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Young, B.W., Callary, B., & Rathwell, S. (2018). Psychological considerations for the older athlete. In O. Braddick, F. Cheung, M. Hogg, J. Peiro, S. Scott, A. Steptoe, C. von Hofsten, & T. Wykes, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Online publication. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.180

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Abstract

Paralleling the graying of the baby boomer generation, there has been remarkable growth in the number of Masters athletes (adult sport participants generally 35+ years old) and Seniors athletes (55+) worldwide. The phenomenon of the aging or older athlete is an opportunity to study the psychological conditions and considerations that distinguish older sportspersons from their younger counterparts. Although the vast majority of sport psychology research focuses on youth and adolescents or young adults in a high performance context, a critical mass of literature on middle-aged and older athletes has emerged. Much research has aimed to understand the sport motivation of older adults; this work has evolved from early descriptive works to increasingly theoretically grounded and analytically advanced efforts that seek to better understand older athletes’ sport commitment and their long-term goal striving behaviors. Another theme of inquiry relates to the nature of adult athletes’ social motivations and the role of social identity in explaining immersion into sport. Research has examined various social influences on older athletes, and specifically how different social agents and social norms come to bear on older athletes’ sport participation. Much work has interrogated how social support facilitates older sport participation as well as the unique negotiations that older adults make with significant others to sustain their experience. Another research theme has sought to determine the various psychosocial benefits of adult sport, cataloguing benefits related to personal growth, age-related adaptation, and successful aging outcomes. Although the discourse on adult sport has been overly positive, several contributions have problematized aspects of adult sport, challenged the assertion that adult athletes are models that many others could follow, and have further suggested that narratives of Masters athletes may reinforce ageist stigma.
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Summary and Keywords
Paralleling the graying of the baby boomer generation, there has been remarkable growth
in the number of Masters athletes (adult sport participants generally 35+ years old) and
Seniors athletes (55+) worldwide. The phenomenon of the aging or older athlete is an
opportunity to study the psychological conditions and considerations that distinguish
older sportspersons from their younger counterparts. Although the vast majority of sport
psychology research focuses on youth and adolescents or young adults in a high-
performance context, a critical mass of literature on middle-aged and older athletes has
emerged. Much research has aimed to understand the sport motivation of older adults;
this work has evolved from early descriptive works to increasingly theoretically grounded
and analytically advanced efforts that seek to better understand older athletes’ sport
commitment and their long-term goal striving behaviors. Another theme of inquiry relates
to the nature of adult athletes’ social motivations and the role of social identity in
explaining immersion into sport. Research has examined various social influences on
older athletes, and specifically how different social agents and social norms come to bear
on older athletes’ sport participation. Much work has interrogated how social support
facilitates older sport participation as well as the unique negotiations that older adults
make with significant others to sustain their experience. Another research theme has
sought to determine the various psychosocial benefits of adult sport, cataloguing benefits
related to personal growth, age-related adaptation, and successful aging outcomes.
Although the discourse on adult sport has been overly positive, several contributions have
problematized aspects of adult sport, challenged the assertion that adult athletes are
models that many others could follow, and have further suggested that narratives of
Masters athletes may reinforce ageist stigma.
Keywords: Masters athletes, Seniors athletes, Masters sport, adult sport, motivation, sport commitment, social
influence, social identity, ageism, successful aging, positive sport development
Psychological Considerations for the Older Athlete
Bradley W. Young, Bettina Callary, and Scott Rathwell
Subject: Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, Sport Psychology
Online Publication Date: May 2018 DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.180
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology
Psychological Considerations for the Older Athlete
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Introduction
The phenomenon of the “older athlete” has received increasing attention in popular
media and has been the focus of a growing body of empirical works in the past two
decades. Although most research and literature in sport psychology pertains to youth,
adolescents, or young adults (e.g., college-aged or professional athletes), there has been
significant growth in studies of middle-aged and older adults involved in organized sport.
The growth of this literature is relevant considering the changing and ever-aging
demographics of westernized countries where sport has sometimes been counted as a
modality for promoting active aging (Khan et al., 2012). Indeed, the growth of
psychological literature on older athletes has paralleled an explosion of adult sport
participation in these countries and the commodification of organized sport for baby
boomers (Hastings, Cable, & Zahran, 2005; Weir, Baker, & Horton, 2010).
Older athletes are commonly referred to as Masters athletes (MAs) or Seniors athletes.
Several features (Young, 2011) characterize a MA. First, a MA will have formally
registered for a sport, for example, an identifiable event (e.g., a league, club, or
community race), or for larger-scale festivals called “games” (which are inclusive and
welcome all comers) or “championships” (which are exclusive because of their qualifying
criteria for performance). Second, a MA will take part in rule-governed activities that
have an inherent (although varying) degree of competition, which necessarily
distinguishes these pursuits from exercise or fitness. Third, a MA will acknowledge that
he or she “prepares in order to participate,” which means that a forthcoming competition
will engender some form of practice routine. Highly devoted or “serious” MAs readily call
themselves “athletes” and refer to their preparatory routine as “training,” whereas
recreational participants are more reluctant to identify themselves as athletes and are
less comfortable with the term training; still, a preparatory routine of participation is
common to all. Fourth, a MA will participate in a formal venue or activity that has been
advertised for adults (i.e., not the high-performance trajectory traditionally organized for
younger athletes). MAs participate in organized events that typically begin at 35 years of
age, with many adults active in subsequent decades and into their 70s and 80s. With the
proliferation of adult sport, some sport federations have chosen earlier debut ages for
MAs (e.g., Masters swimming begins at age 25). Seniors athletes claim all the same
characteristics as MAs; however, they typically compromise participants who are 55 years
of age and older. In understanding psychological themes pertaining to adult athletes, it is
important to bear in mind that most literature continues to refer to 35 years of age as the
commencement of adult sport, that there is a wide-ranging age span among participants,
and that empirical samples fall invariably at different points along this span.
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Motivation and Commitment of Adult
Sportspersons
As a backdrop to studies of motivation, a number of works describe the remarkable depth
and continuity of Masters athletes’ (MAs’) involvement in sport (e.g., see Starkes, Weir, &
Young, 2003; Weir, Kerr, Hodges, McKay, & Starkes, 2002; Young & Medic, 2012). In light
of such involvement and the presumed motivational uniqueness of adult athletes, much
research has attempted to understand the psychosocial conditions that facilitate MAs’
motivation and sustain their commitment.
Describing Motivation Profiles
Much of the early motivational research on MAs was descriptive, relying on open-ended
questionnaires, or cross-sectional quantitative studies that were atheoretical and based
on single item measures. These studies sampled sportspersons ranging in age from the
mid-30s to mid-70s and helped to describe the profiles of various participatory samples.
Early research demonstrated that MAs were motivated by intrinsic motives, such as
enjoyment and loving the sport, more than extrinsic motives, such as winning and beating
others (e.g., McIntyre, Coleman, Boag, & Cuskelly, 1992; Tantrum & Hodge, 1993).
Carmack and Martens (1979) discovered the major participatory motives for long-
distance runners were maintaining fitness, enjoying oneself, weight control, feeling
better, and competitive participation. Hastings, Kurth, Schloder, and Cyr (1995) found
swimmers were predominantly motivated by enjoyment, skill development, fitness,
achievement-striving, sociability, and tension release.
