I previously wrote an article on here titled, ‘why am I doing this at my age? Physical activity or competitive sport? Which looked at the contrast between why individuals over the age of 35 participate in one or the other. This article will focus more specifically on masters sport and the negotiation of the ageing process. The masters athlete population has become one of the fastest growing sport participation cohorts in Westernised countries (Bennett, Seguin, Parent and Young, 2014). You only need to look at the news sections on Sport NGB websites to realise that providing opportunities for these age groups has become more of a priority with events taking place at club, National and International level. For example:

  • The British Open Masters Squash Championships 2018 was held in Surrey, from the 5th-10th June.
  • The Hockey Masters World Cup is taking place in Terrassa from 27th July – 5th August
    • Slogan – ‘It’s never too late’
  • The next World Masters Games will be held in Kansai, Japan in 2021 and is the 10th games of its kind.
    • Slogan – ‘The blooming of sport for life’

In terms of a specific definition, Young (2011) defined masters athletes as individuals who participate in competitive sport, with organised events typically beginning at age 35 and extending into the 90s. Masters Athletes are characterised by formal registration to an organisation (e.g. club) or event (e.g. 10km road race), and a sufficiently regular pattern of involvement in preparation for an event (Young 2011).

Many older individuals still participate in mixed age group sport environments. However, participation in masters sport provides an indicator of what a person is capable of through competition against peers. The performance feedback received during competition is relative to the highest functioning members of the cohort and has been found to influence motivation for continued participation, or optimism for the ageing process (Horton, 2010).

There are key themes that are relevant to the continued participation of this age group and how they negotiate the ageing process (Dionigi, Horton and Baker, 2013):

  • Resisting and avoiding ageing – This is where individuals talk about continuing sports participation to a point where they are no longer physically capable. It also identifies adults who are fighting the ageing process through continually moving the mind and body in the context of sport and everyday life.
  • Redefining ageing and acceptance of the ageing process – This theme presents stories of older age as an opportunity for mental, physical and social stimulation, enjoyment and engagement.

Dionigi’s (2010) findings simultaneously presented stories of personal victories and private desperation, highlighting the perceived benefits and potential consequences for engaging and maintaining an ‘athlete identity’. The masters athletes who challenge the standard definition of ageing by competing in sport at elite levels beyond middle adulthood and into the later decades of life are resisting the ageing process by maintaining physical activity levels and gaining additional social and psychological benefits (Young, Weir, Starkes and Medic, 2008).

Masters sport is a beneficial environment for athletes to maintain an involvement in competitive sport after the age of 35, and experience opportunities to compete with and against their peers. However, this continued participation can link to contrasting approaches to negotiating the ageing process and how this links to the individual’s athletic identity that has developed through years of participation.

  • Are you a masters athlete? Have you ever thought about why you have maintained your involvement in sport and how you are negotiating the ageing process?
    • I believe there is no such thing as old
    • I need to Keep moving
    • I am involved for fun, fitness, friendship…(and) competing
    • I want to make the most of my life…with the capabilities I still have