A little while ago, I looked at age and bowling ability. The observed relationship between average and age for professional bowlers suggested continual improvement from age 20 through 50. I argued that this correlation was in fact spurious, caused by a weeding out effect. In brief, most pro bowlers quit the tour at an early age because it is not a lucrative career unless you are among the top 10 or 20 of the sport. The result is that those pro bowlers who bowl into their 40's are the best in the sport, while those in younger age brackets are characterized by a wider range of skill levels.
A few months after I wrote that post, I came across an academic study that examined the same phenomenon, so I thought it would be germane to share their findings. The paper was authored by Allison Elizabeth DeVan and Hirofumi Tanaka, both of the Department of Kinesiology and and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. The study is titled "Declines in ten-pin bowling performance with advancing age," and was published in the journal Age and Ageing in 2007 (Volume 36, pp. 693-694).
This was a very simple study, and in fact, it was much like mine. DeVan and Tanaka compared the average score and age for 147 male bowlers in the 2002 PBA World Championship and Senior World Championship. As such, they have a much greater range of ages than I did, even with a couple of bowlers in their 70's represented. Here is a summary graph of their findings:
According to the authors, "Performance appeared to be maintained until approximately 45 years of age and started to decrease more rapidly thereafter." (p. 693), and that over a 50 year period, there was only a decline of about 10%. They also found that in comparison to other sports, such as running and swimming, the decline in ability in bowling was considerably less.
In short, among pro bowlers, averages start to slip in their late 40's. There are reasons why this generalization might not apply to amateurs. For example, if you start bowling late in life, the improvement in your game from practice and repetition might outweigh the decline from the physical effects of aging. In other words, you might peak considerably later. Furthermore, it is very clear from their study, not to mention all the gray haired folks you see dominating the pins on weekday mornings, that you can bowl very well into your later years.
So, for all you folks out there who are enrolled in medicare, collecting social security, scared of a young black male president, and driving around with your blinkers on, you can still go out to the lanes on a Friday night and kick those young whipper-snappers' asses. Just don't challenge them to a 100 m butterfly.
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