Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports
Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports
Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports

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A Woman's place, especially if she's over 40, is on the playing field, court or pool. This appears to be true of many, but not all, sports. The Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (a.k.a. Title IX) was enacted on June 23, 1972. Its implementation has taken place over the last three decades until today almost all schools and colleges offer sports to men and women equally. However, most women over the age of 40 did not have the force of Title IX behind them and, as a result, had limited opportunities to compete in sports when they were growing up. Many sports had been male bastions for years and slow to tolerate, much less encourage, women in their ranks. Today all sports organizations welcome female competitors.

The 2009 data presents two ways of gauging the participation in sports for women over 40. First, it shows the number of women competitors in each sport for the 2009 national championships. Second, it shows the percentage of women competitors among all competitors. Note that "competitors" and "individuals competing" are not always synonymous (see Introduction to Data Analysis).

Of the 27 sports profiled here, three sports -- baseball, basketball, and handball -- did not have age-group classes for women over 40 in 2009. This does not mean that there were no women over 40 competing in these sports. It does suggest that, if there were female competitors, there were not enough over 40 to justify an over-40 age-group class. The sports with the highest number of female competitors were swimming, rowing, and softball. The sports with the highest percentage of female competitors were triathlon, rowing, and platform tennis. The table below shows the number and percentage of female competitors over 40 in each of the 27 sports. For sports with multiple national championship, I have selected a representative example.

Participation of Women in Age-Group Classes in 2009 National Championships
Sport Event Total Competitors Over 40 Women Over 40 Percent of Women
Alpine Skiing U.S. Masters 430 82 19%
Badminton U.S. Senior Championship 370 139 38%
Baseball MSBL/MABL World Series 3420 0 0%
Basketball Buffalo Masters 744 0 0%
Canoeing U.S. Marathon Championship 330 45 14%
X-C Skiing National Masters Championship 880 325 27%
Cycling National Masters Road Races 983 250 25%
Diving U.S. Veteran Spring Natinals 159 62 39%
Fencing U.S. Summer Nationals 495 174 35%
Handball Masters 4-Wall Nationals 243 0 0%
Ice Hockey USA Adult Hockey Nationals 825 150 18%
Orienteering US Individual Nationals 126 39 31%
Platform Tennis APTA Nationals 348 164 47%
Powerlifting Masters Powerlifting Nationals 154 41 27%
Racquetball National Masters 238 47 20%
Distance Running US Masters 5K Nationals 200 52 20%
Rowing US Masters 5220 2669 51%
Soccer US Veterans Cup 1440 600 42%
Softball Senior Softball World Series 4740 600 13%
Speedskating US Long Track Championship 128 19 15%
Squash National Masters 130 15 12%
Swimming US Short Course Nationals 3983 1663 42%
Table Tennis US Nationals 373 35 9%
Tennis US Hard Court Nationals 1522 455 30%
Track & Field US Masters Outdoor Nationals 1825 551 30%
Triathlon US Age Group Nationals 287 152 53%
Volleyball US Adult Nationals 1000 312 31%
Weightlifting American Masters 131 20 15%

What conclusions can we draw from this table? One thing is clear. There are lots of opportunities for women over 40 to compete. They can join a host of their peers in sports like swimming or rowing, or they can help sports like handball create greater opportunities for women over 40.

All of the sponsoring organizations of these sports encourage women over 40 to compete. For example, in the April, 2009 issue of "Handball" (the monthly publication of US Handball), Lea Ann Martin, the USHA's Women's Commissioner summarizes the impressive progress of women in her sport over the past 17 years. While the number of women over 40 who are currently competing in handball national championships is limited, it is clear that the USHA is working hard to change that.

I have not discovered the perfect way to measure the participation of women in these sports. The table above presents one imperfect way. What is clear from the table is that women over 40 have lots of opportunities to I hope those interested will suggest alternative approaches to gauge participation.

If you have questions or comments, which I welcome, contact me at 40plussports@gmail.com.

Tom Jones


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