Have you ever heard the saying, "If you're good enough, you are old enough"? In the world of elite sports, this phrase has never been more profound. We are witnessing a new wave of prodigiously talented young athletes rewriting the rules and proving that age is no longer a barrier to success. Let's look at some notable examples: Nick Daicos - ALF, Tadej Pogacar - Cycling, and Carlos Alcaraz - Tennis.
Changing the Game
For sports enthusiasts, these names resonate as they represent the emergence of young talents redefining the traditional notion of paying your dues before reaching the pinnacle of success. Nick Daicos, aged 20 (Collingwood AFL Player), in his second year of AFL football, is a clear favourite to win the league's highest individual honour, "The Brownlow Medal". Tadej Pogacar won his first TDF as a 21-year-old, effectively making the Young Rider Jersey redundant in 2023. Pogacar has already won three Spring Cycling Classics and is still highly likely to finish runner in this year's TDF, despite suffering a significant break in his wrist a mere 10 weeks ago. And finally, Carlos Alcaraz, who at the age of 20, has just clinched a Wimbledon victory and solidified his position as the world's number one player.
The New Normal
In the past, we have had exceptional young athletes such as Martina Hingis, Tiger Woods and our own Ian Thorpe. However, the exception has become the norm, as age is considered a non-factor in achieving greatness in sports. So, what has changed in the past few years, allowing 18-year-olds to dream of becoming the best and achieving this dream before their 21st birthday.
Factors Contributing to the Phenomenon
Several factors have contributed to this paradigm shift, evidence-based, data-driven performance comparisons and advancements in technology and analytics, providing athletes and coaches with invaluable insights into performance. Using evidence-based, data-driven
approaches, young athletes can assess their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement, and fine-tune their skills more efficiently than ever before. They can then measure this against their older contemporaries and know how their performance data stacks up.
The rise of high-performance analysis has revolutionised sports training. Through video analysis, biomechanics, and physiological assessments, young athletes can receive real-time feedback and make adjustments to optimise their performance. This allows them to progress rapidly and reach their full potential at a much younger age.
The role of coaches cannot be understated. Today's coaches are not just mentors but also strategists, mental health well-being practitioners, and experts in physical conditioning. They provide the guidance and expertise necessary to nurture young talent, helping them navigate the complexities of professional sports and maximise their abilities. The Rise of the High-Performance coach is on a similar trajectory as the young Athletes they are coaching.
Mental fortitude and mindfulness training are increasingly recognised as vital components of success in sports. Young athletes are now exposed to techniques such as visualisation, meditation, and psychological resilience training, enabling them to develop the mental strength and "in-the-moment" focus required to excel under pressure.
Asking the Experts
I’ve taken a deeper dive and asked one of the leading minds in High-Performance Coaching. Jonothan Hall is a senior Performance Program consultant at the AIS, he has worked with Olympians and World Champions across various Olympic Sports.
"Without a doubt, we have seen a change in many factors that are influencing the trajectory of young athletes towards the pinnacle of their sport. Early specialisation is one discussion point, as is early exposure and engagement. This seems to fly in the face of literature that promotes non-specialisation in formative years. Anecdotally there is evidence that younger athletes are reaching their late teens and early twenties with significant volumes of training and complete at the correct and ideal intensities. This increase in volume and specificity in dosage of intensity has been facilitated by the open availability of contemporary training methodologies, nutrition improvements, skill acquisition and focus, recovery modalities, reducing cognitive load under stress through neuroscience and an awareness that early success can lead to significant financial gain. As mentioned above, training data and data analysis that leads to timely intervention could be linked to both improvement in athlete preparation but also in coach and performance staff preparation. This is an interesting phenomenon that needs deeper longitudinal analysis, but there seems to be little doubt that athletes are reaching peak performance more consistently at an earlier age"
Conclusion - “Nothing is in the water” it's just moving quicker!
The sports world is witnessing a remarkable shift where age is no longer a barrier to success. Young athletes are leveraging evidence-based approaches, high-performance analysis, top-notch coaching, and mindfulness training to achieve greatness at an early stage of their careers. As the boundaries of what is possible continue to be pushed, we can only expect this trend to grow. The future of sports is in the hands of these young talents, and they are proving that if you're good enough, you indeed are old enough.