Too Old to Compete!?

With the Olympics being showcased on the world stage I thought it would be great timing to discuss when should someone quit his or her sport.  I know in Canada if a synchro swimmer does not make a Senior National team they have very few options.  And for those who have never made a national team and continue to swim at a senior level, they have to deal with the people who think they should quit because they are too old.

How did we ever get to this point? I am not sure what it is like where you live, but I think that mentality is unfair.  Ultimately very few people ever make it to the Olympics or the highest level of their sport.  We should encourage athletes to continue to compete.  Is it not okay to do something just because it makes you happy?  Yes, it costs money, training is time consuming . . .

What about athletes that are late- maturers?  Maybe sport federations are pushing their talent out before they have had a chance to blossom.

Let’s look at the Olympics.  I am using the most up-to-date medal results for Canada at the Olympics.  Here is a list of the athletes, sport, result and their age.

Athlete Sport Medal Age
Scott Moir Figure Skating Silver/Silver 26 (09/02/1987)
Tessa Virtue Figure Skating Silver/Silver 24 (05/17/1989)
Kaetlyn Osmond Figure Skating Silver 18 (12/05/1995)
Kevin Reynolds Figure Skating Silver 21 (07/01/1992)
Kirsten Moore- Towers Figure Skating Silver 23 (07/23/1990)
Dylan Moscovitch Figure Skating Silver 29 (09/23/1984)
Meagan Duhamel Figure Skating Silver 28 (12/08/1985)
Eric Radford Figure Skating Silver 29 (01/27/1985)
Kim Lamarre Freestyle Skiing Bronze 25 (05/20/1988)
Mark McMorris Snowboard Bronze 20 (12/09/1993)
Patrick Chan Figure Skating Silver 23 (12/31/1990)
Denny Morrison Speed Skating Silver 28 (09/08/1985)
Mikaël Kingsbury Freestyle Skiing Silver 21 (07/24/1992)
Chloé Dufour-Lapointe Freestyle Skiing Silver 22 (12/02/1991)
Dara Howell Freestyle Skiing Gold 19 (08/23/1994)
Alex Bilodeau Freestyle Skiing Gold 26 (09/08/1987)
Charles Hamelin Speed Skating Gold 29 (01/14/1984)
Justine Dufour-Lapointe Freestyle Skiing Gold 19 (03/25/1994)
Marianne St-Gelais Speed Skating Silver 24 (02/17/1990)
Valérie Maltais Speed Skating Silver 23 (07/04/1990)
Marie-Ève Drolet Speed Skating Silver 32 (02/03/1982)
Jessica Hewitt Speed Skating Silver 27 (10/09/1986)

The youngest Canadian medalist is 18 the oldest is 32 as of today. The average age of a medalling Canadian athlete is 24.4.  Interesting.  What is the average age of your countries national team? There will always be older and younger athletes who make the podium and national teams, but I think it is scary when entire national teams average is close to or under 20.

There is lots of talk that says athletes born in the beginning of a year do better.  Hmmm. The Canadian team results look different. Perhaps they compete at the age they are at a competition versus the age in a year.

Month Range Number of Athletes
Jan-Mar 5
April-June 2
July- Sept. 9
Oct-Dec 6

So what does this mean?

1.  Is synchro a late specialization or early specialization sport?

I would argue it is not early, but maybe not late.  That is a whole post on it’s own though.  Whatever the sport is declared then the sport needs to set-up training, national competitions, and benchmarks with that in mind.  A sport will never be successful if it takes the best athletes regardless of age and trains them.  Successful programs ensure the training of all the athletes in the athlete pool are properly trained and brought along so that when their time comes to represent their country, they are prepared with all the skills the national team requires.  A national team should never have to be teaching the basics and starting from scratch every year or quad.

2.  There should be senior programs.

If athletes past the age of 18 have nowhere to go they will quit.  Sports organizations should be encouraging athletes to stick around later because some of those athletes may make the national team.  Having senior programs also puts less pressure on younger athletes to succeed so young.   I know swimmers who are devastated that they did not make 13-15 national teams.  At that age it is impossible to correctly assume who will be future Olympians, regardless young athletes are feeling discouraged.  There are lots of athletes who never made national teams until they were 18, but with the new trend of younger national teams that’s less common.

Besides, what is wrong with swimmers competing when they are older even if they do not make a national or Olympic team?  I swam until I was 20.  At one point I had teammates that were close to their mid-twenties.  And that was okay.

3.  Proper Progression

Lastly, I think coaches need to educate the parents and athletes on the sports path.  Know that some young athletes will make it, but older athletes can too.  Monitor the athlete’s personal success year after year with the bench marks of the sport.  Not making a national team does not mean failure.

Everyone’s definition of success is different too.  Beyond national teams there is coaching, performing professionally, competing synchro at college/university, judging, and lots of travelling.

Let’s encourage and support those who continue to swim and compete regardless of age. Synchronized swimming is a beautiful sport that everyone should enjoy.

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