Seniors in Sport: The Experiences and Practices of Older World Masters Games Competitors

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

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study aims to understand the views, practices and experiences of seniors who participate regularly in sport within the context of identity management and cultural notions of sport and aging. We conducted on-site interviews and observations of male and female World Masters Games competitors (aged 55 years and over). Participants were involved in a variety of sports (e.g., track and field, road running, swimming, cycling, tennis, weightlifting, squash, badminton).

The stories and practices of older athletes illuminated the strategies they adopt to maintain sports performance (and an athletic identity) in the face of an aging body. Many participants invested in the competitive practices tied to mainstream sport, such as training, using the latest sports equipment, wearing athletic apparel and trying their hardest to win. The findings also highlighted participants’ practices and perceived experiences that extend beyond the outcomes typically derived from general exercise, such as walking or gardening, particularly in regard to a sense of social connectedness and personal empowerment. Breaking a world record, winning a medal, gaining a new ‘PB’ (personal best time or distance) and/or pushing their bodies to the limit made participants feel valued, competent and proud.

Through their talk and actions, older athletes simultaneously resist and reproduce conflicting discourses of sport and aging. Our study shows how sport can be used (unintentionally or deliberately) by older participants as a vehicle for resistance and conformity to dominant cultural ideals.

Keywords: Competition, Older Adults, Identity Management, Cultural Discourses of Sport and Aging, Resistance, Empowerment

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.55-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 663.938KB).

Dr. Rylee A. Dionigi

Senior Lecturer, Associate Head of School, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Rylee Dionigi is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, Australia. She has published in the fields of sport sociology, aging 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. 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.

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.