The joys of playing and learning sports as adults


Learning sports and building skills and athleticism is typically part of childhood. Through gym class, local recreation programs and organized teams, kids have abundant options to try new sports.

As parents, we are our young athletes chauffeurs, uniform and equipment managers, and cheer squad for many years. But, we don’t have to just sit on the sidelines and watch our kids play!

Regardless of your own childhood experiences, playing and learning sports and leading athletic lives as adults is enriching.

You can play and learn sports as an adult even if you didn’t as a child.

Maybe you didn’t have the chance to play sports as a child – not every family has the time or resources needed. Or maybe you grew up in a family that wasn’t physically active, or there weren’t many options nearby.

It could be that you were limited by your own or someone else’s perception of you as an athletic person.

I had an active childhood but played only a few organized sports. By high school, I had decided I was definitely more of a reader than an athlete. Through college and many years as a corporate cubicle-dweller I was basically sedentary. When I realized that using the stairs instead of elevators was my main form of exercise I knew something had to change.

Since then, I’ve become a runner, learned to ski, mountain bike, lift weights, hike, snowshoe, and more – all as an adult. Each sport and athletic pursuit has enhanced my life, and made me physically and mentally stronger. I didn’t realize what I was missing!

Woman snowshoeing through snow-covered woods on a sunny day.
The author snowshoeing on the Sweet Trail in Durham.

Our bodies want to move!

All the physical and mental health benefits that sports offer our kids are there for adults as well. Muscles feel better when they are worked. I know I rarely feel sore ‘just because’ – if I’m sore, I know why!

After spending so many years thinking and over-thinking, through sports I’ve learned to let my brain take a step back. Running on trails like the rooty, rocky Sweet Trail in Durham requires constant decisions as the trail winds and climbs through the woods. Thinking about where to step next will likely result in falling, so I don’t.

Instead, I’ve learned to let my body flow along the trail as it knows best. It is incredibly freeing, this letting go. And it carries over to other sports and in life as well.

Learning sports and becoming more athletic is something you can do just for yourself.

Youth sports can be very competitive but as an adult you decide how competitive you want to be. You decide how much pressure you want to put on yourself.

Take lessons. Play team sports and/or individual sports. Set huge goals, or maybe a goal just to get started. If you’ve always wanted to try (fill-in-the-blank) then you should! You might feel uneasy at first but growth and change are often uncomfortable. The more you try, the easier it becomes.

You’ll have a huge sense of accomplishment the first time you run a mile, or learn to link turns downhill skiing or ride a horse on a narrow mountain trail. It’s all you, you did it!

You can share the love of sports with your family and friends

I’ve learned that consistency and persistence will get you far but the journey is best shared with others. Through running, I’ve made lasting, deep friendships and have had incredibly fun adventures. My friends are always ready to try something new and they’ve encouraged me to continue to learn and grow.

Our family skied, hiked and biked together. We learned to snowboard with our daughter and ran road races with our son. Now as empty-nesters, my husband and I are taking full advantage of our extra time. We’ve been able to upgrade our 20-plus year old hiking equipment, bikes, downhill and cross-country skis. Every season, we’re out playing.

A man and woman at the top of the Manitou Incline stairs, Manitou Springs, Colorado. They are standing, smiling, wearing backpacks.
The author and husband after hiking to the top of the Manitou Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado on a recent trip. It was steep!

Learning new skills at every age works both your body and brain.

This summer we’ve started playing pickleball, the fastest growing sport in the country. It is a low-cost, easy to learn sport (kind of ‘tennis lite’) that requires good hand-eye coordination.

It’s popular because it is fun! There are courts throughout the Seacoast and many local recreation departments have lessons and open play time.

If you’ve been on the sidelines for too long, now is a great time to start to play or learn a new sport. Kids shouldn’t be the only ones having fun!

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, a school and community volunteer and a stay-at-home mom. I wrote a weekly running column for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! Nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after a long and active day spent outside in every season. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives and my husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.