Over the past 10-15 years, professional athletes in all sports have been able to extend the productive years of their careers, and there are more late-30/early-40-year-olds competing at a high level now than at anytime in sports history. This trend will obviously continue into the future.
There’s no doubt that performance-enhancing drugs are partially responsible for helping athletes to extend these productive years. However, over the past 15 years, athletes have also been turned on to the fact that off-season conditioning and a year-round commitment to a healthy lifestyle will help extend careers.
Athletes have a great incentive to want to keep playing, money and lots of it. Pro athletes involved in North American team sports – even the average guy - can make millions of dollars per year. If a guy can add 3 or 4 productive years to his career, he stands to make a substantial amount of money. Athletes involved in individual sports such as boxing, tennis and golf can also earn crazy money, and if their bodies can hold up over time, they can make big bucks as well by both playing and endorsing.
Recently there’s been a lot of focus on Roger Clemens. I think he’s got it right. He’s a stud who stays in shape all year round and has been pitching professionally for over 20 years. He doesn’t need six weeks of spring training to get ready for the season. If anything, all that work in Florida would serve to break him down and make him less effective. Reducing the workload during spring training allows the Rocket to keep his arm and legs fresh at the end of the season.
Clemens isn’t the only guy who is better served by missing training camp, as most pitchers in their early to mid-30s would be better off doing much less preparation. Look at Clemens’ buddy Andy Pettitte. As a 35-year-old pitcher who has thrown over 2000 innings in the majors, he doesn’t need to spend 100 hours each spring getting ready for the season. By keeping himself in shape year-round, spring training should be used to fine tune; Pettitte and other veteran pitchers don’t have to go through the same routine as the rookies.
This isn’t just the case with pitchers or baseball players, as all athletes can get better results by doing less training, as long as they maintain a baseline of conditioning throughout the year. Certainly this isn’t the prevailing wisdom at the pro level of sports, but nevertheless is true. For now it seems that only Roger Clemens has figured this out.