Older Athletes' Perceived Benefits of Competition

Rylee Dionigi, Joseph Baker, Sean Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 toparticipants above and beyond those gained from general physical activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-28
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of sport and society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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