Most Australians grew up playing organised sport on weekends, whether it was Aussie rules, rugby league, cricket or netball.

But as people get older and family, work and life get in the way, their sporting participation decreases. 

After that, it can become harder to fit regular physical exercise back into weekly routines.

A study by South Australia’s Flinders University has found that only 31 per cent of adults aged 55 or over are engaged in sport at least once a week.

Sarah Crossman, a PhD student at Flinders University, is researching adults engaged in sport.

A former triathlete, Ms Crossman was interested in the reasons why people such as herself may or may not get involved in sport, and what the barriers might be.

“We know that lots of factors get in the way of people getting involved in sport, particularly time, as people get older and busier with family and work commitments,” she said.

“We’re suggesting that maybe we can rethink how sport is offered for adults.

“We know that sport involvement brings many physical and mental health benefits to people, and lots of opportunities for social connection that many people value,” Ms Crossman said.

Returning to the game he loves

In his early 60s, soccer fan Alan Templeton happened to be watching an English TV show when he noticed a segment on walking football.

Alan Templeton in Action

Alan Templeton knew walking football would be the sport for him.  (Supplied: Alan Templeton)

“I knew right away that was something I wanted to be involved with,” Mr Templeton said.

“So, I pursued around South-East Queensland any walking football programs, which there wasn’t.”

Mr Templeton went further afield and tried to see if places such as Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne had a walking football program.

After having no luck, he decided to start one himself.

“I got myself organised, I did a website, I did a Facebook page, and planned a come-and-try regular once a week social walking session at a centre in North Lakes [north of] Brisbane,” Mr Templeton said.

“I think it was the seventh of January 2018, we were able to have our very first walking football session in Queensland.”

For Mr Templeton, seeing this modified version of the sport he loved gave him another chance to play the game at an older age.

He is still playing the sport six years later at 68. 

“I hung up my boots in 2009 I think it was, I just couldn’t keep up with the running side of it,” he said.

Mr Templeton didn’t play another sport after his retirement, as there was nothing that gave him the buzz that football could.

But taking up walking football gave him just what he was after.

“I’ve always played five a side, I’ve always played 11 a side, so it was just a magnificent feeling crossing that white line again,” he said.

A group of older women in green and gold soccer get up kneeling in front of a soccer goal

Men’s and women’s teams have taken on walking football on the national and international stage.(Supplied: Alan Templeton)

Squashing barriers

Some sporting competitions have found unique ways to help their players stay in the game.

In Broken Hill, squash players benefit from a flexible timetable when it comes to competition night.

“With Broken Hill there’s a lot of mine workers,” said Broken Hill Squash Club former vice-president Nathan Hiscock.

“Squash was always on a Thursday night. If you knew you couldn’t make it, then you could pre-play your game before the Thursday night, or post-play it before the next week.”

Even though this was in place for local squash players, a lot of the older players still enjoyed showing up on competition night for the social side of playing.

Glass squash court

In Broken Hill, squash players can play a pre- or post-game if they can’t make it on competition night. (ABC Local: Robert Virtue/file photo)

“Most of the older guys that did play actually loved going down there Thursday, so they rarely missed it.”

Pre- and post-play also means an even competition across the board, instead of having a substitute filling in.

“Just with the limited numbers it was always hard to get someone on the same sort of level to fill in,” Mr Hiscock said.

“Otherwise, you’re getting people from the bottom to play up a long way and then the games aren’t even at all.”

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