Sports and exercise policy for elderly municipalities: improvements needed, swimming industry can help

Municipalities often pay attention to the elderly in their sports and exercise policy, but there are still various bottlenecks, according to research by the Mulier Institute among policy officers and neighborhood sports coaches. More than half of the municipalities indicate that their sports and exercise policy for the elderly is reasonable or very effective, and neighborhood sports coaches are also very satisfied with their work within this policy. Nevertheless, 62% of the surveyed municipalities and 76% of the neighborhood sports coaches experience bottlenecks in implementing the sports and exercise policy for the elderly. Swimming is a very suitable activity for the elderly to keep fit. Bottlenecks can then be a great opportunity for swimming pools to respond to this. Good for the swimming pools, but even better for the vitality of the elderly.

Municipalities policy

Most municipalities in the Netherlands (85%) have formulated policy objectives for sports and exercise for the elderly. About half of these have specific objectives and the other half fall under the general sports or elderly policy. Most often use is made of the deployment of a neighborhood sports coach, with a neighborhood sports coach specifically aimed at the elderly in 86%. Of the municipalities that indicate that they apply a specific age limit from a certain age, 55+ and 65+ are mentioned most often. Of the municipalities that indicate that there are age limits, but that it varies per component, most say that this is because they connect a certain activity to the intended target group. For one activity this may be vulnerable people aged 70+, and for others vital people aged 55+.


Only a small part of the municipalities perceive their own policy as not very effective (5%). Nevertheless, 62% of the surveyed municipalities that have a sports and exercise policy for the elderly experience bottlenecks in implementing policy for sports and exercise for the elderly. The most frequently mentioned or notable bottlenecks are:

1. Reaching and recruiting the target audience

  • Reaching the elderly, especially if they are not interested in sports and exercise, must be improved. This is partly due to poor computer skills, low literacy or language delay.

2. Sports and exercise offer

  • Think better about the time of organizing the offer. For people who are retired, the daytime often works well, but if you also include someone aged 55 among the elderly, it is better to exercise in the evening or at the weekend.
  • Residents who come up with their own initiatives must be supported more/better.
  • More assurance and sustainability of the sports and exercise offer for the elderly. Due to incidental agreements and impulses (for example the sports agreement), the future of money flows is often uncertain for municipalities, and it is not (yet) possible to take action.

3. Municipal sports and exercise policy

  • To remove the friction and misunderstanding or at least make it a topic for discussion about processes at government organizations. Decision-making within the municipality often takes longer than it takes for local parties to prepare for a new plan.
  • Better support for local sports organizations to serve the elderly (and other specific vulnerable target groups) more emphatically.
  • Preventing compartmentalization between different policy departments of the municipality. The will to come together is there, but the different political agendas do not always match.
  • More ‘implementation hands’ in municipalities where the neighborhood sports coaches have a coordinating role from the municipality or are assigned to partners with a specific task. Devising and setting up a project is now working well, but there is often still someone missing who can physically be there for a day and help.

4. Collaborate with partners

  • Even more intensive cooperation from sports with care parties such as physiotherapists and general practitioners. There is often already a collaboration in which the care parties, for example, refer people to sports, but it would be good if even more could be obtained from that collaboration.
  • Municipalities where the neighborhood sports coaches have an executive role and are often ‘on the field’ must use their connecting power to bring municipal policy areas and local partners together.

Also read: The elderly should exercise more: swimming is healthy!

Neighborhood Sports Coaches

In 2021, more than 6,000 neighborhood sports coaches will be active in the Netherlands to involve different target groups in sports and exercise. The elderly target group is one of the most important target groups for neighborhood sports coaches: 61% of the neighborhood sports coaches indicate that they work with this target group. For this they work together with many different parties, such as in the field of the social domain (welfare, Social Support Act), fellow neighborhood sports coaches and local organizations. About 74% work together with local sports organisations.


About three quarters of the neighborhood sports coaches (76%) experience difficulties in working with sports and exercise for the elderly. The most frequently mentioned or notable bottlenecks are:

  1. Reaching the target audience can sometimes be difficult. Both in terms of communication and in terms of transport. Some neighborhood sports coaches indicate that it is often difficult for the elderly to reach the organized activities.
  2. The target group of the elderly is very diverse, which means that it is sometimes difficult to offer all elderly people a suitable offer with enough differentiation so that everyone can exercise at their own level.
  3. Finally, several neighborhood sports coaches indicate that there are not enough financial resources.

For this study, a questionnaire was sent out to all 352 municipalities via the VSG municipal panel in the spring of 2021, a questionnaire was sent to all neighborhood sports coaches affiliated with WIJ neighborhood sports coaches in the autumn of 2021 and a number of neighborhood sports coaches were interviewed.

Read more here about the reports Elderly people in municipal sports and exercise policy and Neighborhood sports coaches get the elderly in motion

VDH Water technology

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