The Meaning of Sports Participation in the Lives of Middle-aged and Older Women

By Chelsea Litchfield and Rylee A. Dionigi.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

At present, the knowledge base about the participation of middle-aged and older women in sport, particularly from the perspectives of women themselves, is embryonic. This situation exists at a time where the number of older women is increasing, new ways of “doing” older age are emerging and traditional understandings of what it means to be a middle-aged or older woman are being challenged. Much more interdisciplinary research with a biographical dimension is needed in order to build a more complex picture of the role that sports participation plays in women’s lives and how their participation resists and reinforces cultural understandings of sport, ageing, and gender. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to combine and analyse data that has been collected from two different studies (i.e., Dionigi, 2010 and Litchfield, 2011a). Amongst other things, these past studies have examined the meaning of sport in the lives of women within the context of broader discourses of sport, ageing, gender, and/or sexuality. Specifically, the current study compares and contrasts indepth, case study interview data from women (aged 32-52 years) who belonged to a recreational field hockey club (Litchfield, 2011a) with interview data from women (aged 55-90 years) who were competitors of Masters Games events (Dionigi, 2010). The combined data was thematically analysed within a post-structural framework and three common themes were identified: competition; community and inclusiveness; and identity management. The findings show that regardless of age, past experiences, or type of sport (individual versus team), these women share similar meanings of sport. These meanings shape (and are shaped by) discourses of sport, ageing, and feminism through their involvement in sport. In particular, notions of resistance, empowerment, identity, and a sense of community were found to be important in terms of understanding the role sport plays in these women’s lives.

Keywords: Qualitative Research, Post-structural, Physical Activity, Ageing, Feminism

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp.21-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 817.204KB).

Dr. Chelsea Litchfield

Lecturer, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Chelsea Litchfield is a lecturer with the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University. Chelsea teaches in the areas of sport sociology and sport ethics. Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Applied Science–physical education (Honours), and her PhD dissertation (completed through Victoria University) is currently under examination. This thesis explored the culture of and finding safe and affirming spaces in women’s team sports in Melbourne.

Dr. Rylee A. Dionigi

Senior Lecturer and Associate Head of School, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Rylee Dionigi is a senior lecturer and the associate head of the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, Australia. She has published in the fields of sport sociology, aging and physical activity, exercise psychology, and leisure studies. Dr. Dionigi has expertise in qualitative research methods and extensive knowledge on “the older athlete”. Her book, Competing for Life: Older People, Sport and Ageing (2008), is the first published research monograph to present extensive empirical qualitative data on the personal and cultural meanings of competitive sports participation in later life.


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