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Playing while being older
4 Apr 2022   ·   

It has become common to find players over thirty years old who are still active in professional competitions. This was simply unusual in the past. This tendency manifested itself, especially in the generation of athletes born in the eighties such as Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Pau Gasol and Fernando Alonso. This also happens in football in the premier leagues. In 2022, 44 players who are 34 or over are competing. Leonardo Bonucci, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski are among the most popular ones of that age. How has this happened?

One evident cause is the professionalisation protocols assumed by the coaches as well as the players in a personal way. Technical professionals, advances in research and the incorporation of new technologies have led to the improvement of four key areas: the physical, the psychological, the nutritional and the technological. Many athletes, for their part, have understood the fact that there is no free time outside the training session. Instead, their lifestyles must adapt to their profession.

Technology advances in the preparation of the athlete

In technical preparation, technology has been decisive. It wasn’t because of the recent developments but due to the way it is used. Thanks to the collaboration between private companies and teams, relevant information and data have been collected. Elite athletes have special physical conditions, demands and performance levels and that makes it difficult for them to try in similar groups since they don’t exist. The only way to develop a specific professional device to help their training is by contributing to athletes, clubs, and leagues. 

The specific development of technological devices focused on sports have provided reliable and precise data applied both in the physical and the nutritional preparation. This has also helped to prevent injuries and improve the recovery after having them, which is considered a key to extending their sporting career. Another great contribution of data has been understanding better the adaptive process to static loads the body goes through which enables an individualised and improved management of the recovery and the rest. 

Sports Nutrition Professionalisation

The same can be said about nutrition. Data allows us to know how the energy obtained from food is used and spent by each body, and how it can be optimally recovered. The concept of sports nutrition has changed not only as regards decisions on what to eat or what to avoid but also with respect to more concrete and personalised aspects such as the type of food the player should eat depending on where they live. This is because nutritional needs might be different in more sunny countries than in those with fewer daylight hours, or in those which are warmer or colder, etc. And from a more modern nutrition approach, the athlete’s personal tests also play a role. 

The Effect of Sports Psychology on Performance

Sports psychology is also contributing to career extension. In the past, it wasn’t common to pay attention to mental health. However, it is becoming more and more evident that social pressure aggravated by the current unavoidable media exposure and social networks can destroy a career. Today the focus is on prevention, on knowing how the player feels so as to identify the moments of increased stress throughout a competition. Stressful and critical moments out of competition must also be considered. For instance, the year when they renew their contracts. Besides, having a personal coach, something common among athletes nowadays also helps extend their careers.

As regards athletes’ attitudes, there are few things that really highlight them such as their fans’ demands. Today posts showing training sessions, and recovery processes or treatments predominate on their social networks. This happens because that content is what their followers like the most. This is considered the highest contribution to their personal brand. 

Nowadays, a player who is still active over their thirties or forties, like in the case of Tom Brady, can do so thanks to decades of focusing in nutrition, training, taking care of their mental health, motivation and their personal lifestyle. Medical treatments to extend the sporting life based on science have not been discovered yet. Thus, prolonged care is still the most effective method.

This extension of athletes’ professional life forces us to think if this will become habitual among athletes who are in their twenties today. If this is the case, teams and leagues may reconsider how much they invest in a player throughout their careers since, as it is longer, it can be much more profitable. We might be facing a greater revolution than it seems today. 

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