- The Masters Athlete: Understanding the Role of Sport and Exercise in Optimizing Aging
This text is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary overview of a relatively under-researched topic. The book introduces and reiterates in various chapters the opportunities and challenges presented to sports professionals by global population aging. In focusing on Masters Athletes, the authors identify how these participants both reflect and resist the typical profile of older people. Throughout the chapters, there is recognition of the complexity of the aging process, the lack of homogeneity among older persons, the inter-relationships of variable factors that influence aging, the limitations to our understanding of becoming elderly and the role of sport in later life.
There is a tendency in some of the early sections of the book to uncritically accept the benefits of sport and exercise, with Masters Athletes presented as a unique group who provide an interesting case study of “successful aging” from whom we can learn much about the limits of human potential. This is balanced in later chapters, many of which problematize some of this discourse including the very definition of “successful aging,” with a recognition of a general tendency to decreased sports participation rates with age, and an awareness of the more negative dimensions of sport including the likelihood of more, and multiple, injuries to the aging athletic body. In addition, the aging process is contextualized within the experience of often limiting and marginalizing stereotypes and [End Page 287] the negative labeling of those who are unwilling or unable to meeting exercise expectations.
The book is structured around four broad themes: an introduction to Masters athletics, sports performance, psychosocial issues, and health. Within these sections, there are a series of concise chapters, each written in an engaging style that will be accessible to students and practitioners seeking an overview of this subject area. In aiming for breadth of coverage, the book overall loses some depth of analysis, and it would be interesting to read a more fully developed inter-disciplinary critique of the issues raised. For the most part, the chapters review materials collated from secondary sources rather than presenting primary data, which makes this a useful introductory resource rather than adding significantly to the body of knowledge. The majority of chapters provide some critical analysis of their specific area, with recommendations for future research directions and methodologies, and the identification of extensive further resources. The authors of the chapters are well qualified to write on their specific topics. It should be noted that, while the preface claims that the authors are from “round the world,” all of the contributors are from North America and Australia with the exception of one European. This inevitably frames the discussion of population trends, sports provision, and policy processes within the experiences of these nations.
Readers of the Journal of Sport History will be particularly interested in the analysis of the ways in which the development of Masters sports competitions shadowed global population aging trends, from early competitions in the 1960s through to the first World Masters Winter Games to take place in 2010, the year of publication of this text. There is a useful introductory section that outlines the emergence of Masters sports and presents a statistical overview of the changes in sports performance with age, and this frames later analysis of perceptions of the provision and perceived suitability of sports for older people. The discussion also traces the stereotyping of older persons from ancient Greece, through Shakespeare, to modern day attitudes toward aging and participation in sports throughout the lifecourse.
Overall, this text will make a worthy addition to resource centers for those studying, and working with practitioners supporting, one of the greatest demographic changes facing most modern societies. There are recommendations for policy, practice, and future research integrated throughout the chapters. The materials presented in this book demonstrate that sports have much to offer our aging population, that this is not a uni-dimensional process, and that the complexities involved in...