MASTER-ing Expectations

Competing as an older athlete comes with a unique set of opportunities and challenges. While striving for improvement regardless of ability level, older athletes can benefit from mental skills and strategies that match their experiences and needs. If you are a master’s athlete preparing to lace up for upcoming races or meets, here are a few mental strategies to consider in order to set and achieve meaningful goals. 


(Re)define success. When you recognize your reasons for wanting to invest in your athleticism and align those with your personal values and needs, you’ll have a clearer picture of what success means to you. Most commonly, master’s athletes are motivated by enjoyment of participating in sport, having opportunities to compete and challenge themselves, maintaining health and fitness, and feeling connected socially. Your definition should be individualized, not a comparison to others’ ideas or standards.

  • Ask yourself: What does success as an older athlete mean to me?

Set appropriate goals. Based on your definition of success, consider what goals may be appropriate for you. Ultimately, goals should be challenging and realistic. If you competed in your sport earlier in life, you might be tempted to base your goals on past performances, which may be unrealistic. Factors to consider in setting a realistic and challenging goal are your fitness level, current training, level of sport knowledge and skill, mentality, and input from coaches and medical professionals. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, try going into your next race or meet with the goal of setting your baseline to inform future goals rather than a specific performance metric or outcome.

  • Ask yourself: What is a challenging yet realistic goal for my next competition? Why?

Build confidence. To work toward your goal, it’s important to leverage strategies to build sport-specific confidence. The main sources of confidence in master’s athletes are physical and mental preparation, mastery, and demonstration of ability. To prepare, invest in gaining progressive fitness, improve your consistency in training, develop a task-focus, and plan how you want to compete. To build mastery, identify sport-specific skills or strategies you can improve and practice those systematically. To demonstrate your abilities over time, look for opportunities to celebrate your accomplishments in training and competing.

  • Ask yourself: How can I prepare, improve my skills, and celebrate my accomplishments?

Think differently. As we age, we often get caught in the trap of thinking about our limitations, obstacles, and inadequacies. Instead of dwelling on those, you can choose to think about yourself and your circumstances differently. For example, you may easily identify obstacles to reaching a desired goal; counteract those obstacles with planning. If you encounter an obstacle, how are you going to manage it so that you can still achieve your goal? Or, instead of coming up with reasons you can’t do something, brainstorm specific pieces of evidence that you actually can train, compete, and reach your goals.

  • Ask yourself: What can I do? How can I plan to navigate potential obstacles? 

This content was originally featured in the April 2021 issue of Wingfoot Magazine.

By Abby Keenan, MS, CMPC


Abby is a mental performance coach located in Dacula, GA. She helps athletes improve themselves and their performance through mental skills. Interested in learning more and seeing if mental skills coaching would be a good fit for you? Schedule a free consultation.