It all started with a Facebook post. The New Jersey National Senior Olympics needed women for its pickleball singles tournament. It seemed like an interesting idea. I’d never played in a national tournament and I’d rarely played singles.
It was a hot September day on the courts at the New Jersey State qualifying tournament. There were dozens of doubles teams (women’s, men’s, and mixed) fighting out for a spot at the national games. It was very competitive and the level of play was quite high. After doubles, the singles round robin tournament started. The games were intense and fun. I came in third. Since I didn’t know any of the rules about the National Senior Games, I assumed that I had to finish in first place and had missed my chance for the 2023 games.
A few months later, I received a letter that I had qualified to play in the national games. I was excited. I clicked onto the registration page and… there was a waiting list. As a result of pickleball’s growing popularity, it was the only sport that had to limit the number of players at the National Senior Games. Once again, I resigned myself to trying again in 2 years. A few weeks later, I received an email that a spot had opened up in the tournament. I quickly registered and I was in!
2023 National Senior Games In Pittsburgh
In July, I made my way to Pittsburgh for the National Senior Games. The city was flooded with people from all over the country. Every restaurant we went to was full of athletes of all shapes and sizes — volleyball players, runners, golfers, and more. Everyone was asking each other: What sport? Where are you from? Even the servers in the restaurants were wishing everyone a good time.
It was quite an experience to see top-level athletes with gray (or no) hair, all different physiques, from all over the country. The environment was inclusive and friendly with everyone devoted to excelling in a sport to the best of their abilities while having fun.
National Senior Games Pickleball Tournament
The day of the pickleball singles tournament arrived. We walked over to the sports hall for the competition. I was nervous and excited about playing and hoping to win at least one match. Truth be told, I really wanted to medal. We warmed up and then play started. There were dozens of courts in the sports hall, all full of competitors. My opponent had not arrived. I waited and waited. Ok, I had a win by forfeit. Time for the second match against Betsy from Louisiana. I lost that one, then won another, and then lost my fourth match.
I ended up making it to the quarterfinals and getting a ribbon for seventh place. Not the medal I hoped for, but I enjoyed competing and learned a lot. It was fun to be at the award ceremony and cheer on the top finishers and all of the women that participated.
National Senior Games History
Since 1987, the National Senior Games have taken place every other year (biennially). It is the largest event of its kind in the world for seniors aged 50 and above. Individual sports include tennis, golf, archery, cycling, track and field events, and more. There are non-ambulatory competitions in bowling, cornhole, and shuffleboard. Team sports include basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball. In total, there are 29 sports and the location of the games rotates. This year, it was Pittsburgh. In 2025, the games will be in Des Moines, Iowa.
How You Can Qualify For The 2025 Games
You must be at least 50 years old to participate in the senior games. To ensure a fair playing field, age groups are segmented by 5 years (50–54, 55–59, and up to the 90s). For some sports, there are state tournaments like the one that I competed in. In other sports, there is a qualifying standard that you have to meet.
The state qualification tournaments and events take place in 2024 for the 2025 National Senior Games. If your state doesn’t have a qualifying tournament, then you’ll have to meet the qualifying standards. For the team sports, you’ll have to join a team with lead-up time to help them compete for a spot at the games.
There will be state events in 2024 to qualify for the 2025 games. You’ll find the contacts and calendar of events for your state on the National Senior Games website. Many states allow out-of-state participants to participate in the qualifying events, so if you miss your state’s games or tournament, take a look at your neighboring states.
Inspiration At The Games
The National Senior Olympics are inspirational for the athletes, as well as their family, friends, and other attendees. While the events are competitive, there is also a spirit of camaraderie. The National Senior Games is attainable. It is possible to compete in the national games, even if you’re not a 20-something-year-old professional athlete. It will inspire you to become more athletic within the realm of your capabilities, and with others that are doing so.
You don’t have to be an athlete to attend the games. Plenty of people come to watch and cheer on the participants. In Pittsburgh, there was no charge to come to an event. It’s a great opportunity to meet people from around the country and to enjoy everyone’s efforts to be the best they can be. It’s quite inspiring to experience the passion and commitment of these athletes. Watching some of the 80 and 90-year-old athletes will give you hope for your own future. The parade of athletes is impressive to see all of the state delegations. In Pittsburgh, the parade took place before a Pirates baseball game.
So, I didn’t come home with a medal from my first National Senior Games. I came home with something much more — new friends, new experiences, and the joy of being a senior athlete. Trying to qualify for the games is a win-win whether you succeed or not. It will motivate you to practice, exercise, and socialize. And, if you don’t qualify, you can still attend and cheer on those that did.