As the body of work grew, descriptive studies uncovered motives relating to
competitiveness (Ogles, Masters, & Richardson, 1995), social recognition (Summers,
Machin, & Sargent, 1983), social affiliation (McIntyre et al., 1992), preserving
youthfulness (Dionigi, 2008), and health and fitness enhancement (Ogles & Masters,
2003), among others. Overall, these works particularly described the breadth and
diversity of intrinsic and extrinsic motives in MAs, with specific profiles depending on the
age and the degree of seriousness of the sample. In a broad review, Young (2011)
concluded that MAs are characterized by health enhancement and personal challenge
(i.e., testing and assessing oneself, personal mastery challenges) motives but cautioned
academics from concluding that MAs are not characterized by competitive motives, or
from concluding that they are participating just for social reasons.
Theoretically Framed Works
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Motivation studies have more recently been grounded in a number of different conceptual
frameworks. In terms of Achievement Goal Theory, MAs generally show high task-
orientation scores and low to moderate scores on ego orientation (Hodge, Allen, &
Smellie, 2008; Medic, 2010A; Newton & Fry, 1998; Steinberg, Grieve, & Glass, 2000).
Greater task orientation is hypothesized to foster an ongoing interest in sport because it
gives athletes a sense of control over their involvement, their effort, and their enjoyment
(Etnier, Sidman, & Hancock, 2004). With respect to Self Determination Theory, MAs have
shown a relatively self-determined profile wherein they report motives that reflect
personal values that are congruent with personal needs (Kowal & Fortier, 2000; Sheehy &
Hodge, 2015). For example, Masters track and field athletes reported high intrinsic
motives relating to personal accomplishment and experiencing stimulating sensations,
and high values for integrated regulation (Medic, 2010A). A profile comprising high
intrinsic motives and self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation, when coupled with
low amotivation, is expected to associate with persistent participation (Medic, 2010A).
In research on the Dualistic Model of Passion (Vallerand et al., 2003), international-level
track and field athletes reported high levels of harmonious passion for their sport and low
to moderate levels of obsessive passion (Young, de Jong, & Medic, 2015). Whereas
harmonious passion is expected to sustain participation, results indicated that being
obsessively passionate could result in intrapersonal conflict, the forfeiting of other
responsibilities (e.g., family, job), and further associations with negative emotions and
intentions to withdraw from sport. The investigators discussed how inflexible
overinvestment in adult sport by a small subcohort of MAs may leave them vulnerable to
conflict.
There has been a growing collection of studies examining a bidimensional Sport
Commitment Model (Santi, Bruton, Pietrantoni, & Melllalieu, 2014; Young & Medic,
2011A; also see Young & Weir, 2015 for a review). MAs have consistently reported high
levels of functional commitment (“wanting to” continue sport) and moderate to low levels
of obligatory commitment (“having to” remain in sport). This profile is meaningful
because functional commitment is likely healthier and is positively related to persistent
training and participation and negatively related to dropout (Schmidt & Stein, 1991).
Results have shown that personal conditions such as perceiving inherent enjoyment in the
activity, feeling that one has already invested a lot in sport, and anticipating special
occasions arising from continued sport activity (i.e., “involvement opportunities”) are
associated with higher functional commitment. Ensuing discussion has begun to engage
sport programmers on how they might use these findings to enrich involvement
opportunities in adult sport (Young, Callary, & Niedre, 2014). Additionally, researchers
have begun to embed themes relating to key involvement opportunities in gain-frame
messaging trials to promote adult sport to nonparticipants, with some preliminary
success in controlled experimental settings (Lithopoulos, Rathwell, & Young, 2015;
Lithopoulos & Young, 2016; Young, Bennett, & Séguin, 2015). Additionally, Medic (2010B)
framed the multidimensional aspects of MAs’ motivation in terms of how sport psychology
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practitioners might counsel athletes dealing with motivational lapses, and motivational
strategies when MAs are facing inevitable age-related decline.
Moderating Influences
Generally, when data for increasingly older age cohorts are inspected, adult athletes are
less ego oriented, less competitively focused, more intrinsically motivated, and have more
health-enhancing motives (Medic, 2010A). However, this conclusion may be an
oversimplification (see Dionigi, 2008), as some findings show either null effects across
age groups (e.g., Hastings et al., 1995; Tantrum & Hodge, 1993; Toepell, Guilmette, &
Brooks, 2004) or even increasing focus on extrinsic motives in successively older groups
(Medic, 2010A). Medic (2010A) developed a line of inquiry that considers how adult
competitive sport is organized in successive 5-year brackets (e.g., 35–39, 40–44, 45–49
years old). Typically, there is a progressive drop in participation rates at competitions
across any 5-year bracket. Medic, Young, and Grove (2013) discussed how athletes with a
more highly self-determined profile in year 1 (e.g., age 45) of a bracket reported more
continuous attendance at competitions across the next four years, than those athletes
who had a less self-determined profile in year 1. These results have been discussed as
having implications for how motivation influences competitiveness and whether
alternative forms of competitive organization need to be considered in adult sport to
ensure continued adherence.
On the question of sex differences, females generally place greater import on enjoyment
and intrinsic motives, social affiliation motives, health and fitness motives, have higher
task orientation, show less preference for extrinsic motives, and show lower ego
orientation than males (Gill, Williams, Dowd, Beaudoin, & Martin, 1996; Hastings et al.,
1995; Newton & Fry, 1998; Toepell et al., 2004). However, motivational profiles vary
depending on the seriousness of athletes’ involvement, and this factor may moderate
motivation more than age or sex (Hastings et al., 1995), attenuating age or sex
differences among the most serious cohorts (Dionigi, 2016; Etnier et al., 2004). Generally,
athletes who are more intensively involved show a greater orientation toward
competitiveness, achievement motives, and winning. How motivational profiles can be
attributed to moderating variables is becoming a relevant part of discussions among sport
event marketers and event managers who seek to promote and to organize their event
offerings in a manner that is specifically tailored to particular market segments (e.g.,
Casper, 2007; Young et al., 2015).
Overall, the majority of motivation and commitment studies are quantitative and survey-
based. Although there are less qualitative studies, they have made important
contributions to understanding the participatory motives of MAs. Most of these works
(see Dionigi, 2006 for a review) describe the involvement opportunities and anticipated
benefits recounted by MAs. These studies touch upon key motives pertaining to personal
challenge, performance achievement and social comparison, finding purpose in training,
travel and companionship (Dionigi, Baker, & Horton, 2011), or important motivations
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related to community (Lyons & Dionigi, 2007). Continuing qualitative and mixed-methods
research is integral for uncovering prevalent motives for both performance-oriented and
participatory-oriented adults.
Quantitatively, future work would benefit greatly from longitudinal designs and causal
modeling of data to define the motivational profiles that best promote continuous
involvement. Investigators have typically derived convenience samples from
international- or national-level cohorts who are already quite involved in adult sport.
More information is needed with respect to all competitive levels and distinctions
between antecedents that motivate adult initiates into sport, and those that motivate
adults’ reengagement at different points in the lifespan.
