UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

A long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away (London), Keith Lesser wrote a piece on the ERA website musing as to what made a good Racketlon player.  This planted a seed in my mind, and made me wonder what does make a good Racketlon player.  One place my mind went, was how frequently I have stated that you want to avoid a Vets player when they are in your banded singles classes.  So, do Racketlon players, like fine wines get better with age? 

Well, armed with access to numerous datasets, a few free evenings at home with nothing decent on TV, and frankly my brain, which does not like letting go of silly hypotheses, there was only one way to find out.

Are Top Racketlon Players Older?

It is a blindingly obvious place to start, are top Racketlon players older or is it simply confirmation bias on my part?  Table 1 outlines the average age for the FIR top 10 in the world rankings on 1stDecember 2015.  The UK end of season rankings, which were compiled after the Europeans Championships are also shown.

Sport

Men’s Ranking

Ladies Rankings

World Racketlon

33.0

30.6

UK Racketlon

31.6

29.7

Table 1: The average age of players in the Men’s and Ladies World & UK rankings and the World Tour Race.  Information based on entry spreadsheets and calculated as a players age on the 31st December 2015.

Certainly a higher age seems to correlate with success in Racketlon.  Whilst there are some notable youngsters, there are a similar number of older players.  It is not just the World Tour, the UK Tour shows similar average ages, however the spread of these players ages does increase on the UK Tour.

So, how does this compare to the constituent Racketlon sports?

Sport

Men’s World Ranking

Ladies World Rankings

World Racketlon

33.0

30.6

UK Racketlon

31.6

29.7

Table Tennis

30.3

27.1

Badminton

26.2

22.8

Squash

28.6

26.0

Tennis

29.7

28.3

4 Sports Average

28.7

26.1

Table 2: The average age of players in the Men’s and Ladies World rankings for Table Tennis, Badminton, Squash and Tennis, as well as repeating the data from Table 1.  Information on the four constituent sports came from governing body rankings and player profiles.  Ages as for the 31st December 2015.

Racketlon produces the oldest average age, both on the UK and World rankings compared to the constituent sports.  The four sports average suggests the optimum age of a Racketlon player to be ranked in the top 10 based on the constituent sports average ages, and this age is also younger than the Racketlon average ages.

Certainly, based on this data, the top ranked Racketlon player is older than average for racket sports.  This therefore begs the question, does age make you a better Racketlon player and if so, why might age help?  On the face of it, you would think that Racketlon was a young players game.  The energy and physicality of training and playing four sports exerts stresses and strains on a host of muscles, tendons and ligaments, it is better suited to the younger player to recover from these body stresses.

 

Why is Being Old an Advantage in Racketlon?

One important element of Racketlon is the mental side of the sport.  To succeed in any Racketlon tournament requires playing very consistently across 12-16 individual matches.  Top ranked players have to have huge concentration and mental strength to compete in an event.  Whilst this is true for all racket sports, the every point counts nature of Racketlon takes it to additional level.  One advantage of age is experience, being used to either in Racketlon or individual sport circumstances to being in the pressure situations.

Other Causes of the Older Average?

One major consideration, particularly with regards to the top players in Racketlon, is that their age may reflect coming to Racketlon after pursuing careers in one of the individual sports.  An easy example is Dan Busby who made it into the top 250 in the world of Squash before coming to Racketlon.  Even when talented youngsters come to Racketlon, they may leave before reaching the top levels by a career in their specialist sport.  Everyone in UK Racketlon was delighted to see Sarah-Jane Perry win the British National squash title last February.  Whilst we all hope to see Racketlon grow, its current size means that no player is making a living from playing it.  That does mean that any player with real potential in one of the individual sports is going to be lured away.  On the flipside international competition and national representation opportunities make Racketlon a natural home for players to gravitate towards after ending their individual sport careers.  However, both of these factors would result in older than average players reaching the top ranks of the sport.

This issue also highlights another potential confounding factors to my age makes better players, hypothesis within Racketlon, finances.  Playing Racketlon requires some sort of financial commitment whatever your level. The basics of four rackets, tournament entry fees, tournament travel and accommodation all require a financial commitment.  However, the top players are likely to be playing three if not all four of the sports regularly.  This requires the financial ability to fund these club memberships.  Similarly, the top players will be playing more frequently in tour events, which increases entry fees and tournament travel/accommodation costs.  This requirement gravitates you towards the older players being able to afford the additional costs and therefore succeeding.  These players are more likely to be in their late twenties, early thirties, those who have progressed above the entry level/graduate pay grades.

Additionally, the other closely related factor is time.  Older players a likely to face increased time pressures from work and family commitments.  From my own sporting experiences (no laughing at the back), playing cricket, players quickly drift away from the game when these time constraint factors begin, such as children.  These factors are more likely to occur with age, in cricket, there is a loss of club players in the 25-34 age bracket.  Players no longer wish to commit their time to cricket as life gets in the way.

Since my relocation 135 miles away from my fiancée, I have also experienced a reduction in my free time.  As a result, cricket, which requires a large time investment for 5-6 months of the year, has been replaced by more squash, joining a badminton club and TT coaching sessions.  These sports can be played in lunchtime at work or in the evening, even playing on a weekend, they still only require a small time commitment.  As a result, despite playing more sports, I am reducing my sporting commitment time-wise due to my new living circumstances.  The combination of small weekly time commitments and sporting variety ensures Racketlon is a sport which appeals to players in their mid to late twenties.  They then mature as a Racketlon player, improve their skills and reach their Racketlon peak at an older age than other racket sports.  It certainly works as a potential mechanism and would apply to all players who had played a racket sport for a number of years, no matter their level in that sport.

 

Conclusions: More Vicars, More Pubs....

There is an old adage in statistics.  In any town, the more vicars there are, the more pubs there are.  Therefore vicars are big drinkers.  This is a classic example of correlation, not causation (more here.  My thoughts on age and ranking of Racketlon players is probably just one of these examples.

Certainly, top ranked Racketlon players are older than the constituent sports, but, mental strength and sporting experience aside, there is no other obvious reason for an older player to perform better than a younger counterpart.  In fact most other rational factors would suggest younger players would do better.  Therefore I conclude that the most likely reason behind the high average age is that, racket sports offer variety without taking up a huge volume of your time.  Players are able to choose when and where they play their competitions whilst training can be easily fit into your daily lives, work and family commitments.

So this does leave us back at Keith’s old question, what does make a great Racketlon player?  If you have any thoughts feel free to comment on the UK Racketlon Facebook page!