Don't get so hung up on it being this traditional thing, that you have to have the correct number on each side," Riker said. "Try to grab a small number of people together, even with something like volleyball. Don't worry about having as many people on the court." In some cases, this might even mean opting for more open court time as opposed to a full-blown league.

Expanding the Participant Base

Ultimately, whether it's through new sports, shorter-term programming, or more gender- or age-specific programming, current trends in adult sports programming seem largely focused on getting more people physically active and socially involved through sport than ever before.

As an example, Riker talked about being approached by a woman recently in San Antonio who wanted to try pickleball when the Senior Games was giving a demonstration on the sport there. The woman seemed nervous and had a rough time at first, but then started getting into the action.

"We ended up talking with her, and she explained that she had played tennis for years," Riker said. "Then her knees were bone on bone and she had to stop, and she gained all this weight. She said, 'I didn't know of any other sport that I could do that I would like.' The woman was in tears. 'For 25 years,' she said, 'I haven't played tennis and that was what I loved to do.' And she said, 'My gosh, I can do this. I can play this pickleball thing.' You saw this person's transformation as she realized there was something she could do. And that's the message we really want to portray. There is definitely something for you to do to get out and be active. There are just so many opportunities. And if not, create one."