Social Motivation and Social Influences on
Adult Sport Involvement
There has been work conducted to better understand the role of social identity and the
social orientations that drive Masters athletes’ (MAs’) continued sport participation, and
also to understand the nature and contributions of various social actors in support of
MAs’ pursuits.
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Social Identity
There are several key qualitative works that suggest that social identity is a central
psychological construct explaining MAs’ involvement in sport. In a study of how adults
become socialized into Masters swimming, Stevenson (2002) discussed how identity was
consonant with a process of “entanglements, commitments, and obligations” that grows
in scope as an adult deepens her or his sport involvement. Stevenson illustrated how
being a swimmer became a significant part of self-identification, with others in their
social circle (e.g., friends, work colleagues) attributing this identity to them. Thus, social
influences served to consolidate the identity of a MA, especially as the swimmer became
socially recognized and identifiable by others because of their achievements and
investments in sport. This study was important because it described how identity can be
immersing and how it can motivate continued involvement in adult sport. Further, it
showed how identity can create a sense of obligation to continue sport, which constrains
people from leaving. In a study of adult runners, Yair (1992) also showed how athletes’
identities become inextricably defined by their sport involvement, encouraging an athlete
to immerse in further sport activity to maintain the coherency of this identity.
Dionigi (2002) interviewed Australian Masters Games participants about their
experiences, which she interpreted through the lens of identity management and identity
construction. She interpreted that identity was a central construct that enhanced
athletes’ enjoyment and their determination to continue sport involvement. MAs believed
strongly that, by competing in sport, they were expressing their authentic self and an
identity that they liked to project to others. In terms of a social identity, many were well
known in their community because of their sporting acumen, were often told they were
admired for their exploits, and they described how they used their sport involvement to
distinguish themselves from others their age. Similarly, Langley and Knight (1999)
recounted the story of a 68-year-old MA whose efforts to remain successful in sport were
driven by a need to project a continuous sport identity across the lifespan. This athlete’s
identity determined his past and continuing patterns of social relationships.
In describing the lived experiences of high-level Masters cyclists, Appleby and
Dieffenbach (2016) emphasized the strong motivational role of athletic identity. Being
able to socially project themselves as competitive cyclists helped to socially validate their
enormous personal investments in the sport, gave them feelings of social distinction from
others their age that heightened their self-esteem, and legitimized the sacrifices and
negotiations they made for their sport. Results also showed that highly involved cyclists
were hesitant to discontinue their cycling involvement to shift to other priorities in life for
fear of losing an activity upon which their identity relied. Altogether, these works are
poignant for emphasizing that identity is central to understanding older athletes’
strivings.
Social Motivation
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Much of the aforementioned research demonstrates that social affiliation is a
participatory motive for many adult sportspersons. To understand the nuances of social
affiliation, Hodge et al. (2008) surveyed World Masters Games participants with respect
to the Social Motivation Model (Allen, 2005) to determine the types of social
competencies that adult sportspersons seek to fulfill or demonstrate through their
involvement. The athletes reported high scores for a social affiliation orientation (e.g., to
meet others and establish mutual connections) and moderately high scores for a social
recognition orientation. The investigators explained that sport provides MAs with
opportunities to satisfy inherent needs for social connections and belonging, which aligns
with basic needs for relatedness. A small cluster of athletes were driven to use their sport
involvement to gain pride from being identified as a serious and skilled athlete, and to
obtain social recognition, respect, and admiration from coparticipants and significant
others. This latter interpretation is consistent with a number of works that suggest that
some adult sportspersons enjoy the acclaim they receive from family members, friends,
teammates, and community members for their status as a serious MA (Dionigi, Fraser-
Thomas, & Logan, 2012; Dionigi & O’Flynn, 2007; Roper, Molnar, & Wrisberg, 2003).
Influence of Social Agents
A number of studies have tried to identify the social agents contributing to MAs’ initial
engagement, reengagement, or continued participation in sport. The influence of specific
agents has been examined through the lens of bidimensional sport commitment types
(Santi et al., 2014; Young & Medic, 2011A). Although both types of commitment are
related to social agents, more support exists in the literature for the relationship between
the influence of social agents and MAs’ obligatory commitment. While considering the
contribution of eight various social agents, Young and Medic (2011A) found that feelings
of social constraint (i.e., fearing threats of disapproval from others should one quit) in
relation to one’s spouse and training partners, as well as perceived social support from
health professionals, correlated with MAs’ feelings that they “needed to” or “had to”
continue in sport. The perceived social influence relating to one’s own children was
curious—on one hand, feeling constrained by one’s own children was associated with
“wanting to” continue sport; on the other hand, these same social constraints were
concurrently associated with higher obligatory commitment. Santi et al. (2014) found that
Masters swimmers’ perceptions of social support from teammates and coaches increased
functional commitment, which was in turn associated with increased training with one’s
team. Perceptions of social constraints from teammates and coaches increased obligatory
commitment, which in turn was associated with greater hours of training alone.
Few works have contrasted the perceived contribution of multiple social agents on a
within-study (or within-cohort) basis. Based on athletes’ quantitative self-report data,
Young and Medic (2011B) judged the following influences to be most significant for
international-level track and field athletes: one’s spouse (or life partner); one’s training
partners; one’s children; and peers in one’s sport community (i.e., in a league or club). By
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inspecting results across a broader body of work, it is possible to further understand the
particular role of peers (nonsport and sport), family, and the coach in terms of their
influence on various cohorts of adult athletes.
Peers
Golding and Ungerleider (1991) discovered a positive association between MAs’
perceived social support from friends and frequency of training among 50-year-old
runners. Elsewhere, MAs have described how their sport adherence was facilitated by the
encouragement provided from fellow sport peers as well as the opportunities afforded to
them by other sporting peers to sample new sports (Dionigi, Horton, & Baker, 2013A;
Rathwell & Young, 2014). For example, many MAs reengage in sport after decades away
from it because of an encouraging invitation from a current adult athlete or existing adult
sport network to come out and try it (Rathwell, Callary, & Young, 2015; Stevenson, 2002).
Conversely, a survey of Seniors Games participants indicated that discouragement from
friends and a lack of coparticipants are social barriers to participation (Cardenas,
Henderson, & Wilson, 2009). More information is needed about the nature and types of
support offered by these agents (e.g., emotional, validation, instrumental) and to examine
whether certain cohorts of serious MAs thrive because of a “lone wolf” status that does
not rely on peers. For example, 75% of World Masters Athletics competitors train alone or
with one other person, and they report nonsport peers as having very minimal influence
(Young & Medic, 2011B). For the most part, peer influence has been reported positively
with respect to sport adherence.
Family
Emerging themes relate to familial support in a complex manner involving social
negotiations within the family unit. In some instances, MAs have noted active forms of
support from their spouse and children, evidenced by their attendance at competitions, or
having their spouses coparticipate with them in sport (Dionigi et al., 2012; Grant, 2001;
Rathwell & Young, 2014). Roper et al. (2003) highlighted the importance of spousal
support for an 88-year-old senior athlete, who perceived encouragement and social
approval. However, MAs have also equated support with family members “allowing” their
busy training and competitive routines. Family members did not necessarily provide
active support, but were judged as supportive because they “accommodated” without
questioning or complaining (Dionigi et al., 2012; Grant, 2001). Family support has also
been described in the form of scheduling, whereby family members (especially female
spouses) adapt their schedules to afford time for the MA to train and compete, while also
ensuring the MA and the family share time. This type of support is instrumental so the
MA does not have to forego family time to participate in sport (Grant, 2001; Stevenson,
2002).
