Wednesday, February 28, 2024

In adult sports, it’s more than the game. Here’s why

Sports for adults in Hampton Roads are more social than competitive. (Photo courtesy of ClubWAKA)
Sports for adults in Hampton Roads are more social than competitive. (WYDaily/Courtesy of ClubWAKA)

It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday and the aroma of Mexican food hovers over the soccer field like a morning mist as families and friends gather.

It’s a midweek evening, and softball, kickball and dodgeball players meet at the sponsor’s restaurant for postgame laughs.

It’s another early evening, and after 90-plus minutes of pick-up soccer, the camaraderie and beer flow faster and more smoothly than the action.

Similar scenes play out all over Hampton Roads, from Virginia Beach to the Peninsula to the Middle Peninsula. And while the action centers on sports and competition, the focal point is socializing.

“The sport itself is a fun time, but what I really enjoy most about it is that social aspect,” said Brent Wentworth, the general manager of ClubWAKA, which began as the World Adult Kickball Association in Washington, D.C., but now covers a wide range of sports in about 40 cities across the United States.

Said Dawn Fleming, who organizes pick-up soccer on the Middle Peninsula: “I think I’ve always played more for just the social aspect, to get out and meet people. I’m typically one of the ones that wants to hang out afterward.”

Ryan Kiel plays in a number of leagues on the Southside, mainly because he loves sports. But he also likes the social aspect.

“The second thing I’ve gotten out of it is just meeting a lot of new people I would never have met otherwise,” he said.

Those three are not alone. According to an article in “Athletic Business,” more adults are playing in leagues across the country, and millennials are twice as likely as those from Generation X to take part in team sports as adults. The biggest reasons, according to Sports Marketing Surveys USA, are health and socialization.

“It’s growing overall, the activities may ebb and flow,” Wentworth said of his organization. “We’ve had our largest four months in Hampton Roads than we’ve had in any point prior to this.”

Most of those are leagues or organizations that not only provide people a fun way to exercise, but also help them make lasting friendships and, in some cases, lifelong relationships.

Wentworth and Fleming are among the many people who met their significant other on the field.

“I met Brent playing a silly game you play in grade school. How crazy!” said his wife, Dottie.

Dottie Wentworth was somewhat skeptical when a friend asked her to join a kickball team. She hadn’t played sports growing up, but would go to the gym.

“She sold me on the fun, friendly, and social atmosphere,” Dottie said. “The best part was meeting new people at a ‘host bar’ and having a beer after the games.”

It was at one of the social gatherings that she got to know Brent, who played on an opposing team. Now it’s 10 years later, they are married and have a 3-year-old son.

Fleming has been with Garry Spain for 10 years. They met while playing on opposite teams in a James City County soccer league.

“When we first started dating, my team and his team went out afterward,” Fleming said.

Spain, 45, said he used to play mainly for competitive reasons, but as he’s gotten older, that has changed.

“It’s gone more toward social,” he said, adding the thought of just playing a game and not having a social aspect afterward has less appeal than it did years ago.

Fleming echoed that thought: “For me, that is what keeps me going, because I don’t play as well as I used to. If there was no social aspect … if all there was was frustration, it wouldn’t appeal to me that much.”

For Brent Wentworth, that’s what he likes about playing sports and being involved in an organization that emphasizes the social aspect.

“The most fulfilling part of being in this organization is seeing people connect and develop those friendships and social circles, and then relationships.”

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