What is it that gets a reasonably sane old man and a slightly more sane and somewhat less old woman out of bed and onto their bikes? Lets leave aside, for the moment, full bladders and search deeper. There has been research.
The Sydney 2009 World Masters Games attracted 28,089 participants from 95 countries in 28 events making it the largest sporting competition to that date. Researchers asked them why they did it. You can read the paper <HERE>. 3928 of the athletes gave them answers, males and females being almost equally represented.
The numerous possible answers clustered into four broad responses
- Health benefit
- Social enjoyment
- Personal achievement
- Psychological benefit
The highest ranked answer overall, ranked 1 among the girls and 3 among the boys was “to socialize with other participants”. One and two among the boys were “to become more physically fit” and “to improve my health” which also ranked well with the girls. Interestingly weight loss and weight control got mentions but did not rank highly. To compete with others was another non contender for chief motivator but was more popular with the boys than the girls.
The conclusion was that if you’re trying to promote sport to a mixed audience stress the social and health benefits, if a male audience then stress the health benefits. Either way lay off the weight issue.
So where do I sit on all that?
In my youth I tried many sports. When I discovered basketball I was addicted, I just loved doing it. I couldn’t imagine not doing it. I was fiercely competitive, sometimes embarrassingly so. Once that career was done why did I take up running for which I had no special talent and with no prospect of winning a race?
I would certainly have ticked “to become more physically fit” and “to improve my health”. I might have revealed my narcissism with a “to look better.” I would not have given a rat’s arse for “to socialize with other participants”. I was also very conscious in my running days of some spinoff benefits. I enjoyed hiking, skiing and horse riding. I wasn’t in a position to do those sufficiently often that they would keep me fit. Running meant that I was sufficiently fit to enjoy them when the opportunity arose.
Here I am three months into a third phase of sport training, the geriatric phase. My health is the main motivator. Weight is a huge part of that concern. If you ask a bunch of athletes in training if weight motivates them do not be surprised if it’s not a great concern. Most of them don’t have a weight problem. It’s quite a different story if you’re trying to get sedentary folk off their couches . I have a weight problem. You can motivate me with the prospect of weight control especially if it doesn’t involve going hungry.
And fitness, I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I want to be able to climb up from the beach to the car, walk up a hill for the view and lift the grandkids off their feet. There are still spinoffs.