Lately I’ve become a bit of a kid in a candy shop when it comes to wanting to pick up new athletic skills. From weight-lifting to swimming, there are so many skills I never mastered in my youth. Even my current sports (running and jiu jitsu) are still relatively recent additions to my life.
This is a real shame. I feel like I missed out on a lot of muscle memory and rapid learning because I refused to give sports a real go when I was younger. I also missed out on the structure, instruction, camaraderie, competition, and even identity that I might have gotten from taking the typical route of playing on teams through my school career.
Still, there are some benefits to being a late-bloomer athlete. And the benefits particularly have to do with the unschooled context of learning sports as an older person.
When you engage with a sport later in life (and outside of school), you get to learn on your own terms. I’ve entered the sport of running largely free from preconceptions about what gear I should use, what my goals should be, how to run and pace myself, etc. I’ve had to learn a lot of the basics – like stretching and hydration – directly from experience (or from Google). That’s made all the difference for imprinting the importance of both, and for making me take ownership of my practice and learning, instead of waiting for a coach to tell me the answers.
I’m also grateful that I’ve learned to engage with sports without a lot of the external motivation that comes with team identity and competition. While these things are great, they’re not always sustainable or available. By letting my curiosity and desire for self-improvement drive me, I’ve picked more internal motivations that can stay with me even when no one is watching.
Finally, by getting into sports now, I’ve avoided a lie I think many athletes believe: that sports are just for the young. Think about it: a lot of humans spend most of their athletic days in a schooled context and then hardly ever engage again once they’ve graduated. Our schooled athletics culture teaches an unspoken lesson that sports are just for the young. By starting later, I have the advantage of being free of that harmful belief.
It can be hard to start something from scratch later in life, particularly when everyone else mastered it before you. But be patient with the beginner’s path. You’ll find a lot of good things come to you for starting, even if you’ve started late.