The MA’s prioritization of sport is not always supported by family members. For instance,
MAs have highlighted in past studies that the negotiation of leisure time has led to
relational conflicts with spouses and missed sport opportunities, especially for female
MAs (Barrel, Chamberlain, Evans, Holt, & Mackean, 1989; Dionigi, 2002). Dionigi et al.
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(2012) concluded that social negotiations involving acceptance and allowance from family
were meaningful in ensuring continued sport involvement, especially for already
committed MAs. In the same study, investigators described how some MAs saw their
children as indirectly supporting them, either because MAs felt they needed to act as role
models for their children’s sport participation or because their children’s sport
involvement prompted their own.
Coach
A coach is an important resource that MAs use to motivate themselves to train (Medic,
2010A) that can also enrich the quality of their sport experience (Young & Callary, 2018).
For example, having a coach was correlated with a more self-determined motivational
profile (Medic, Young, Starkes, & Weir, 2012). In qualitative work pertaining to a coached
context, Masters swimmers appreciated the accountability and structured planning that
accompanied a good coach, and how having a wholly engaged coach validated their own
investment in sport and encouraged them to do more (Callary, Rathwell, & Young, 2015;
Rathwell et al., 2015). MAs particularly appreciated when their coaches tailored
approaches to meet their preferences (Callary et al., 2015; Ferrari, Bloom, Gilbert, &
Caron, 2017), and specifically when coaches considered their mature identities and
refined coaching approaches to how older adults prefer to learn (Callary, Rathwell, &
Young, 2017). Results from quantitative work also indicate that social constraints from a
coach can be a concern because such feelings can reduce MAs’ functional commitment
(Santi et al., 2014).
In terms of applied implications of these works, literature has begun to address how
teammates and coaches can provide positive support to MAs without creating
overexpectations and climates where athletes concern themselves with threats of
disapproval from others (Santi et al., 2014; Young et al., 2014). Medic (2010B) initiated an
applied dialogue for how sport psychology consultants might aid MAs whose obstinate
sport involvement was disrupting their family and professional lives, and vice versa.
Additionally, recent research examining coaching approaches in Masters sport has begun
to speculate on whether and how findings can be used to advance best practices tailored
to MAs (Callary et al., 2017).
The majority of studies on the social element of Masters sport have focused on social
agents as an antecedent to either sport commitment or motivation. However, little
research has focused on benefits that social agents provide beyond improving adherence.
More information is needed about whether adult sport is just another venue to facilitate
belonging or whether there is unique social capital associated with a sport social circle.
On the Topic of Aging
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Masters athletes (MAs) are an opportune cohort for considering how adult sport
behaviors are influenced by and can reciprocally influence age-related expectancies.
Early on, Ostrow, Jones, and Spiker (1981) suggested that ageism, the negative stigma
that is associated with older age, unconsciously plays out in sport. Grant (2001) noted
that senior athletes encountered such ageist attitudes from others (e.g., older adults
being seen as too frail to participate), and integrated these attitudes into their own self-
perceptions, which were barriers to sport involvement. Horton (2010) conjectured that
many adults “buy into” these negative stigmas, internalize them, and avoid adult sport as
they get older, regardless of whether they have the ability to participate. Conversely, MAs
may embody contemporary images and narratives on aging that can challenge societal
attitudes about aging and change the beliefs of older adults so as to facilitate broader
adult sport participation (see Horton, 2010). Optimistically, some MAs appear to
challenge typical associations of intense, competitive sport as being for youth, and of
moderate exercise and avoiding extremely strenuous exercise as being for older adults
(Dionigi, 2008; Dionigi et al., 2011). Research has yet to substantiate how and the extent
to which older athletes serve as catalysts for others’ participation; still, academics have
posited that visible MA sport festivals may optimistically enhance ageing norms in the
broader community (e.g., Young et al., 2015).
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Resisting and Reinforcing Perceptions of Aging
A body of qualitative work that has interpreted the stories of older adult sportspersons
underscores that growing older need not be negative. For example, Dionigi (2002)
explored aspects of competitive sport participation among older adults (from 55 to 94
years old) and found that competitive sport gives MAs the opportunity to resist negative
factors associated with ageing and adapt to later life, while also expressing youthfulness
associated with sport engagement. MAs’ engagement in sport was seen as a resistance to
the traditional narrative of physical and cognitive decline, contesting negative depictions
and demonstrating how Masters sport provides opportunities to age positively (Dionigi,
2008; Grant, 2001; Tulle, 2008). Similarly, Phoenix and Smith (2011) discovered that
Masters bodybuilders (50 to 73 years of age) described alternative ageing identities and
told “counterstories” in defiance of the stereotypical assumptions. Dionigi et al. (2013A)
also described how World Masters Games participants countered traditional narratives on
aging. Specifically, MAs wanted a sporting challenge, discovered their sporting
competitive selves in older age, and wanted to compare their sporting accomplishments
with others of their age.
These stories of resistance are complemented by quantitative survey work which shows
MAs are motivated by the opportunity to use sport to delay the effects of aging, and that
affinity for this motive increases with age (Young et al., 2015). This leads to the question
of whether resistance or antiaging themes should be embedded in promotional campaigns
to encourage more people to join adult sport and whether they can empower or inspire
others. Phoenix and Griffin (2011) described how stories of resistance, when shown to
focus groups of young adults, helped them feel that growing older need not be negative.
Horton, Baker, Côté, and Deakin (2008) conducted interviews with 62- to 74-year-old
seniors and asked them to comment on how they saw one age-matched “superstar” MA
(whose exploits clearly defied aging expectations). Respondents fell into one of three
categories: those who unequivocally admired him and found him motivating; those who
found him to be extreme but who acknowledged that he could be an inspirational role
model for a particular segment of seniors; and those who found him intimidating, could
not identify with him, and concluded he was uninspiring. These results, along with others
(see Baker, Fraser-Thomas, Dionigi, & Horton, 2010; Oghene, McGannon, Schinke,
Watson, & Quartiroli, 2015), have exposed inherent complexities to the assertion that
seeing images of others resisting aging could be inspirational.
There are a number of academics who have reservations on accepting these resistance
narratives as positive and question whether antiaging narratives should be used to
promote sport. To illustrate, Phoenix and Sparkes (2007) asked young adults (early 20s)
to describe how they viewed ageing athletes and found that narrative maps, projected by
older midlife team members, influenced younger adults’ perspectives of self-ageing as
either almost ready to retire from high-performance sport (preferred), stepping down
reluctantly, or fearing ageing by “hanging on.” Further, Phoenix and Smith (2011) noted
that counterstories may “trick” older adults into unreasonably believing that they can
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simply resist ageing (when physical frailty may in fact limit their capabilities), or may
“produce a tyranny of cheerfulness that provides no place for those people who do not
wish to or cannot view ageing as a positive experience” (p. 636). While resistance
narratives may be viewed as a positive shift in sport participation for older adults, they
also paradoxically imply that as people age, they should try to “defeat” aging—which is
ultimately a losing battle and could reinforce negative stereotypes around aging (Biggs,
2014; Dionigi & O’Flynn, 2007; Gard et al., 2017).
