Thursday, December 5, 2013

Defying Father Time: Elite Athletes Career Longevity

The average career span of most major league sport athletes is not long. Even those who defy father time retire earlier than the everyday person working a 9 to 5 job. An NFL player has an average career of 3.5 years, an NHL career is on average 5.5 years and MLB player plays for 5.6 years on average. But there are athletes who are defying the norm of what is the expected longevity in elite athletics.

Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is 37 years of age. He is having a career year, even after having neck surgery two years ago. Dara Torres is another example, having qualified and medaled at the 2008 Beijing Olympics for team USA in swimming at the age of 41. Then there is Simon Whitfield who at 38 years of age, just retired in 2013 after a long and successful career, which included Gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But the man who we might say has truly defied father time is Jamie Moyer, who at the age of 49 became the oldest pitcher to win a Major League baseball game.

These athletes are not the same as they were when they began their careers. Peyton Manning has learned to read defenses better than any other quarterback. In addition, he throws a lot of short passes which saves his arm from getting tired at the end of the season. The American swimmer, Dara Torres had 2 coaches, 2 masseuses and a chiropractor as part of her support team on her quest for making Beijing. Simon Whitfield had to learn to swim properly by studying video footage of his swimming form, since he could no longer rely on brute force. And in order to remain at the top, Jamie Moyer set his mind to focusing on the task at hand, established short-term goals and concentrated on just one pitch at a time.

As these athletes age, they have also changed the way they approach their profession. Injuries, competing against younger athletes and the changing nature of their sports means they have had to adjust to changes occurring within the sport and with their bodies. Since they are not as young in terms of athletic longevity, they have to:
  1. Make sure they recover properly by sleeping, eating right, and getting regular therapy including massages. 
  2. Seek to strengthen their weaknesses by studying video footage, understanding what their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses are, carrying out resistance training to maintain muscle mass and working on their mental preparation. 
As we age, our bodies change and we are simply not able to do certain things in the same way as we could when we were young. With aging in athletic terms, we must evolve and come to understand our limits, learning strategies to compensate for those limits. Even as a recreational athlete, you can age successfully. Even though your body does not work in the way that it used to, you can adapt to the changes. Maybe playing fewer minutes or fewer games might be the solution for you; little changes like this can make a big difference in terms of allowing you to keep enjoying being active.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Abel E, Kruger M. Longevity of Major League Baseball Players. Research In Sports Medicine. January 2005;13(1):1-5.
2. Abel E, Kruger M. The Healthy Worker Effect in Professional Football. Research In Sports Medicine. October 2006;14(4):239-243.
3. Albuquerque M, Menezes Lage G, Fernandes Malloy-Diniz L, et al. RELATIVE AGE EFFECT IN OLYMPIC TAEKWONDO ATHLETES. Perceptual & Motor Skills. April 2012;114(2):461-468.
4. Buśko K, Michalski R, Mazur J, Gajewski J. JUMPING ABILITIES IN ELITE FEMALE VOLLEY-BALL PLAYERS: COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS AMONG AGE CATEGORIES. Biology Of Sport. December 2012;29(4):317-319.
5. Nédélec M, McCall A, Carling C, Legall F, Berthoin S, Dupont G. Recovery in Soccer: Part I - Post-Match Fatigue and Time Course of Recovery. Sports Medicine. December 2012;42(12):997-1015.
6. Rüst C, Knechtle B, Knechtle P, Rosemann T, Lepers R. Age of peak performance in elite male and female Ironman triathletes competing in Ironman Switzerland, a qualifier for the Ironman world championship, Ironman Hawaii, from 1995 to 2011. 
7. Whiteside D, Elliott B, Lay B, Reid M. The Effect of Age on Discrete Kinematics of the Elite Female Tennis Serve. Journal Of Applied Biomechanics. October 2013;29(5):573-582.

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