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“Hey! You’ve still got 50+ years of time as an athlete!” I say to my class of university students who study sport and physical activity leadership.

Their stunned response: “What?”

 Nobody has ever told them that before. But it’s true.

Adult sport participation is often forgotten. It’s not discussed with the same frequency as youth sport. It’s often not prioritized by organizations and systems within sport, whether that be regarding policies, programming and recruitment, coaching or logistics of facilities use. This is true even of adults who like sport and were heavily involved in sport as children and youth.

We know that sport participation can prevent strain on public health, keep adults and older adults happy and healthy, and encourage them to seek mastery and new experiences. Still, it’s forgotten.

This article examines the research and realities of how the sport system can better support lifelong sport participation beyond youth. Understanding the needs of Masters athletes, seniors athletes, and older adult sport participants is an important consideration.

How we have overlooked Masters athletes and older adults

Much of the research in sport is geared towards high performance or youth sport participation. As the Editor-in-Chief for the International Sport Coaching Journal, I, Bettina (first author) will pick on myself to make this point (though facetiously, as I do not choose which manuscript topics are submitted to the journal). Looking at the most recent issue at the time of writing (Volume 9, issue 3, September 2022), we see the following (generalized) breakdown in the original research publications: 12% coach education, 38% coaching youth, 50% coaching elite, collegiate or professional athletes.

LTD framework by Sport for Life
Credit: Sport for Life Society

Remarkably, if we survey the model, we can see a parallel focus and how that impacts practice. The LTD uses a rectangular diagram to outline a framework for developmental pathways in sport and physical activity. It depicts a large section devoted to Active for Life, as an alternative to the Podium Pathway towards high performance. This is excellent, as it includes the large number of people (including adults and older adults) who are not on the trajectory toward podium performances at the highest level of sport yet continue to engage in sport and physical activity.

However, while the LTD acknowledges aging adults as an underserviced and under-supported group within the sport and physical activity ecosystem, the information in the framework itself is mostly associated with children, youth, and young adults. The LTD also outlines quality sport and physical activity as developmentally appropriate, well run, safe and inclusive. But the needs and preferences of adults in sport must be understood to create appropriate programming and development, and to make people feel safe and included.   

In reality, adult development in sport is often focused on becoming coaches or officials, joining the board of directors for the youth sport team or club, fundraising and volunteering. However, there are many ways in which adults can and should continue their own athletic endeavours. Graduating from high school, college or university should not equate to sport retirement. There are still several decades worth of sport participation and fun to be had. To promote, recruit, and carry-out lifelong sport participation, there need to be supports in place.

The role of coaching in adult-oriented sport

Qualified coaches are important actors that drive much of sport. Indeed, it was suggested to us once that without coaches, there would be no sport. But this is short-sighted, adult sport often exists without coaches. While there are recreational and “beer league” adult sports that most often do not have coaches, we turn the reader’s attention to Masters sport, where coaches can play important roles in the sport system (Callary et al., 2021).

Masters sport is defined as sport events, leagues, and competitions for adults typically over 35 years of age (although this differs based on the sport and can be as young as 18 years old), with sport participants who register (pay), and who practice or train usually towards competitive ends, and who oftentimes have a coach (Young et al., 2018). Within this cohort of more serious-minded adult athletes, effective coaches play an important role in meeting athletes’ psychosocial needs and validating their decision to pursue sport. Athletes, coaches, and those close to the sport system who do not know, or who perhaps underestimate the value of Masters sport, can undermine this role (Callary et al., 2017).

Some question why adults should need coaching. There are ageist assumptions that adults do not improve, and that they are simply there for social and fitness leisure time activity. In our research (Callary et al., 2017), we have found this ageism can lead coaches and athletes to believe that they do not really need to “coach” Masters athletes. That is, that they do not need to develop and prepare training plans, provide feedback, support athlete learning, and invest in quality coach-athlete relationships. Similar assumptions would be absurd within youth sport. Do we still demand quality coaching if young athletes do not become Olympians or professional athletes? Yes, of course. This same logic must apply at the adult sport level. In other words, quality coaching should be an inherent feature of Masters sport and sport for older adults too.

Nonetheless, there are important psychological and social considerations to think through when coaching adults to ensure a Quality Masters Sport Experience (Young et al., 2021). In our book Coaching masters athletes: Advancing research and practice in adult sport (Callary et al., 2021), we outline key psychosocial considerations that emerged from our research program of the last 10 years.

In particular, the book is based on the premise that there are 5 adult-oriented coaching approaches that coaches and athletes alike want, and that are aligned with adult learning principles that will enhance the sport experience (Callary et al., 2021). These adult-oriented coaching approaches have been developed through qualitative in-depth research (such as Callary et al., 2015; 2017; MacLellan et al., 2019) and validated through quantitative analyses.

