Age and the Athlete


Is there an optimum age for elite athletes? Could 35 be the new 25 for premier athletes? Turn on ESPN and you’ll notice that the median age for athletes is steadily creeping up. A couple of decades ago, it was virtually unheard of to see a NFL player take to the field in his thirties. Today, it’s not uncommon for a pro sports team to have a handful of players in their forties.

Advances in sports medicine and training keep players in the game longer today, but it’s still rare to see older athletes dominate the competition. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

CrossFitters everywhere are denying their age. Visit any CrossFit gym and you’ll see older athletes doing extraordinary things. It seems CrossFit is our fountain of youth.

More and more, we see professional athletes peak in the later stages of their careers. Take swimmer Dara Torres for example. At age 41, she is the oldest person to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. World-class European soccer players tend to be in their late 30’s to early 40’s. And we’re seeing more NFL players extend their careers into their 30’s and 40’s: Hines Ward, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Kerry Collins for example.

There’s no doubt that older athletes can perform brilliantly. So what keeps some older athletes in the front of the pack while their peers watch from the sidelines? Is it genetics, nutrition, science, or experience? Could it be that older athletes simply know when to push themselves and when to back off; they know their bodies, their knowledge of sport is high, and they understand the competition better.

Obviously the body breaks down a little with age, but you make up for that in other ways. If you take care of your body and you enjoy what you’re doing, these are the two major factors that can keep you going. If you run your body down, train too hard too often, or you ignore injuries, you’ll have trouble.

Consider this: less than 1% of all athletes—of any age—that compete in competitive sports ever reach an elite level. The number one thing associated with elite performance is time dedicated to training—the average world-class athlete trains 23 hours per week. (How many hours are you devoting to your training?) Elite athletes tend to be intelligent, self confident, mentally tough, and more determined than average athletes.

Motivation, commitment, and a true enjoyment of sport seem to be the most common traits among elite athletes. As CrossFitters, we share these characteristics. And that makes us elite at any age.