Athletes’ declines come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. However, there are a few overarching trends that can be drawn from the majority of the cases.
For example, athletes who depend on a skill or trait other than athleticism generally tend to have more profound longevity in their careers than athletes who depend on sheer athleticism or physical dominance in some nature. For example, 34-year-old Dirk Nowitzki has aged much more gracefully than 30-year-old Dwayne Wade has. Whereas Nowitzki arguably reached the peak of his game around 30 to 32 years old, Wade’s game peaked from 25 to 27 years old.
This is most evident in the two head to head NBA Finals matchups between the two athletes. Whereas 24-year-old Wade dominated in a historical fashion while Nowitzki faltered in the 2006 NBA Finals Series, it was 32-year-old Nowitzki who put up the awe-inspiring and historically memorable performance in the 2011 NBA Finals. Wade blossomed early in his career and has already begun to decline as a 30-year-old whereas Nowitzki had arguably reached his prime after the age of 30.
Likewise, in professional tennis, Roger Federer at the age of 31, is still ranked No. 2 and has won a Grand Slam last year. However, Rafael Nadal, at the age of 26, has only accumulated two Grand Slams over the past two years. It is obvious that the rather effortless and gliding game o Federer has aged with a lot more ease than the powerful and physically demanding game of Nadal. Nevertheless, as history has shown us, losing your athleticism is never the end of the story.
Michael Jordan, until the age of 30, dominated the game of basketball with sheer athleticism and being the most physically elite specimen on the court. However, as he aged, his game surprisingly didn’t decline. He modified his game to a more skill-based shooting foundation rather than just physically dominating every opponent. In addition, as he aged, the cerebral development made Jordan more clever and efficient than ever before. Whether it be Nadal or Wade, it is never the end of the story when that physical decline begins to set in. Just take a page out of Jordan’s playbook.