These days, sports fans are often fortunate to be able to watch their favorite athletes competing and playing at the highest levels regardless of age.
But what is the secret of the modern athletes’ longevity? The answer is simple: Working smarter, not harder.
On Sunday, Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal captured the Roland Garros title at the age of 36, making him the oldest player to ever win the championship.
American football quarterback Tom Brady won the Super Bowl when aged 43; Portuguese footballing star Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, continues to break records in the game without showing any sign of slowing down; US basketball player LeBron James has been averaging 30 points per game this season, despite being 37 years old; and Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic led AC Milan to title success at the age of 40. The list goes on.
However, all of these superstars have common traits: Discipline, focus, and self-preservation.
Some people may argue that athletes today have always been blessed with better body physique and are stronger compared to those of previous generations. But their longevity is not purely down to having a better body shape, but rather understanding how to utilize that body and take care of it in order to compete for longer.
In addition to physical training and muscle development, the most enduring athletes are the ones that place emphasis on their diets. It may sound obvious, but stories abound of gifted athletes who have underachieved because they neglected to look after themselves in their younger years.
By maintaining a balanced diet and keeping the body properly nourished, those that have outlasted their peers are the ones who were able to improve the quality of their life, slow down the aging process, and prevent injuries.
Another big factor is scheduling.
Rest has increasingly become a key priority for athletes. And players now often pick their battles as they get older or even select the pause button whenever their mental health is at stake.
After his triumph in the Roland Garros, Nadal announced that he would skip playing at Wimbledon this year, a perfect example of understanding the body’s limits.
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, and US gymnast Simone Biles have both pulled out of championships to avoid pressures and protect their mental health, in the past a move almost unheard of among athletes.
There is no denying that in this era of technology, athletes are benefiting from the most advanced training and recovery devices. As a result, more records will continue to be broken by sportspeople able to extend their playing careers.
Professional basketballer James is expected to smash what was once thought to be an unbreakable record by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, while Ronaldo has become football’s all-time leading goal-scorer. These superstars have been able to demonstrate that with motivation and talent, it is possible to maintain a competitive edge for a longer period of time.
Greatness comes at a price, but for sports fans it is a price well-worth paying to see.