In response to advocates who promote lifelong “sport for all,” Gard et al. (2017) also
expressed reservations that the manner in which sport is being framed for older persons
may unfairly imply that it should be practiced by everyone. Dionigi, Horton, and Baker
(2013B) noted that older adults who use sport to set back fears of ill health and age
decline place responsibility on themselves for maintaining health and performance. They
also pointed out how sociocultural factors that shape MAs’ experiences are typically
discounted because research has been conducted mostly with adults who are white,
middle class, and who can afford the time, travel, and costs associated with sport
participation. Thus, placing responsibility on adults who cannot afford sport may be
unfair. Cognizant of such arguments, recent conceptual models advocating for societal
“health through sport” (Eime, Young, Harvey, Charity, & Payne, 2013) and “physical
literacy for older adults” (Jones et al., 2018) have more fully considered ecological
factors, including social inequities, when framing personal responsibilities around aged
sport. There have also been calls for community-based strategies and policies to make
adult sport more accessible for more people (Henderson, Casper, Wilson, & Dern, 2012).
The contention is that adult sport could be an effective vehicle to build a more inclusive
community if efforts are focused at local Masters or Seniors events, in contrast to the
current scenario where growth is driven by large-scale games that are costly to attend
and therefore exclude many. It was also recommended that older adults be involved in
assessing community needs for and in planning such events.
Some studies have shown other complexities in narratives for how MAs negotiate aging.
For example, some MAs see sport as an opportunity to redefine aging, and accordingly
they try to make sport about developing anew and having fun, while others talk about
how sport encourages them to accept and adapt to aging (Dionigi et al., 2013A). Other
MAs use sport to reenter youth-like sport experiences, while others discuss how adult
sport makes them confront aging and compromise by accepting their aging status and
bowing out of sport with dignity (Partington, Partington, Fishwick, & Allin, 2005). Still,
the dominant narrative from most MAs relates to using sport to control and fight aging,
and thus debate continues on the rewards and risks of exploiting such stories for
promoting adult sport.
There is little work that has systematically analyzed the manner in which MAs affect
societal stereotypes and others’ perceptions of aging. Horton (2010) borrowed on work
from educational gerontology framed within social cognitive theory to suggest several
avenues of work to unravel the processes that may mediate how perceptions of models
translate to others, touching upon notions of similarity (between the model and
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observers), the exceptional or spectacular nature of the model’s image (how discrepant it
is from the observers’ status), and whether the observers have time to act toward the
image (e.g., not enough time to attain this model’s status). He also posited that elite MAs
may be more effective in altering stereotypes and inspiring those in younger cohorts than
those close in age to the senior models. Young and Medic (2011B) proposed that images
of average (rather than spectacular) older athletes may be more effectively received by
aging individuals contemplating a return to sport because they are more attainable.
Horton, Dionigi, and Bellamy (2013) also suggested that the influence of a role model
may also depend on regulatory focus, specifically whether an individual is predisposed to
make upward (i.e., a promotional orientation to be like the optimistic model) or
downward (i.e., a preventive orientation to avoid being like the pessimistic model)
comparisons. In a sample of 75-to 92-year-old females, Horton et al. (2013) found that
responses to whether MAs were role models depended on respondents’ current activity
levels. When asked about images of two female MAs, highly physically active responders
saw the MAs as role models, whereas moderately active and inactive responders did not.
Instead, they described how their health-related role models were generally personal
acquaintances who were only slightly more active than they were themselves. Although
such work is still evolving, Horton discussed several applied implications for how MAs
may be instrumental, including having them share their expert knowledge and stories as
spokespersons, in newsletters, or at workshops with other adults. However, it was noted
that efforts might also have to be made to “neutralize” the intimidation factor of MAs to
accentuate their persuasive influence on the health behaviors of others in their
community.
Psychosocial Outcomes Associated With Adult
Sport
This section addresses research that examines psychosocial indices associated with adult
sport and related discussion about the benefits of sport for aging adults. In the nascent
years of Masters sport, Rudman (1986) initiated a dialogue relating adult sport to
successful aging that has since been adopted by many academics in this field. Many of
the studies reviewed in this section have explored whether participants are prospective
models of successful aging and have attempted to describe how sport is a venue for
successful aging, positing that sport may have particular beneficial attributes not shared
by other modes of physical activity. Research in this line of inquiry has examined various
indices of psychological and social health and well-being to determine whether sport
enriches adults’ lives, and if so, to generally advocate for greater support for adult sport
participation (e.g., Eime et al., 2013).
Successful Aging
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A number of studies have borrowed from Rowe and Khan’s (1997) model of successful
aging (SA), a popular (though not uncontentious) framework in gerontology. It proposed
that SA is a state of being that can be determined at a particular moment based on the
balance of three components: high physical and mental functioning; engagement in life
(i.e., social and productive activities); and absence of disease and disability. In a
qualitative study of older golfers (Siegenthaler & O’Dell, 2003), the most serious-minded
“devotees” to golf, who invested considerable effort and time and whose identities were
tied inextricably to golf, were most likely to describe specific contributions of golf to SA.
The contribution of golf to SA was less readily acknowledged as the degree of seriousness
decreased (e.g., among golfers referred to as “dabblers” or “participants”). Heo, Culp,
Yamada, and Won (2013) found similar findings among Senior Games competitors,
concluding that adult sport is a form of serious leisure that enhances well-being and
healthy lifestyles.
One of the limitations of research on SA in the domain of physical activity (including
sport) is that studies have not comprehensively assessed all three components of SA
concurrently in the same study design; psychosocial researchers have typically related
their findings to only one or two components of the model (usually high mental and
physical functioning, and engagement in life). For example, Menec (2003) discovered
that, among various types of activity (e.g., socializing, solitary hobbies, reading,
housework, and sport and games), only sport and games predicted satisfaction with
engagement with life in adults over 65 years of age. Liffiton, Horton, Baker, and Weir
(2012) suggested that sport embodies social and productive pursuits that foster
meaningful engagement in life and contended these activities should be associated with
SA.
There is a paucity of research that explicitly links adult sport to designated components
of the SA model. In a review, Geard, Reaburn, Rebar, and Dionigi (2017) synthesized
broader works on Masters sport as they relate to SA. They noted significant support for a
link to high physical functioning but argued that research should do a better job at fully
considering measures for psychological, cognitive, and social functioning, hypothesizing
that Masters sport would likely show strong associations with these indices. Due to a
dearth of research, they acknowledged their hypotheses were extrapolations from
research examining the effects of nonsporting modes of physical activity, and on rare
occasions when MAs cohorts were examined, only the most serious-minded athletes were
considered, thereby neglecting more heterogeneous participant samples. Geard et al.
(2017) concluded that MAs should be considered exemplars of SA and recommended
further empirical work.