For example, the Adult Oriented Sport Coaching Survey (AOSCS; Rathwell et al., 2020) defines our 5 themes as follows:

These 5 themes, whether applied collectively or used flexibly by coaches of adults, represent an evidence-based palette of coaching practices.

Our ongoing research shows that coaches find different skills and strategies within each of the 5 themes, as well as the theme itself, to be useful and relevant to their coaching. They note that these nuances of adult-oriented coaching approaches can be used as needed, not necessarily in tandem all the time, but instead as a “toolbox” for ongoing coaching practice over time (Callary et al., under review). This is important as coaches may work with the same Masters athletes for many decades. Thus, adopting and trying out new adult-oriented approaches can be particularly important for coaching this cohort, serving to keep things fresh, and possibly sparking further development among coaches.

Keeping in mind the hundreds of things coaches can do and try out with their athletes, Motz and colleagues (2022) indicated that the use of these 5 adult-oriented coaching approaches were particularly associated with positive coach-athlete relationships. Specifically, these researchers found that these approaches accounted for 63% of why Masters athletes feel committed to their coaches, 40% of why Masters athletes feel close to their coaches, and 41% of how Masters athletes see their coaches’ behaviours complementing their own.

When coaches “considered the individuality of their athletes” and “respected adults’ preferences for effort, accountability and being given feedback,” the Masters athletes felt close to their coach, and felt that their coach’s behaviours corresponded to their own. When coaches “created personalized programming,” Masters athletes felt a strong commitment to their coach (Motz et al., 2022). Adult-oriented coaching approaches also address how the coach can create a quality sport experience beyond relationship building. Indeed, when coaches embodied these 5 themes, Motz and colleagues reported how Masters athletes liked going to practice more, and wanted to invest in their sport more, than when coaches used less of these approaches (Motz et al., 2022). The evidence-based research suggests that the coach who uses adult-oriented coaching approaches can be considered an important asset for attracting adults and retaining their investment in sport, enhancing their liking of training, and sustaining commitment.

Nonetheless, there are no identified pathways for coaches into Masters sport. Those who do coach Masters sport tend to be Masters athletes themselves, or coaches of youth who were asked to also coach the Masters group on the side. It is difficult for coaches to see the value of developing themselves as coaches of adults when, for the most part, the system does not place value on such development. There exist no sport-specific coach education and very little other means for coaches to develop their craft and become “qualified” to coach Masters athletes (Callary et al., 2018).

Going forward: Building a better future for older athletes

With the work that we have done, sport organizations around the world have increasingly been calling on us to give workshops and webinars, especially because the coaches in their organizations have asked for such information. The rise in interest is noteworthy. As a result, we have done in-person and online coach education programming in various countries, with a wide range of sports. In these professional development sessions, we outline the 5 adult-oriented coaching approaches and often use surveys such as the AOSCS to have coaches think through the ways in which they apply these approaches or how they could do so.

We were recently commissioned to lead a series of online webinar workshops with a group of Masters coaches from a variety of sports. In these sessions, there were lively discussions around the characteristics of an integral adult sport experience, one that is worthy of investment and generates fulsome benefits for participants. We explored the hallmarks of a Quality Masters Sport Experience (see Young et al., 2021 for a detailed description), and coaches shared amongst each other how they addressed these, allowing them to build a repertoire of ideas from other Masters coaches. In other sessions, we invited coaches (and sometimes their athletes too) to complete the AOSCS and provided them with their scores to identify their strengths and areas for development.

Importantly, these discussions always centre on the coach’s context, and whether these adult-oriented themes (and specific survey items) are or could be useful to them. Coaches do the work to reflect on how they want to develop. The metaphor we used was that we were giving them the paint colours and a palette, but they have the brushes and canvas. They can choose which colours, how much of each colour, and where to blend them to make them their own.

In conclusion, many Masters athletes invest a lot into their sport participation. They want programming and coaching to match their investments of time, energy and money. They will also stop paying for sport if it’s not good. Relegating Masters sport to less ideal practice times (like late night), marginalizing them in facility use, and not providing quality coaching are highly unfortunate oversights. Not supporting coaches to become qualified to effectively work with this cohort is a seriously missed opportunity. Coaches do not know what they do not know, and so when Masters-specific coach education offerings are not present, these coaching opportunities are oftentimes not even on the radar.

Returning to the university students in my class as future (and current) sport leaders, many reflected excitedly on the possibilities of working with adults and older adults, and of staying involved themselves as they age. In this regard, we encourage sport leaders to think about ways in which they can support the professional development of their coaches in Masters sport.

Increasing the focus on training great coaches to work with Masters groups by emphasizing the 5 adult-oriented approaches (in addition to giving training on technical and tactical instruction), is a winning formula. We urge clubs and facilities to better prioritize Masters sport groups by giving them equitable access to training spots.  Indeed, sport systems will thrive when adults are given proper consideration.


