Pele retired at 36 with the U.S. Cosmos soccer team, Scottie Pippen retired at 39 with the Chicago Bulls and Miguel Induráin got off his bike at 32. Thanks to their outstanding careers, all of them have raised titles and passions and are now part of sports culture and collective memory.
The reality is that these icons of the sport are remembered for their high level of competition, but performance was not maintained at such high levels in the years leading up to their retirement. However, today there are a good number of active professionals, such as Roger Federer, who is still competing at the highest level at the age of 39, or LeBron James, who is still a basketball reference at the age of 36, which leads us to believe that the performance of athletes can be prolonged.
Sports performance is determined by various agents that are really complex and not always quantifiable. But even when they are, some are beyond the control of individuals.
There are 5 factors involved in athletes’ performance and they are interrelated:
- Training. The first thing that comes to mind when talking about sport is physical training, muscle development. The preparation of the body and its conditioning for physical activity. It should be noted that maximum performance is not only achieved by developing strength, elasticity or any other basic physical quality, but the specific technique of each discipline is essential to achieve the best results in each sport.
- Diet. It is no secret that maintaining a balanced diet allows you to lead a healthy life. It has been proven that a complete diet helps to prevent pathologies and to control others such as diabetes or coronary diseases. It also makes possible the correct regeneration of the tissues that also facilitates the recovery of the body after physical activities. Keeping the body properly nourished improves the quality of life, slows down aging and prevents injuries. A poor diet prevents rest during the hours of sleep, also generating the problems that lack of rest entails.
- Psychological state. Many promising careers have been cut short when performance has stagnated or declined to mediocrity. Talent is essential for professional success, as are hard work, discipline and concentration. A person’s ability to focus his or her attention on the physical activity practiced is fundamental for obtaining the best results. There are individuals who have a greater ability to concentrate than others, but this ability can be impaired by different agents: stress and anxiety, the environment of athletes or the pressure suffered by professionals are some of the factors that distract the athlete’s attention in sports practice.
- Rest. The importance of rest is paramount and is closely linked not only to specific performance, but also in the medium and long term. Rest is a broad concept but can be analyzed in terms of two types: physical rest and sleep. Physical rest is understood as the pause between two moments of physical activity, either in the same session or between different sports sessions, and is important to achieve the highest performance – away from fatigue – and to prevent injuries. On the other hand, good sleep habits allow athletes to recover properly and maintain optimal physical and mental health. The inability to sleep well increases stress, anxiety and emotional imbalance, which in turn further enhance insomnia.
- Genetics. It could be said that professional athletes are born to do sports, but this is not literally true, although it does contain a dose of reality. Anthropometry is a discipline derived from biological anthropology that measures the dimensions of the human body to catalog human groups and determine their differences and that could be used to determine whether one was born to be an athlete or not. Anthropometry makes it possible to know the exact measurements of each human body and establishes what are the standard measurements of most elite athletes by measuring the proportions of current professionals, for example. Anthropometry is a specialty whose application to sport is controversial, as it is too strict and limited in scope (talent is not subject to body morphology alone). On the other hand, a person’s DNA contains all his genetic information and it has been shown that some genes, such as Alpha Actinia 3, affect the muscular structure related to speed. PGC1, on the other hand, is related to metabolic activity. However, the manifestation of genes, i.e. whether a gene is active or not, depends on the environment in which the individual lives and the conditions to which his or her body has been subjected. Diet, climate and sports habits are some of the things that can determine whether these manifestations take place (or not).
In conclusion, we can affirm that with these five factors (and others not described here) it is possible to achieve a higher performance and maintain it for a longer period of time. The greater knowledge we have about the human body and the growing number of disciplines related to sports allow helping professionals to perform better and better. Athletes such as Cristiano Ronaldo (36), Fernando Alonso (39) or Serena Williams (39), demonstrate that, nowadays, with motivation and a lot of talent, it is possible to maintain the competitive rhythm for a longer period of time.
Sports stars are becoming less and less fleeting.