That Age Old Argument


“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

– Satchel Paige

Too old, washed up, over the hill, not needed, redundant, put out to pasture, past their prime.. all terms used at one time or another to describe people thought not able to do the job anymore, simply because of a number.

Hi, My name is Diane, I’m 58. That is my chronological age, the number of years I have been on this earth. I am also 48, my biological age, the physical condition of my body. I’m also 69, my psychological age, measuring experience, logic, and emotions. Put them all together and you get my functional age, the actual me that moves through space and time in the world. Too often people just look at someones chronological age and stop there. It’s understandable, industrial societies measure productivity in terms of time – the amount a worker can produce over a given amount of chronological time.

In sports it’s a little different. What is produced by an athlete (worker) is not as easily measured like widget output from a factory. Sure there are stats, but stats only tell one part of the story, as fans everywhere will argue. When considering athletes’ productivity, especially in team sports, you also have to take into account functional age. The entire package. The combination of the chronological, biological, and psychological age. An athlete may well be considered old in relation to the chronological age of their teammates, but athletes by virtue of the excellent care they take of their bodies are younger biologically than chronological age would suggest. Many athletes have been known to play at a high level when their chronological age was past what most would consider too old.

Which brings me to psychological age. An athlete of sufficient psychological age will bring to bear all the experience gained, logic learned, and emotions lived over their chronological years of playing to get the most out of the biological body they possess. This would mean that their physical preparation might look different from other teammates, but it also might mean that their psychological age contributes to the productivity of the team in other ways not as easily measured. They’ve most likely “been there, done that” in every way from struggling to make the team to suffering and coming back from injury to playing on the biggest stage to almost – but not quite –  grabbing the brass ring. Having a teammate that can share those experiences and what worked, or didn’t, and how they handled it is immeasurable, especially to less experienced teammates.

And that is why I have such a problem with people who discount an athlete simply because their chronological age is past what is considered the norm to compete at a certain level in sport. A huge disservice is done to those athletes who are able to manage all the variables and still produce at the highest level of a sport. It’s not all that long ago that it was thought impossible for a woman to return to a sport at the highest level after childbirth, athletes in many sports are proving that’s not the case. Dismissing an athlete simply based on a number is just as foolish.

I’m not saying that at some point an athlete might not lose the physical capability to compete at a certain level, but that capability should not be measured simply by chronological age. More and more frequently players in their mid-teens are being lauded for their accomplishments, is it because they have accomplished something or simply because they are of a certain chronological age?

Some days my 58 year old self wants to tell my 48 year old self to kick the asses of these ageists, but my 69 year old self prevails and I simply write a blog instead.

P.S. Yes, this blog is about Abby Wambach (to a lesser degree Christie Rampone/Shannon Boxx/fill in your least favorite player over 30) and her detractors that think it’s time for her to hang up her boots and cite her chronological age, ad nauseam. On a larger scale it’s about people that don’t consider all the variables when writing a human being off, whether in sport, at work, or life in general. Everyone has value and brings different things to the table. Some tangible, some not, but valuable just the same.


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