Thoughts on Women, Aging and Physical Activity

22 04 2010

This week The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport put on its Distinguished Lecture Series featuring author and speaker Mariah Burton Nelson (MBN). As the Associate Director of The Tucker Center, I get first hand exposure to the topic and speakers each fall and spring, which is a wonderful benefit of my position. I’d like to share my thoughts from the event and the breakfast panel this morning.

My work is focused mostly on the youth end of the developmental trajectory.  I am certainly aging, but I don’t study aging or aging populations, so this is a topic I know very little about. I learned a great deal and MBN challenged me to think about reclaiming and reframing aging in new ways. We are ALL aging. It is a process of life and something everyone has in common. Most would like to stay suspended in youthful animation and try many things to achieve that goal, but the fact remains we are aging. We can’t control that we are aging, but we can control how we think about aging and we can do certain things that will improve our quality of life while we age.

I laughed when MBN explained that being  “Grown Up” according to the AARP was anyone between age 40-65 years of age.  She challenged the audience to think about the language we use to talk about aging and how to reclaim and reframe aging. I didn’t know that peak cognitive functioning for women occurs in their 60’s! (for men, their 50’s).

When I turned 40, it was very strange that all of a sudden I was thinking of myself as “old”. Why?….40 isn’t old! Where did these thoughts come? I decided to claim being 40 and embrace getting “older”…what was the alternative anyway? So since my epiphany, every time I catch myself thinking about how “old” I am, I replace it with something resembling SNL’s Stuart Smalley affirmations…. “I’m young, healthy, active and I feel great!” In fact optimism and a positive attitude have been shown to improve quality of life as one ages, so perhaps I’m onto something. We will all die and MBN stated that older people (those 80+ years old) are not afraid do die, they are afraid of how they will die. An audience member reiterated that aging is about loss and that life is a series of losses. My take home: We can only control how we react to our losses and how we react in part, will affect our quality of life, including mental and physical health.

Another strategy for maintaining health and quality of life is MOVING!  MBN cited that researchers have found physical inactivity is a better predictor of death than smoking!! The take home message…MOVE! Move in any way you can and in any way you enjoy. Women over 50 did not have the benefit of Title IX (which thank goodness this week Obama has gotten rid of the survey method for proving “interest”) so some do not enjoy physical activity, didn’t have the opportunity to plays sports, or just don’t know how to move in ways that are enjoyable and subsequently their health suffers as they age. Did you know there are National Senior Games? It is never too late to learn how to move or new ways to move when the former ways aren’t feasible perhaps due to injury or impairments. In fact while I was sitting here I got a Facebook message from some women I know who are playing in a 50+ women’s hockey tournament!

Take home messages: move, stay positive, seek social support, and embrace whatever age you are!





Reebok on the Rebound?

9 03 2010

So I’ve been offline for a few days and I come down off the slopes from boarding in the Tahoe area to an email from a blog fan (you know who you are!) with a few links to Reebok’s new ad campaign and product line. Please click on these links, but the short story on the marketing tag line for Reebok’s new EasyTone sneakers is “better legs and a better butt with every step”. What? 

According to Reebok, American sales rose 4 percent—its largest increase in four years—on the strength of that launch and the goal of the campaign was to get consumers to “reethink” their perceptions of sports “and remember why they play, sweat and cheer—because it’s fun.” I find this statistic a bit troubling.

My question is this—if Reebok’s target market is women who want to buy ‘performance gear’, how does this commerical appeal to women? With this ad, who are they really trying to get to “rethink their perceptions of [women’s] sports”?





Paying Youth Athletes for Performance

16 01 2010

A colleague forwarded me an e-news from sports-media.org that contained an article titled Cash For Goals in Youth Soccer: Adults Gone Wild. When I give parent education clinics as part of a research-based educational program I helped develop called Parents Learning About Youth Sports (PLAYS), I always include a brief section about paying children for performing.

Why is it brief?

Because the take home message for sport parents is this: NEVER pay your child for scoring goals, winning matches, or accomplishing some performance standard…NEVER. Just don’t do it.

The sports-media.org piece gets at some of reasons why this is not a good practice, but I’d like to elaborate.

Researchers have demonstrated that giving extrinsic rewards (like $$) for an activity that is already inherently fun and enjoyable (like sports), can undermine intrinsic motivation. We want kids to play sports and be physically active because they love it, its fun, they meet friends, learn new skills, enjoy competition and thrive on striving to be the best they can be. If adults offer monetary rewards for scoring goals, the primary focus is on scoring goals and success is defined in terms of scoring goals…not because sport is fun and enjoyable. The classic studies around this phenomena involve collegiate athletes who obtain an athletic scholarship. Many collegiate athletes are good at their sport because they love it, but some play only in hopes of obtaining a full-ride. For some of the very few who actually do obtain an athletic scholarship (and the odds are VERY low according to the NCAA), they often face diminishing intrinsic motivation. They’ve worked so long and hard to get the scholarship, and that is how success was defined, that once they get the scholarship, sport has no meaning and is no longer is enjoyable. I’ve seen this far too often with collegiate athletes in my classes.

