When thinking about competitive sports, you might picture professional athletes in high impact sports like football, basketball, soccer or baseball. These athletes are usually in peak physical condition and are rarely performing professionally past their mid-forties. Many older adults may think that their days of playing competitive sports are behind them, but in reality, there are many benefits to staying active as you age!

Billy Marcantel, Recreation Manager for Parks, Recreation and Cultural affairs in Gainesville, says that while involvement in competitive sports provides the obvious benefits of improving participants’ physical and mental well-being leading to better health, one of the greatest benefits is community. While sports and recreation play a strong role in developing the psychomotor, cognitive and affective skills in children and adolescents, most adults have already developed these skills, and they engage in sports for health and social benefits.

“I have seen several instances where individuals have either relocated or, for one reason or another, have lost or been removed from their social groups,” said Marcantel. “In these cases, engaging in different team or even individual sports has given them an opportunity to be part of a new community which allows the participants to build new support groups.” He believes that when people have opportunities to stay actively engaged in something they enjoy, most other aspects of their lives will typically improve, as well.

Where can you go?

In the Gainesville area, there are several opportunities for involvement in competitive sports, from highly active to lower impact events. Options include adult softball, tennis, racquetball, pickleball, golf, swimming and basketball, just to name a few. “While the Recreation Division of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs only manages or operates a couple of these options, several of them are played or take place at our facilities,” Marcantel said. “USTA Florida assumed the role of the City’s tennis provider this year, and they offer lessons, programming, and activities through the four courts they manage.” According to Marcantel, pickleball has also picked up a lot of momentum in the past couple of years, and is becoming an extremely popular sport across the state.

“Most weekday mornings you can find groups playing inside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Purpose Center, and they
are extremely welcome to teaching any newcomers interested in learning about the sport,” he said.

“One exciting opportunity for the future will be the Rotary Generational Playzone that has been designed and slotted
for construction at Northside Park in Gainesville,” Marcantel said.

“Through a combination of Wild Spaces and Public Places funding and a generous donation from the Rotary, we will be renovating the park to include several activities such as pickleball courts, bocce ball and petanque courts, new racquetball courts, and several different table top games.” Some areas of the disc golf course will also be seeing improvements with the new updates.

“Seniors are fast becoming one of the larger groups of active sports and recreation participants, and I think it is an exciting time to be able to see new opportunities being provided for them here in Gainesville,” Marcantel said.

by Selena Garrison