Older Athletes’ Perceived Benefits of Competition

By Rylee A. Dionigi, Joseph Baker and Sean Horton.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Intense sport competition is typically associated with young people. Also, much of the literature on exercise for older adults focuses on benefits derived from regular physical activity, such as walking, dancing and fitness classes, and suggests that one should avoid extremely strenuous exercise. The rising phenomenon of older people competing in sport presents a challenge to these assumptions. In 2009, approximately 28,000 athletes from 95 countries gathered in Sydney, Australia to compete across 28 different sports at the World Masters Games. We interviewed 44 competitors (23 females, 21 males; aged 56-90 years; M=72) about what they gained from competing in sport that extended beyond non-competitive physical activity outcomes. Five key themes emerged from the data. The first theme, “I like a challenge”, depicts Masters sport as an ideal context to test one’s abilities. In particular, lifelong athletes (or those who had returned to sport after a long break) enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing they “can still do it”! On the other hand, Masters competitions provide space for older people to begin sport in later life, as the second theme highlights, “I discovered that at this age group I could win things”! Theme three, “I’m more motivated to work harder”, describes how regular competitions provided goals for participants which structured their training. Also, the act of competing brought out their best performances. The fourth theme, “You know where you stand”, shows how participants liked that competition enabled them to compare themselves with others of their own age cohort. The final theme, “Travel” and “companionship”, explains how the organized, competitive structure of Masters sport and its club system allowed for regular travel, the establishment of ongoing friendships and weekly social interaction. Our data suggest that sport provides unique benefits to participants above and beyond those gained from general physical activity.

Keywords: Sport, Masters Games, Older Adults, Qualitative Research

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.17-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 775.191KB).

Dr. Rylee A. Dionigi

Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of School, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW, Australia

Rylee Dionigi is Associate Head of the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, Australia. She has published in the fields of sport sociology, ageing and physical activity, exercise psychology and leisure studies. Dr. Dionigi has expertise in qualitative research methods and extensive knowledge on ‘the older athlete’. Her book, Competing for life: Older people, sport and ageing (2008), is the first published research monograph to present extensive empirical qualitative data on the personal and cultural meanings of competitive sports participation in later life.

Dr. Joseph Baker

Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Joseph Baker is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Science at York University, Canada. Dr. Baker has an established and wide-ranging research track record on examining factors associated with physical activity and optimal development across the lifespan. He has recently published a number of papers on the maintenance of physical and cognitive capacities with age that have received a significant amount of attention from both the scholarly community and the popular press. He has expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Dr. Sean Horton

Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Sean Horton is an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Windsor, Canada. Dr. Horton has an established knowledge of the impact of stereotypes on the health and performance of seniors. He has expertise in quantitative, qualitative and meta-analytic techniques. Dr Horton takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of seniors and physical activity which has resulted in numerous journal publications.