Psychosocial Benefits
There is another body of work on well-being outcomes of adult sport distinct from Rowe
and Khan’s model. In a systematic review, Eime et al. (2013) reported many psychosocial
health benefits associated with adult sport, with the most common benefits relating to
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reduced stress, increased social functioning, vitality, and improved well-being (also see
Asztalos et al., 2012; Lechner, 2009). Asztalos et al.’s (2009) large-scale Flemish study
found that sport participation, but no other form of physical activity (housework, biking to
and from work, walking to and from work), was consistently associated with less stress
among adults. Eime, Harvey, Brown, and Payne (2010) attributed psychosocial benefits to
the inherently social nature of participating in a sport club based on findings that club
participants reported higher vitality, mental health, and life satisfaction than gymnasium
and walking participants. Although there is evidence that club and team-based sports
more strongly associate with psychosocial outcomes, Asztalos et al. (2012) contended that
personal preference—when individuals choose sports that suit them best (regardless of
whether they are club-based or solitary)—is most influential for achieving psychosocial
benefits.
Positive Development Through Sport
An emerging body of work has adopted a lifelong growth perspective to understand the
assets that older adults feel they derive from their sport participation (Baker, Fraser-
Thomas, Dionigi, & Horton, 2010). In a review dedicated to sportspersons over the age of
65 years, Gayman, Fraser-Thomas, Dionigi, Horton, and Baker (2017) described how
adult sport foremost enables many individuals to develop socially by satisfying their need
for belonging and allowing them to demonstrate social connections with others. Other
prominent outcomes pertained to emotional (e.g., personal satisfaction, excitement,
feelings related to success and mastery), motivational (e.g., engaging in health-promoting
behaviors), and perceived cognitive-perceptual outcomes (e.g., attention and coincident
timing). Importantly, they identified age-related outcomes wherein older sportspersons
developed strategies for making sense of their aging identity and coping with growing
older.
Gayman et al. (2017) contended that adult sport has a role in enhancing the psychosocial
health of the oldest adults. Their work also supported the idea that sport can precipitate
other modes of healthy active aging (also see Langley & Knight, 1999) as well as
psychological benefits, such as perceived control and independence (Baker et al., 2010).
Their review also acknowledged potential maladaptive outcomes, including frustration,
fear of age decline, interpersonal conflicts, amotivation, and self-pressure. They
concluded that it was unclear whether outcomes were solely related to sport participation
and did not deny that similar outcomes could be obtained from other forms of physical
activity.
Adaptation and Compensation
Finally, there is a body of work portraying how outcomes of adult sport include
adaptations that enable athletes to retain elite performance as they age. These works
relate to Baltes’ (1987) selective optimization with compensation principle, whereby loss
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does not preclude growth, and where older persons continually develop strategies and
mechanisms to optimize their performance that compensate for age-related losses. For
example, Langley and Knight (1999) explained how one aging elite tennis player
maximized his success by focusing on tennis rather than other sports (i.e., selection), by
searching out stronger partners for doubles tennis, and by using an oversized racquet
(i.e., optimization). He also compensated for age-related facets by joining a tennis club
with a softer playing surface to reduce wear on his body, by using lobs instead of
backhand drives, and by setting a more intermittent competitive schedule. Rathwell and
Young (2014) explained similar strategies in the case study of a 52-year-old elite runner.
Young and Medic (2012) discussed the nature of conscious strategies supporting adaptive
outcomes as well as psychomotor research showing the unique perceptual-motor
processing adaptations that allow for retained aged performance. For example, Schorer
and Baker (2009) examined older handball goaltenders’ reactions in a laboratory setting,
specifically the postulate that their defensive responses to oncoming shots were
unconsciously initiated earlier than younger colleagues’ responses because of acquired
perceptual anticipation skills that compensated for slower physical speed.
In sum, a small number of studies have explicitly investigated the unique psychosocial
outcomes of sport for older people in comparison to other forms of physical activity, using
longitudinal designs with age-matched active versus nonactive cohorts. Although social
and productive engagement outcomes are often heralded, more quantitative work is
needed to substantiate the contribution of adult sport to reduced incidence of disease and
disability as well as increased cognitive function. There is also a need for complementary
qualitative approaches to uncover alternative and highly personalized meanings of SA
derived from sport, and to contrast how serious-minded competitors describe SA
differently than recreational participants.
Conclusion
The literature portrays older adult athletes as a worthy cohort for studies on motivation
and commitment, through both a personal and social lens. In particular, Masters athletes
(MAs) are an interesting cohort for understanding how adults devote to a serious goal-
pursuit, how they receive social support, and how they prioritize, negotiate, or forfeit
responsibilities to accomplish this. MAs show remarkable dedication to participate in
sport, while the majority of their age-matched peers demonstrate a lack of adherence to
physical activity. Older athletes defy broader cross-sectional trends showing declines in
physical activity participation with advancing age in most westernized countries, where
rates peak during early adolescence and steadily fall during the teenage years, and at
each successive life stage (e.g., CFLRI, 2013). Many adult athletes disengaged following
their youth sporting days and reengaged years later, whereas other older sportspersons
have remarkably maintained continuous involvement in sport across the lifespan. Such
reengagement and continuity in sport are both feats that require motivation and
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negotiation of life circumstances (e.g., professional responsibilities and familial or
caregiving duties), especially during middle-aged years when adults have less free time to
attribute to leisure pursuits (Thompson, Grant, & Dharmalingam, 2002).
MAs represent an attractive cohort for researchers to examine how adult sport behaviors
are influenced by, and can reciprocally influence, age-related expectancies and norms for
who should compete in sport. Studies of MAs offer some insight on how adults engage in
goal-oriented pursuits while negotiating age-related decline, as evidenced by rich and
complex age-related narratives pertaining to their involvement. The question of whether
adult sport is good for aging people, and whether it affords them SA benefits that cannot
be found to the same extent in other leisure pursuits, is pertinent and ongoing as
psychosocial researchers scrutinize the contribution of sport to the adult physical activity
landscape.
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Bradley W. Young
School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa
Bettina Callary
Sport and Physical Activity Leadership, Department of Communities and
Connections, Cape Breton University
Scott Rathwell
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Lethbridge
... 1 Adult athletes generally classify as MAs at 35 years of age, 2 with many competing into their 70s and 80s. 3 They are characterized by formal sport registration and a propensity to prepare for competition via regular training. 3 Though MAs remain understudied, the proliferation of Masters sport has prompted recent inquiries into the nature and impact of coaching in this context. ...
... 1 Adult athletes generally classify as MAs at 35 years of age, 2 with many competing into their 70s and 80s. 3 They are characterized by formal sport registration and a propensity to prepare for competition via regular training. 3 Though MAs remain understudied, the proliferation of Masters sport has prompted recent inquiries into the nature and impact of coaching in this context. [4][5][6][7][8] Exploratory work suggests MAs derive benefits from coaching, such as enhanced self-efficacy, performance, and sport interest. ...
Article
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Exploratory research suggests Masters athletes (MAs; adult athletes >35 years) derive benefits from the coached context. This study sought to compare groups of MAs with varying degrees of coaching for reports of psychological need satisfaction and frustration. A total of 561 individual sport MAs completed surveys assessing psychological need satisfaction and frustration. MAs self-categorized into one of three groups: (1) coached MAs (n = 284), (2) moderately coached MAs (n = 92), and (3) non-coached MAs (n = 185). Analyses comprised ANOVAs followed by Games-Howell post hoc tests. Coached and moderately coached MAs reported greater relatedness satisfaction than non-coached MAs. Coached MAs also reported greater relatedness satisfaction than moderately coached MAs. Coached and moderately coached MAs reported greater autonomy frustration than non-coached MAs, whereas coached MAs reported lower relatedness frustration than moderately coached and non-coached MAs. The findings suggest the coached context assists adult athletes in fulfilling their need for belongingness. Similarly, results imply that receiving frequent exposure to coaching helps MAs experience lower feelings of relatedness frustration. Lastly, findings suggest that the structure provided by coaches can have the inevitable consequence of slightly frustrating MAs’ autonomy. Future research should explore how coach-mediated processes explain MAs’ psychological need satisfaction and frustration.
