“Age is not a barrier, it is a limitation you put in your mind,” Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, one of the all-time track and field women greats once said. While many believe age in sports matters and it might be a barrier, some sporting codes as well as athletes seems to be defying this.
It is true that as one ages, they may experience decreasing flexibility, general fitness, strength, stamina and also find it hard to recover from injuries.
Researchers seem to be having a clash over the impact of age in sport participation and performance; this being that not all sporting codes require age for one to be perfect in. With the belief that age affects choice of activity, lower impact sports such as golf bowling and cycling have won the hearts of older age groups, proving that age should not really be considered in sport.
However, for competitive and contact sport age has been identified as a barrier. Football, rugby and athletics, to name but a few are codes in which their participation may be both formally and informally guided in their age. Several Olympic events such as swimming have minimum age requirements as they are viewed as youth sports.
Taking a dive in Botswana athletes, a handful of our own have proved the adage that age is just a number. At 36 years of age, Isaac Makwala and Moemedi ‘Jomo’ Moatlhaping are still very much competitive, as is the ever green Joel Mogorosi who is 37 years old. At the other end, the just retired gem Amantle Montsho is 38 years old.
“I do not believe in ageism. Sometimes I forget my age and focus on how my body is carrying me and reacting because age is just a number,” Makwala said after qualifying for the Olympics during the Gaborone meet.
According to sport journalist Tshepo Molwane, the issue of age and performance boils down to discipline. “In our country, we would find that a player started his professional career in sport normally at 17 or 18 years but once they pass the 15-year mark in sport people do not consider their age but how long they have been in sport and they tend to say the athlete is old,” he said.
In addition, Molwane noted that sporting codes like Athletics, when a 17-year old gets on the track with a 20-year old, it is evident that they will not perform the same. This however, being that the 20-year old may have more advantage over the other with their peak.
“Discipline in athletes is important. How they behave in terms of taking care of their body can act as an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to aging,” he said.
“Does he or she sleep at the right time, do they eat right and at the right time, does he/ she have enough time to rest and what their training pattern looks like and if they follow it,” he explains.
Furthermore, he said unlike sports such as volleyball, Netball and the likes whose players can still be very active at 40 plus years; athletics and football suffer from the fate of age as they are in demand of high energy performance.
“Age should not be a barrier in sport as long as an athlete is pushing themselves a little extra with the belief that they can still perform. The biggest challenge nonetheless is that when one grows, their pace goes down because you are no longer that young boy or girl who is 20years,” he concluded.