I’m turning 30. WHAT! Where did time go?? 30 may sound young to some, and old to others. Some athletes achieve world titles and Olympic medals at 20, while some athletes cross record-breaking finish lines in their 80’s and 90’s. In fact, some people over 100 years old still compete in events like track and field. So, why let aging stop us from becoming fitter, faster and stronger? Today, I’m speaking to any level of athlete at any age about breaking mental and physical boundaries NO MATTER WHAT.
Part 1: Swag
“3 – 2 – 1 SWAG” The swim team I work with broke down an epic practice with a confident, unified (and yes, still socially distant) cheer. What stood out to me, as their strength and conditioning coach, wasn’t the speed or power generated (though both looked great, too!) but the mental fortitude that was impossible to ignore. After 4 weeks of grinding in the water and in strength workouts, these 13-18 year old athletes now carried themselves with poise, purpose, and a little swag.
When we come together with others that share a common goal to simply improve, great things can happen. Whether you’re on a swim team, in a spin class, part of a running club, or train with a lifting group regularly, the intention of the group often dictates the level of productivity. While I discourage relying completely on another person or group of people to feel validated or successful, I highly encourage athletes to engage with a peer group that will challenge them in a healthy way. Humans naturally adapt to their environment, and if that environment is pumped full of energy, focus, and SWAG, I don’t know how you couldn’t see some marked improvements.
If you feel like you’re lacking confidence, I want to challenge you to find at least one other person that shares a goal you have (losing weight, improving a skill or hobby, picking up a new sport, etc.) and commit to 12 weeks of consistent, goal-oriented work at least 3 times a week. I don’t care if it’s knitting or power walking, if you want to improve, you have to put the time in. Encourage your partner(s), make it fun, work hard and give it the right amount of time. Take a photo, write a note, or do a baseline test on Week 1 to compare it with Week 12. I would be willing to bet you’re in a better place mentally AND physically in Week 12!
Part 2: Coaching is Critical
“These results aren’t that great and, quite honestly, I know you can do better.” Elliot, my husband of 3 years, reviewed my test set with an unenthusiastic response. Elliot is my coach, and a very honest one at that. What he lacks in tenderness, he makes up for in results. While this style isn’t the right approach for everyone, it is the right approach for me. Sometimes it hurts to hear the feedback we are too afraid to tell ourselves, but hindsight is 20/20 and if he hadn’t spoken that truth to me, I highly doubt I would have committed the 10% more time and energy into the next training block. I’m happy to report 2 weeks later I did the same test and completely obliterated my previous results. He was right, even if it made me mad and defensive at first.
*I should note that both Elliot and I got into triathlon in our mid-twenties. This could be considered “past the prime” for some sports that rely on youthful energy systems to be successful. Both Elliot and myself have continuously improved year over year in some capacity since age 25. Endurance sports are certainly the way to go if you want to get into something “late in the game.” A coach is especially important for older individuals, as the risk of injury generally increases with age. The right coach will load and unload at an appropriate pace so you don’t get hurt or burnt out. If you suffer from chronic injuries, your program is probably not appropriate for you. The right coaching style and program should eliminate or decrease chronic injuries.
On the flip side, some coaches can speak in harmful and borderline abusive ways to their athletes. No coach is perfect, and every coach has at least one bad day. There are plenty of under-educated, inexperienced coaches out there sharing damaging information, and I hate that. I have personally been the victim of a coach’s personal insecurities, and it was damaging. I am dedicated to being a constructive coach that listens and pushes at the same time. You can find a coach that does both. A great coach should be able to adapt their approach to fit the athlete. My message to you if you are in an unhealthy coaching relationship is this: You are worth it. Break away, find a new team or coach that speaks truth in a way that works for you, and pushes you to get the results you want and need.
I do believe having a good coach is critical. Having an objective, external source is extremely helpful, especially if you classify yourself as an overthinker. If you are coached by someone who has never been coached, you are in for trouble. We should only preach what we also practice. Hold your coach accountable to that. If he/she doesn’t listen to you and adapt based on your results, it may be time to go shopping for a new coach. If you don’t have a coach, I invite you to look finding one. Any goal worth reaching is worth the time and financial investment that goes with it.
Part 3: Self-Awareness and Perspective
Not every day is going to be a breakthrough. Especially as we age. You’re going to have bad days, maybe even bad weeks. As we mature, it does get a little easier to allow the process to take time. Even so, I still have mature athletes rush their timeline a bit too much. All great things take time. Allow yourself to have bad moments or rough days. One or two workouts won’t completely ruin your timeline for achieving a goal. Heck, a bad week probably won’t either.
I had to include self-awareness and perspective as two key tools to have in your toolbox, especially if you are someone who really wants to improve on a skill or sport at any age. You may not be a college athlete anymore, and it’s really easy to look back at what you USED TO be able to do. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the same person you were when you were 19. What you do have now is experience, and patience. If you really want something, I hope you have the tenacity to see it all the way through. It takes adaptability and endurance. You may have to try several routes before achieving the end product you want, but the process is the rewarding bit.
At the end of our lives we probably won’t look back on the things that took us a few minutes to pick up, but rather the days and weeks we spent trying to get better at something we’re passionate about. If you’re thinking about giving up because you’re “getting too old” or “aren’t as good as you used to be” then I affirm your decision. But I won’t let you off the hook easily. Are you taking the easy way out? The response should come naturally to you. If the answer is yes, then take some time to reflect on your perspective. You’ll grow either way. If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to find a new hobby to devote yourself to.
In conclusion, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I encouraged you to find a community of peers that will push you to be stronger, mentally and physically, because you can have all the swag you want at any age! I hope I encouraged you to seek guidance from a coach or mentor if you don’t already have a great one in your corner. Lastly, I hope I encouraged you to give yourself grace and space to try, fail, and try again.
And remember: You can get stronger, fitter, and faster at ANY age.