... 9 Thus, the phenomenon of "senior athletes" (ie, those 50 years and older) competing in physically and objectively strenuous and demanding sports has become more visible in the community, being idealized in policy, celebrated in the media, and subject to research. [10][11][12] Research on senior athletes has shown that competing in sports can be an empowering experience, bringing not only physical benefits but also psychological and social ones. [13][14][15] Studies on competitive sports in later life have evidenced that it offers several benefits: it helps manage the aging identity of athletes 16 ; it provides opportunities to compete and beat others, break records, and test personal abilities 17 ; it encourages the development or strengthening of social relationships; 14,18 and it affords opportunities for travel. ...
Article
Using a socioecological model as a theoretical framework, we aimed to explore the barriers to retain in competitive sport 463 senior athletes (aged 61.4 ± 5.5 years) actively engaged in sports disciplines from 4 European countries. Participants answered an open-ended question regarding perceived barriers to continued engagement in sports, and their answers were subject to content analysis. The results highlighted physical determinants as the main reasons for potential disengagement from competitive sports. Our data suggest the need to minimize these potential barriers by implementing programs that are designed to keep senior athletes competing in sports for as long as possible.
... Research on psychosocial aspects of Masters sport has grown (see Young et al., 2018), with particular emphases on motivation and commitment, social identity, norms around aging, and psychosocial benefits. A poignant line of inquiry has considered key social interactions in understanding adults' sport experience, including perceptions of social support and control from a coach (Young & Medic, 2011), adults' motives to act as a sporting model for their children (Horton et al., 2018), and facets of athletic identity construction and management (Stevenson, 2002). ...
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This qualitative investigation explored the lived meaningful experiences of adult women in a coached Masters synchronized ice-skating team and the role of the coach in these experiences. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with 11 team members (mean age = 39) and their 32 year-old female coach, over multiple time points in their season. Observational field notes were taken during training, competition, and social engagements. Story analyst methods were used for data collection and analysis, to then present the results in the form of realist tales (Smith & Sparkes, 2009a; 2009b) about the novelties of identifying with a women’s Masters team. Stories respectively highlighted (1) how notions of team included compliance to social norms despite individual differences, (2) women’s unique empowerment through sport, sisterhood, and what that meant for their respective identities, and (3) the value of surrounding support networks and social negotiations. Intertwined within these three stories was a fourth narrative characterizing the coach’s involvement in the culture, interactions, and climate of the team. The coach had implicit and explicit roles, was integrated into the team, and shared power which enhanced athletes’ experiences. This study points toward the meaningfulness of sport by illustrating the inherent social dimensions and connectedness within a team sport for adult women.
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This study explored the views of Canadian Masters athletes (MAs; M age = 51, range 38–62; three men and five women) from 12 sports (10 individual and two team sports) on sport psychology for performance, experiential, and lifestyle enhancement. Using Braun and Clarke’s procedures for thematic analysis, the authors interpreted data from semistructured interviews deductively in relation to five strategic themes in which psychological skills are applied for performance enhancement. Deductive results demonstrated MAs used goal setting, imagery, arousal regulation, concentration, and self-confidence to enhance performance and obtain competitive advantages. The authors also analyzed data inductively to reveal themes related to experiential and lifestyle factors. Inductive results showed that MAs “placed priorities on sport,” which involved cognitively justifying the priority and framing sport as an outlet and as the embodiment of the authentic self. Social strategies associated with continued sport pursuit included cultivation of supportive social environments, social contracts/negotiations, social signaling, and social accountability. Strategies “to fit sport in” included integrating/twinning, scheduling, and managing commitment. Managing age-related concerns involved mindfulness and compensation strategies. Results show how MAs uniquely apply sport psychology to enhance their performance and to support sport adherence.
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Masters athletes are a unique group of older adults whose experiences may provide valuable insights into the role of sport for successful aging. The purpose of this study was to explore whether masters athletes' social and psychological experiences vary with their time, frequency, and perceived exertion in training and competition. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 men and women older masters athletes, aged 50–79 years (M = 66), who were active at the competitive level across a variety of sports (e.g., volleyball, curling, rowing, dragon boating, running, swimming, and basketball) at the time of the study. Results indicate that all participants experienced social and psychological benefits from engaging in masters sport. Only the high-frequency engagement subgroup (participating five to seven times per week in training and/or competition) reported social downsides, in terms of missing time with family and friends outside of masters sport. However, some participants described the positive family support (e.g., spouse who endorses sport participation) that overrides some of the social costs. These findings have implications for realizing positive experiences with minimal engagement in masters sport, yet an apparent threshold of participation beyond which negative social consequences may be experienced. This is an important consideration for the design and promotion of sport for older adults.
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Objectives: The effective tailoring of instructional approaches to adult learners is beneficial in educational domains. No tool exists to assess coaches' use of adult-tailored methods in Masters (>35+ years-old) sport. This study tested the content (face) and factorial (convergent, discriminant) validity of a self-report survey, derived from instructor assessment in adult education, for Masters sport coaches' assessment of adult-oriented approaches. Design: Phase 1 involved a systematic search to nominate a survey for import to sport. Phase 2 involved the vetting of face validity among the researchers, and with 12 Masters coaches. Phase 3 tested the fit of a hypothesized factor structure to survey data from Masters coaches. Method: Twelve coaches (8 m, 4 f, ages = 27-75 years) representing eight sports judged the face validity of the Instructional Perspectives Inventory (IPI), resulting in descriptive statistics for each item's suitability. A multi-sport sample of 383 Masters coaches (271 m, 110 f, 2 undisclosed; M age = 49.32, SD = 13.60) completed the IPI, with responses submitted to confirmatory factor analyses and exploratory structural equation modeling. Results: Frequencies revealed awkwardness with items from disparate factors of the IPI, especially reverse-coded factors. The hypothesized measurement model was ill fitting to data obtained from sport coaches. Conclusions: Importing an established adult instructor survey from education and establishing its preliminary validity in adult sport was challenging. The resultant survey, even with minor modifications, proved insensitive to the context of Masters sport. Future research should translate content from emerging qualitative literature on the coached Masters context into a more viable quantitative instrument.