When intrinsic motivation doesn’t exist or is undermined by adults, athletes will more likely to experience anxiety, burnout and dropout, and will also experience less enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being and optimal performance, and positive development.

If you want to read on your own about the self-determination theory, and learn about the complexities pertaining to why paying youth athletes is a terrible idea, I encourage you to go here.

What should parents do to foster intrinsic motivation, instead of paying their child-athlete?

Based on the evidence, I suggest a few simple things as a starting point:

  • attend the event and look like you are engaged (i.e., don’t read the paper or talk on your cell phone)
  • cheer only when someone does something good & cheer for everyone’s children, not just your own
  • refrain from yelling instructions or “coaching” from the sidelines
  • offer unconditional care, regardless of the outcome or the performance




Some Thoughts on Personal Renewal

8 12 2009

I just read “Personal Renewal” by John Gardner. To learn more about John Gardner, click here.

I found so many parts of his speech enlightening. I hope you will take the time to read it. To give you a sense of what it encompasses, I’ve included a few of my favorite quotes below:

  • It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves.
  • There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.
  • At the end of every road you meet yourself.
  • We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.
  • The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal.
  • You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments.
  • People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.
  • Failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.
  • Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.

I find this piece applicable to every context, whether it be personal renewal, striving for optimal sport performance, or career transitions. What is your favorite quote and what does it mean to you?

Picture from here.





Mother-Baby Workout Solution!

30 11 2009

This morning I saw a segment on my local TV affiliate about a program called StrollerStrides, “a total fitness program for new moms that they can do with their babies”. The program seemed like a perfect physical activity solution for mothers with stroller-age children, and also solves many of the barriers to physical activity many women face due to afforadabilty, accessibility and availability.

StrollerStrides workouts are conducted by certified instructors in large indoor public spaces (mostly shopping malls in off hours) which cuts expensive gym memberships. Mothers can work out alongside the strollered child which cuts the need for childcare. It also provides  mothers with a social support system and affords the opportunity to get out of the house to a safe, warm space (this is key during Minnesota winters for those of you who don’t live here!) to get physical activity. The workout combines strength, flexibility and cardio components along with fun songs and activities that engage the children and keep their attention.

It also got me thinking what a better way to start a love of physical activity for infants! Researchers have proven time and again that parents are very important physical activity role models for their children. If parents are active and value and believe that being active is an important part of life, their children are more likely to be active. I also recently came across another resource from the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport & Physical Activity, Mothers in Motion, a program “dedicated to physical activity promoters working with mothers of low socioeconomic status”.

Many women must overcome a host of barriers in order to be physically active, which is why females are less active than their male counterparts at all ages and within all types of physical activity. Assisting women in starting and sustaining physical activity can lead to a host of positive physical and mental health outcomes. You can also read more about Developing Physically Active Girls, a report I helped to co-author and produce in my role as the Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.

Picture from StrollerStrides





I graduated or I’m injured…and I’m an athlete, now what?

17 11 2009

A One Sport Voice reader sent me an email looking for resources helping collegiate athletes transition into “the real world” after they no longer are competitive athletes. Great query! There is a fair amount of literature from the sport psychology world on this issue. While it is not my primary area of expertise, I can provide some guidance into existing resources.

The first is a book titled Career Transitions in Sport (Lavallee & Wylleman, 2000). This book gives some theoretical perspectives on transitions, self-identity issues, causes and consequences of transitions, as well as some intervention strategies.

Another book that is helpful is book pertaining to the psychology of sport injury-a common cause of career transition- is titled Counseling in sports medicine (Ray & Wiese-Bjornstal, 1999). If an athlete suffers from a career-ending injury, a transition is inevitable.

While both these resources are geared for sport psychology students and professional, it is a starting place for those looking for information on this important, but scarcely talked about phenomena.





LaVoi’s 3C’s of Effective Coaching

17 10 2009

If there is one theoretical framework that can easily be applied to helping coaches be more effective, it is the motivational framework of the Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT posits that human beings have 3 essential needs: the need for relatedness, the need to feel competence, and the need for autonomy.

I like to call these needs “The 3C’s“–care, competence, & choice–as talking “theory” is usually not met with interest and enthusiasm! When the three needs are not being met, well-being, optimal health, functioning, performance, and development are less likely to occur. Coaches play a unique role in meeting the needs of their athletes. If you’re interested in increasing your effectiveness as coach, parent, manager or any task that involves social interactions with other human beings, I’d encourage you to learn more about SDT.