What Stops Older Women From Playing Sports?

When you see a woman over forty playing a sport, know it has not been easy. It's not only about physical challenges; they're here despite active discouragement and demanding lives.

I was not a sporty kid and was never encouraged to play because no girl played sports in the 80s and 90s in India. After all, athletic skills didn’t add to the marriage market value. If busy parents had to choose to nag girls about doing something outside of studies, then they would much rather push them to learn stitching or cooking than to play a sport.

Anyway, it’s not their fault; I was the one who stayed and played sick during the games period or took up pending school work to avoid hustle in the field. I was that kid who wasn’t even selected for March Past on the sports day.

When I started playing a sport at forty, I started with zero. I started because I wanted to be an example to my kids, who couldn’t be the non-athletic version of me in childhood. They’ll be better than me in every way possible. I had no expectations of being the next club champion, but I was a healthy adult, and I thought I’d learn. Without the stamina, speed, or mental acuity of a sportsperson, it was a challenge not only physically but also socially.

What stops older women from playing?

I had noticed that only a few women played badminton in my club, and none above forty. I used to wonder why, but then I got the answer when I twisted my ankle while playing badminton at the age of forty-two. I encountered some well-wishers, including a doctor, who said you’re forty, you should quit playing sports. It came as a shock to me. Because why would anyone stop anyone from playing a sport?

As if household responsibilities, kids, and our physical limitations were not enough, people judge middle-aged women for taking time out to play a sport.

Isn’t it scary when a person who is supposed to be an expert in the field tells you that you’re wrecking your body by expecting more from it? Of course, nobody says that to a man. Men play sports well into their seventies.

I know that men and women are different physiologically, but what about mental capability? Shouldn’t sports cater to a person’s physical and psychological well-being? So why should we deprive women of that arena of wholesomeness?

With the outstanding achievements of women like Mithali Raj, Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Sania Mirza, and innumerable more gritty ladies in the international sports arena, the viewership of sports events has been rising slowly but steadily. Furthermore, the advent of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) in 2023 has opened doors for girls all over India who want to take up sports as a career. WPL 2024 has witnessed an increase in audience at the stadium, but still it has a long way to go in comparison to the men’s premier league. 

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New BBC research shows that less than 30% of Indian women play any sports, whereas almost three-quarters of Indians think sports are important in their lives today. What’s stopping them? Let’s dive into my analysis according to my experiences as a sportswoman. I do not have any trophies or medals to my credit, but only the zeal to improve. And it has worked wonders for my self-esteem. 

Badminton Vs life

I play a sport, and I’ve realised how similar every day at the field or court is to daily life. Some days are good days when everything goes your way. You’re making the perfect moves, placing precise drops and smashing the shuttle fiercely. But then there are some days when nothing goes your way. The shuttle is missing your racquet by inches, your drops don’t cross to the other side of the net, and your smashes repeatedly hit the net. Most of the days are your average days. You didn’t shine enough or screw up enough for those days to be memorable.

Then, some days are like inciting incidents that change the trajectory of your future in the sport. It’s a day like when you get an injury, and the doctor advises you to give up the sport. You are faced with a decision to give up what you love for your body or to keep on playing, that too for your body but also for your sanity. You can also enter the ladies’ doubles final in the year you played the tournament for the first time.

Successes, failures, fluidly flying bodies, and pains that weigh you down are all part of being a sportsperson.

The incredible women I play with

Women I’ve met while playing this sport have changed my perspective on life. Each one of them has some limitations: young kids, conservative in-laws, limiting bodies or whole lot of mom guilt. But they’re passionate about playing. We play to win, but if we lose, we keep playing. We’re past the age when losing used to hit hard. We crave victory, but at the same time, we are happy and grateful to be playing and not to be sidelined among the spectators. There is healthy competition, but outside the court, we are friends. The kind of friends I’ve been searching for my whole life. On the court, we are rivals without mercy. But outside court, they are my incredible support.

So when you see a woman over forty playing a sport, know it has not been easy. It’s not only about physical challenges; they’re here despite their demanding lives. Playing is mental therapy that not only releases endorphins and gives runners a high, but it also releases oxytocin and dopamine to make them feel loved. After all, an enthusiastic group of female cheerleaders can make anyone feel loved.

Image source: by simonkr from Getty Images Signature Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Anuradha Dev

I'm a reader and a teacher. My love for books and kids has kept me occupied till now. Now I want to venture into writing to pen down my thoughts. Thanks for reading. read more...

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