Older athletes – steadier, surer, savvier

Naturally, a hot-off-the-presses book titled Play On:  The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age is going to grab a playfulness coach’s attention.  In core ways, that’s MY message – Jeff Bercovici focuses on sports, John & I focus on elite performance in LIVING.  He talks about people delivering peak performance;  we want that, too, for our older friends & clients – peak performance where they are, given whatever their situation or circumstance.

Was introduced to Jeff & his book through an engaging interview in the NY Times.  My favorite question & answer:

Q. What are some of the psychological differences between younger and older athletes?

A.  In sports we often glamorize some of the traits that we associate with youth, like extreme passion, single-mindedness and punishing oneself for failure. We tend to think of these as being advantages.

But they can also be disadvantages. We all know of athletes who have had emotional meltdowns or choked in a big game. It turns out that emotional consistency — the ability to not get too high when you win, and to not get too low when you lose — can be its own kind of skill. And it’s something that comes more naturally to older athletes. There’s research showing that their mastery over unwanted emotions is stronger. Older athletes are better able to keep strong, unwanted thoughts and emotions from affecting their performance.

That’s my favorite q&a.  My favorite comment comes near the end of the interview.  Jeff explains that writing the book changed his approach to exercise & sports.  He mentions becoming more mindful about managing his fatigue & simply listening to his body.  How a “big change has to do with movement. I have a much more sophisticated understanding of the connection between injuries and movement limitations. I spend less of my time working on getting faster and stronger and a lot more time working on the quality of my movement.”

He goes onto talk about how what “enables their greatness much more than their speed or how much they can bench press is the quality of their movement. For me that means things like paying attention to when I’m developing a range of motion limitation, or a strength imbalance, and trying to fix that proactively before I develop an injury.

Neither speed nor strength allows older athletes to be steadier, surer, savvier than youngers.  They’ve mastered the game, experienced all the times that plays didn’t work as planned & how to adapt, learned how to take moments that morphed into impending disaster & bring them right  – how to bring emotional consistency to the game,  They’re better at managing highs & los, at keeping deflating thoughts at bay & negative feelings from affecting their performance.  Ditto with many of our older friends & clients.

Movement is essential to our well-being, yet too many times too many olders are encouraged NOT to move.  “Wellness professionals” were shocked, even horrified, that John & I rarely encouraged Anne to use a wheelchair.  While the staff where he lived & even members of his family talked about Richard never walking again, we couldn’t see how he couldn’t get back to walking,  even if he needed an arm to lean on or a walker for balance, His banged up back muscles had been badly bruised, nothing was torn or broken. It was the bed rest, not the injuries, that had did him dirt.

Movement is essential to our well-being but the cold hard fact is that many continuous care communities & other care-providing senior residences encourage use of wheelchairs – it’s easier on the staff, with far less risk of possible litigation.

Do John & I put olders at risk?  Yes, we do.  Life is risk.  They might be decades past their  “Faster, Higher, Stronger” self, but every older elder ancient can rediscover their here & now elite performance, every year can be their current peak age.  Play on!

Author: auntdeev

playfulness coach, life enthusiast & general instigator, ENTJ, cat lover

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