As we age, our risk of falling increases (World Health Organization, 2021). Our risk of serious injury as the result of a fall also increases (World Health Organization, 2021). Falls can diminish physical function and mobility, particularly among older adults who may limit their physical activity out of pain or fear after experiencing a fall (Lord, 2001).

The good news is that people who are more physically active as they age have a decreased risk of falling (Langhammer et al., 2018). Physical activity involves any movement of the body that requires more movement than resting, from walking, housework and gardening, to running, weightlifting and other forms of sport and exercise. Physical function, on the other hand, is the capacity of an individual to perform the physical activities of daily living. Both physical activity and physical function are essential for the maintenance of our health, independence, and quality of life as we age (Langhammer et al., 2018).

This blog outlines the importance of remaining physically active during aging to reduce the risk of falls. It also provides a description of at-home exercises that can help to prevent falls, as well as tips and resources for older adults to engage in physical activity at home and in their communities.   

Reasons to be physically active

Physical activity has a variety of benefits for everyone, especially older adults. Regular physical activity can contribute to physical fitness and health, including the prevention cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer (Langhammer et al., 2018). It has also been associated with improved mental health, delayed onset of dementia and improved quality of life and wellbeing (Langhammer et al., 2018).

Falls can result in a variety of injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to more serious injuries such as fractured bones and joint dislocation. Physical activity can reduce the risk of falls and injury by strengthening muscles, improving posture, and improving joint range of motion (Lord, 2001). However, many people over the age of 65 do not engage in fall-reducing physical activity (McMahon et al., 2015).

Recommended activities to reduce the risk of falls

The World Health Organization recommends including both aerobic and strength exercises, along with balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls (Langhammer et al., 2018). Research shows that individuals who complete programs that include balance exercises more than 3 hours a week have a greater chance of fall prevention (Sherrington et al., 2017). Risk is further reduced when a person is physically active for 6 consecutive months (Langhammer et al., 2018).

There are two specific types of exercises that are beneficial for reducing the risk of falls in older adults: sit-to-stand exercises and balance exercises.

Sit-to-stand exercises

Completing a sequence of sit-to-stand exercises can build leg strength, which can improve stability and balance, thus reducing the risk of falling. Follow the steps below to complete a sequence of sit-to-stand exercises (Stutzman, 2021):

Balance Exercises

Balances exercises help to improve postural control, stability, and coordination, which can decrease the risk of falling (Dunsky, 2019). There are a variety of ways to practice balance, depending on your level of ability and comfort. We provide 4 types of balance exercises in the list below, each exercise increasing the level of difficulty (Stutzman, 2021). While completing these exercises, stand facing a sturdy support surface in case of loss of balance. Repeat each exercise 5 times, twice a day.

Where to access physical activity

Many exercises to reduce the risk of falls can be completed at home. However, there are many exercise classes geared towards older adults that are often offered within the community at recreation facilities. Be sure to check in with your local community centre to ask about exercise programs for older adult.

Resources for activity programming

Listed below are available resources for older adults:

Final thoughts

Maintaining exercise levels and walking frequently are the best route to successful aging and the primary prevention of immobility, falls and injuries (Judge, 2017). No matter what age or what fitness level you are, there are many ways to participate in physical activity, whether it be aerobic exercise, strength training, balance exercises or walking.

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones, making them more susceptible to injuries. Research shows that exercise can help increase bone mass density, thereby reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. High impact exercise including vigorous aerobic exercise, weight training and running is better at increasing bone mass density than low impact exercise, such as swimming.

Exercise is an important part of rehabilitation after heart procedures. But time, equipment and access to a gym can be a barrier to exercising. Stair-climbing is a safe, efficient, and accessible alternative that can help cardiac patients improve their heart health and build muscle. Best of all, stairs remain accessible to exercisers even amid pandemic-related gym closures.

Adult-oriented coaching approaches respect Masters athletes’ matured self-concept and how it influences their approach to learning. Research shows effective coaches consider the individuality of athletes, share their own knowledge and experience, and respect athlete preferences for effort, accountability and feedback.

Research on the experiences of Masters athletes identifies eight “Hallmarks of a Quality Masters Sport Experience“. These include intellectual stimulation, testing and assessing oneself, quality relationships, and feeling validated.

Older adults participate in sport for several reasons, with some of the most common motivators including improved health, a desire to age with ease, and opportunities for social or community connection. Providing older adults with a variety of program types, including programs that cater to individuals with health limitations, is important to ensure older adults who enjoy sport can continue to participate as they age.

Social prescribing, a clinical tool to help physicians treat patients that are experiencing loneliness, links patients with nonclinical supports in their community. The type of supports patients are referred to can be as wide reaching as trips to the museum or dance classes. Social prescriptions for sport and physical activity programs offer not only social interaction, but a chance to increase fitness and health as well!