1 Department of Public Health - Sport Science, Department of Public Health, Health, Aarhus University2 Liverpool John Moores University3 Department of Public Health - Sport Science, Department of Public Health, Health, Aarhus University
This research examines male endurance athletes’ experience of aging and/or reaching the limits of athletic development. More specifically, the current study aimed to explore how meanings attached to these experiences are connected with athletes’ career decision-making and possible athletic retirement. Within athletic career research, aging is conceptualized as a normative factor of athletic retirement and it is related to the discontinuation of competitive sport involvement. The dominant cultural narrative of aging in most Western societies is one of decline and loss of control over the physical body. The experience can thus become a special challenge for athletes who assign great importance to their physical abilities. The participants of this study were 10 Finnish runners and/or orienteers aged between 25 and 62 with the mean age of 37,4. From the participants, two believed they were still developing, three were uncertain, and five asserted that their peak years were behind them. The sample therefore allowed exploring both anticipation as well as retrospection of encountering the limits of athletic development. The life story interviews were first analyzed with a thematic analysis in order to identify the central themes and secondly with a narrative analysis of structure and form. The analysis revealed four major storylines related to aging: ‘it’s meaningless to compete any more’, ‘now I’ll only do it for myself’, ‘now it is about belonging and having fun’, and ‘running is part of my being’. Some athletes found ways to resist the dominant narrative of decline. They found positive aspects in their later years, such as lack of competitive anxiety, finding perspective and increased enjoyment in running. Through awareness of alternative narratives, sport psychology consultants may be able to help their clients explore new meanings in the potentially challenging experiences of aging and athletic retirement.