Too old for sport?

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Sports pros getting older

By Diane Cooke

Sports medicine has come a long way since the days when a “physio” would rub his “magic sponge” over an injury and broken legs ended careers.

Today a professional footballer can work until he's 40 as in the case of goalkeeper Shay Given (pictured), who's recently departed from Stoke City, as his two-year contract came to an end and following a season spent largely on the sidelines.

In May last year, Given became Ireland's longest-serving player after appearing in the 2–1 home defeat to Belarus. He eclipsed Johnny Giles' record of 19 years and 202 days and became the first Irishman to play for his country for 20 years or more. He was selected in the 23-man Ireland squad for Euro 2016 but did not feature in any match at the tournament.

Italian legend Francesco Totti, also announced his retirement from Serie A last month as he approaches his 41st birthday in September. Last year he equalled Paolo Maldini's record of playing 25 seasons in Serie A, during which he scored 250 goals.

According to, attacking players usually enter their peak at 23 and defenders at 25. The peak typically lasts until age 31. Over 70% of the world’s leading outfield players are between these ages. There’s little variation, either upward or downward. Even Inter Milan, who had the oldest squad of any European professional club, according to a study by the Professional Football Players’ Observatory, with an average age of just 29.61.

It's no wonder, since male ballplayers in almost all sports peak somewhere between 26 and 29. The average age of an NBA player going into the current season was 26.77. Every team in the MLB in 2013 had an average age somewhere between 25.9 (for the Cleveland Indians) and 28.7 (the Philadelphia Phillies).

It’s no secret that the game of professional tennis has skewed older in recent years, with Roger Federer and Serena Williams staying at the top of their games at the age of 35 - in 1992 the average age of the men’s top 10 was 23.2 years. Teenagers are hardly making a dent on the ATP and women frequently breaking into the WTA’s top 10 around age 28, almost double the age when such breakouts used to happen. I

In the days of Chrissie Evert, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, it was routine for girls who didn’t have their driver’s licence to occupy spots in the top 10. Men always tended to skew older, but still had young stars, such as Boris Becker winning Wimbledon at 17 and Rafael Nadal winning the French Open at age 19.

Maybe in the future as sports science advances we could see the rise of the 50-year-old Premier league footballer.

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