Article
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Background: Arguably the uptake and usability of the physical activity (PA) guidelines for older adults has not been effective with only 12% of this population meeting the minimum guidelines to maintain health. Health promoters must consider innovative ways to increase PA adoption and long-term sustainability. Physical literacy (PL) is emerging as a promising strategy to increase lifelong PA participation in younger age-groups, yet there is relatively little evidence of PL being used to support older adults in achieving the PA guidelines. Methods: An iterative and mixed-methods consensus development process was utilized over a series of six informed processes and meetings to develop a model of physical literacy for adults aged 65 years and older. Results: A multi-disciplinary collaborative working group (n = 9) from diverse practice settings across Canada, and representative and reflective of the full range of key elements of PL, was assembled. Three consensus meetings and two Delphi surveys, using an international cohort of 65 expert researchers, practitioners, non-government organizations and older adults, was conducted. 45% responded on the first round and consensus was achieved; however, we elected to run a second survey to support our results. With 79% response rate, there was consensus to support the new PL model for older adults. Conclusion: Older adults are a unique group who have yet to be exposed to PL as a means to promote long-term PA participation. This new PL model uses an ecological approach to integrate PL into the lifestyles of most older adults. Understanding the interactions between components and elements that facilitate PL will ultimately provide a new and effective tool to target PA promotion and adherence for all older Canadians.
Article
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Global population aging has raised academic interest in successful aging to a public policy priority. Currently there is no consensus regarding the definition of successful aging. However, a synthesis of research shows successful aging can be defined as a late-life process of change characterized by high physical, psychological, cognitive, and social functioning. Masters athletes systematically train for, and compete in, organized forms of team and individual sport specifically designed for older adults. Masters athletes are often proposed as exemplars of successful aging. However, their aging status has never been examined using a comprehensive multidimensional successful aging definition. Here, we examine the successful aging literature, propose a successful aging definition based on this literature, present evidence which suggests masters athletes could be considered exemplars of successful aging according to the proposed definition, and list future experimental research directions.
Article
Full-text available
This longitudinal randomised study compared gain-framed messages to a comparison condition for effects on intentions to do sport, requests for newsletters describing adult sport opportunities, and sport registration in middle-aged adults. An a posteriori objective was to determine whether greater effects resulted from a possible self-protocol paired with each condition, compared to gain-framed and comparison conditions alone. Analysis of covariance and regression analyses showed gain-framed messages positively influenced intentions, newsletter requests, and registration, with greatest results among participants elaborating upon hoped-for sport selves immediately after message exposure. Results suggest the utility of pairing gain-framed messages with a possible self protocol.
Chapter
This chapter addresses psycho-social and pedagogical research pertaining to adult sportspersons, or Masters athletes. Young and Callary specifically review three areas that may inform strategies on how to attract more interested adults to sport: promotional messaging, accommodating participatory motives in programming and tailoring curriculum to the needs of adult athletes. Working from the premise that more effective informational strategies are needed to promote adult sport, the authors present emerging research to illustrate how messaging around involvement opportunities may persuade middle-aged adults who participated in sport in youth to re-engage as adults. The authors then discuss a line of inquiry examining whether adult sportspersons see participatory motives accommodated in their programming differently than adult exercisers, and whether incorporating motives into sport programming may be a strategy to grow adult sport. The authors appraise emerging findings and what they mean for the recruitment or retention of adult sport participants. They further identify areas demanding greater scrutiny, including conceptual limitations and the risk of overgeneralizing results beyond privileged and exclusive adult cohorts who may already have an interest in sport. Finally, the authors describe research portraying how learning principles are different in adult sport than in the youth context, specifically underscoring the pertinence of andragogical principles. Based on perspectives from athletes and coaches, this work suggests that to do ‘more for adult sport’, current coaching curriculum and programming may need to be reconsidered to facilitate enriched sport experiences for an older cohort of adults.
Article
Coaches working with Masters Athletes (MAs) are tasked with facilitating learning and enhancing performance and quality of experience specifically for an adult cohort. In education, the Andragogy in Practice Model (APM) characterizes adult learners and provides teachers with principles for how to best facilitate learning (Knowles, Holton III, & Swanson, 2012). The purpose of the current study was to explore how coaches describe approaches with their MAs to discover how they align with andragogical principles. Eleven coaches were interviewed regarding their approaches in working with Masters swimmers. Data were thematically analyzed according to the six APM principles. The results revealed the bidirectional pattern of communication between the coaches and MAs, the coaches’ awareness of the athletes’ matured self-concept and prior experiences, the personalized goal oriented approach, the various approaches coaches used to motivate, and strategies that the coaches used to prepare MAs for training. The findings suggest that coaches who reported approaches in keeping with andragogical principles more effectively accommodated their MAs’ interests. When their approaches countered the principles, there appeared to be a disconnect between the coaches’ approaches and the MAs’ preferences. Together, these results provide evidence of the importance of coaches’ understanding of adult learning principles when coaching MAs.
Article
Opportunities for older adults in Western countries, particularly women, to participate in physically demanding, competitive sports have increased since the 1960s. Now, coinciding with the neoliberal shift in social policy, older adults live at a time when physical activity is highly encouraged through ‘healthy or active ageing’ discourses in media, policy policies and the sport/exercise sciences. This study sought to understand how 63 Masters athletes (aged 60 and over) explain their participation in sport and, in particular, the extent to which they use neoliberal language of personal moral responsibility and economic efficiency to explain their own participation and the non-participation of older adults in sport. While degrees of moral talk were evident in the older athlete responses, in almost all cases, non-participation in sport was seen as irrational and in need of explanation. Overall, our findings suggest that older people’s participation in sport has been, or at least is in the process of being, normalized among participants in Masters sport. We discuss how this changing idea about sport and ageing might reshape social policy, as well as social relationships, between older people and the state and between different groups of older people.
Article
Although sport is promoted as a vehicle to enhance health and well-being throughout the life course, little is known about the psychosocial benefits and costs associated with sport participation in older adulthood. A mixed studies systematic review of English-language, peer-reviewed, original research articles (from the earliest record until March 2015) was undertaken to identify psychosocial outcomes of sport for adults over age 65 and to determine whether sport provides psychosocial outcomes that are distinct from other forms of physical activity. Results suggest sport involvement later in life was related to ageing, cognitive/perceptual, emotional, social, and motivational outcomes but it remains unclear whether these effects were solely related to participation in sport. Additional work with increased attention to methodological design and participant recruitment is needed to better understand psychosocial outcomes of older adults’ sport participation and to inform potential interventions. Recommendations to enhance the quality of future studies in the area are discussed.
Article
This study was designed to examine some of the psychosocial factors underlying the recent marathon boom. A survey of 459 marathoners varying in age, sex, ability, and experience was conducted to assess their reasons for running a marathon, the outcomes derived, and their experiences during a marathon. Information was also sought regarding the psychological aspects of running in general, particularly the concept of addiction to running. Measures of addiction to running produced a consistent pattern of sex differences, with females evidencing higher levels of addiction than males. With respect to reasons for running a marathon and perceived outcomes, some interesting trends were evident as a function of age. It was suggested that the attraction of the marathon to people of all ages and abilities may lie partly in its unique ability to satisfy a wide range of needs, both extrinsic and intrinsic.
Article
The broad purpose of this paper is to contextualize the meaning and evolution of competitive sport participation among the aged by describing the life story of a senior aged participant. We used narrative inquiry to examine the integration of sport into the life course and continuity theory to examine the evolution of his life story. Continuity theory proposes that individuals are predisposed to preserve and maintain longstanding patterns of thought and behavior throughout their adult development. Based on this theory, we suggest that continuity in successful competitive sport involvement for this participant may represent a primary adaptive strategy for coping with the aging process. Successful involvement in sport appeared to mediate past and continuing patterns of social relationships, the development of personal identity, and a general propensity for lifelong physical activity.