There’s a lot of disadvantages and a lot of self pity to be felt for yourself when you are a 40-year-old trying to get into athletics for the first time. You can’t help but compare yourself to all the younger people you play against.
“It’s fine,” you try telling yourself. “They’re younger and fitter.”
So then you look at the older people and feel just as bad because they have years –decades–of experience and game play under their belt. So their strategy and thought process is better than you.
Few people pick up a sport, seriously, for the first time at age 40. The disadvantages of doing so are vast and many. I don’t think I need to go over those. You know them.
But I’ve begun to realize that there are some advantages as well.
You Can’t Compare Yourself to Younger You
I often hear my coach, and other contemporaries, reminiscing about when they were young. “I get tired quicker,” or “When I was young I was much faster,” usually said in a depressed/longing tone.
Luckily, I can’t do that. When I was younger I didn’t play a sport. I didn’t have a chance to see my bodies reaction times slow, notice losing my breath quicker or other things. Aside from a little sports played poorly in high school, and a few barely used gym memberships over the years this is the hardest I have ever worked at something physical so every improvement/speed gain is a total boon to me. Could I have improved faster if I started younger? Sure. But how fast? How good could I have been? Who knows?
At some point I’ll reach my physical peak and then I’ll begin dropping off, but since I’m starting off so low, it will be awhile before I get there. So being depressed about how my body doesn’t work as well as it used to doesn’t apply to me.
Older Bodies Get Noticeably Better
This is the other side of the coin I just mentioned. Not only do I not regret how “old” my body has become, I marvel at how young it can feel. Age sneaks up on us, metabolism slows and just sleeping can do harm to your body.
But when you start training suddenly all these things that you thought were unavoidable, go away. I haven’t woken up with a crick in my neck or a thrown back since I started. Colds, that I thought were an inevitable part of being a teacher, virtually went away and all that “middle age” pudge melted off. Seriously. I didn’t change my eating at all (a weakness for cookies and sweets) and 20 pounds fell off me while I wasn’t even looking.
You Take it More Seriously
I don’t mean to suggest young people don’t take sports seriously. But they don’t appreciate it like older people do. When you’re younger, especially a student, you kinda think that is the way your life is. They sit on the sides of the courts playing on their phones, or they like to sit and chat. They also tend to stick with their friends, turning down offers to play with others.
Meanwhile, I take nothing for granted. Do I use my phone sometimes when I’m taking a break? Of course (a girls gotta text), but more often than not I’m watching others. I see playing badminton as such an awesome, cool opportunity I don’t want to miss a second of it. I never refuse an opportunity to play and I’m on the court a lot more than most of the young people.
You Take it Less Seriously
I know winning a tournament isn’t the end of the world. I know looking stupid isn’t gonna humiliate me forever. I know playing with people below my level won’t mean everyone will think I’m at their level. I find that a lot of younger people take it so seriously, keeping a straight face, not showing emotion, getting really angry when they lose.
But not me. I love playing. Even when I mess up, even when I’m mad, I still have a small smile on my face. I don’t take every loss so personally and a failure one day doesn’t reflect on who I am. Young people seem to think their reputation hangs on every game, scared to lose or look stupid.
This is my choice to play. If it ever became a burden, something I didn’t look forward to, I could just stop. I think about that all the time and it makes me feel lighter. I don’t need to take it so seriously because it doesn’t define my life or who I am. Younger people (especially the really high level ones) seem to forget that it is just a game.
I Have Nothing to Fear
Again and again I’ve heard my coach and others give advice to young people. “Enjoy it while you can.” “Stretch your body now when it is still young.” “Prepare to get older and weaker.” If I was young, I would definitely feel dread of the future with that kind of advice.
But I’m already here–hello middle age– and I know it ain’t so bad. So I’m not worried. All the big obstacles that prevents people from playing, delayed reaction time, weaker muscles, slower speed, have already happened to me. I know, I’m not not going to reverse in age, but with the new fitness level I’m convinced my later years will be healthier too. So why be nervous about the future?
Speaking of middle age, my coach just turned 40! In the badminton competition world 40 is officially the middle age bracket so he can’t avoid feeling older.
And he is a real anti-ager. He HATES growing older and when we talk about it he regularly laments all the problems with getting older.
“But you have your own badminton court for the first time,” I said trying to cheer him up. “Your son is getting bigger and smarter! You have a cool American student! Being old is cool!”
But it doesn’t help. My coach was a young athlete and therefore having more of a problem coming to terms with all changes of time. While he’s fitter than people even a decade younger, he’s not at his peak anymore and he knows it.
Luckily, I’m a middle-aged athlete. I don’t have to worry about that.