Money Smart Athlete Blog

Sports Professionals and Sport-specific age limits and limitations

Mar 25, 2020 | Financial Psychology

By Anna Kyprianou, APC Sports Consulting Ltd

Am I too old to continue playing? When should I retire? These are some of the main questions that all athletes ask themselves at a certain stage of their careers. The answer is never straight forward since it depends on your sport, your physical and mental fitness, your performance level and your expectations, as well as your financial realities.

Let’s first take a look at the age you are qualified to become a professional in different sports. For instance, in American football, while there is no minimum age for professional football players, the NFL mandates that you must be out of high school for at least three years before you are eligible to play. That means that if you graduate from high school at 17 years old, you must wait until you are 20 to enter the NFL draft, the main reason being that almost all footballers play college football.  The average NFL career is 8 years and in the NFL most players are forced to retire before the age of 30 due to injuries in the field.

In addition to the type of sport, there are several country-specific age limitations depending on where you are playing. The route to the American sport dream is more complex when it comes to age requirements in professional sports. For example in the basketball world while European Leagues do not have a specific age requirement, in the NBA you have to be 19 years old and a year removed from high school in order to become a professional and the NBA’s age limitation for international players is at 19. This is subject to change, by lowering the draft-eligible age requirement from 19 to 18; however, nothing has been decided yet, as it’s an ongoing debate between all stakeholders.

Another element you need to take into account is the average retirement age in different types of sports.  In basketball, the average retirement age for an NBA player is in the mid-to late-thirties, 36-39 years old.  Only a few players have managed to play past the age of 40. In fact, out of the 4,000 players who have ever played in the NBA, only 27 continued playing at the age of 40. The average retirement age of a soccer player is 35 years old. Of course that might vary depending on the field position of the player and the level of the competition they play to. In the gymnastics world, the average retirement age is currently at 26. The average Olympic medal age has plummeted from 27 in Rome’60 to the age of 23.3 in London’12 when the “golden” age to earn the Olympic medal in male artistic gymnastics is at 24.  It’s obvious that the prime years of athletic performance in modern time come earlier, along with peak performance.

Age limits in sports, play an important role in your finances as well.  Due to the fact that you are not allowed to sign a professional contract until a certain age, you need to take advantage of the limited time span of your high-earning years by setting up a financial plan that will help you maintain financial stability, well after your sport career is over.  Nearing retirement without a financial plan in place, might have a negative financial impact on your post sports life.

Nevertheless, you may be able to beat all the odds and despite the age limits and limitations you may be the exception to the rule. However, you still need to be prepared to face the realities of your chosen sports career.  You need to be well aware of the age limits and  limitations within your sport and be prepared to hedge for those with proper planning during the early years of your career.  At the end of the day, preparation is the key to success!