Why do so many of us middle-aged guys continue to haul our asses out to rinks, put on bulky equipment and play this game of hockey?
All true for anyone who plays.
But a new study in the journal Psychology and Aging hints at an even more basic reason: We love competition.
The study points out that the competitive spirit peaks at about 50 and is strongest in the age range of 45-54. In fact, if you can believe it, 55-64 year-olds are more competitive than those 30 years younger aged 25-34. Go figure.
The study looked at 543 men and women ranging in age from 25-74. They set up a kiosk in a mall and got people to participate by offering a cash reward for doing a couple of tasks. Participants would have to quickly judge an answer as right or wrong on a quick math equation, (eg. 5+8+2-6=9.)
People got 25 cents for each correct answer or they could forego that in favour of entering a more competitive challenge for a bigger cash reward. If they beat other competitors, they could double the cash reward; if they underperformed in the group they got nothing.
Sounds a bit like The Price Is Right or Let’s Make A Deal but it does illustrate a few intriguing points about the nature of competition.
Not suprisingly only 36 per cent of women went for the group challenge compared to 56 per cent of men. The study also found that these results held throughout adult life from 25 to 75. It suggests men are just more competitive than women. The study also found that the competitve streak in middle age marked a desire for a higher profile. Again, no surprise there as it is the time most of us make our mark in our careers, rising to our highest rank. To achieve that, you have to be competitive, not to mention dedicated.
Now these are small potatoes. If the prize were bigger, say $10 for a correct answer to the math questions and $200 to enter a competition, the results might be lower for “competitive” men. Who wouldn’t want to make a quick $30 or $40 vs a longer shot at $200?
But the results do point out a couple of interesting things when it comes to playing rec hockey in middle age. Our bodies may be undergoing a slow decline but our competitive juices still flow strongly.
In games that are unimportant in the larger scheme of things where results shouldn’t mean a thing, we still want to win, sometimes urgently. Why keep score? Because in the moment, the crux of competition, it matters.
We still want to best our opponent or a particular player and win those small battles whether it’s beating the goalie, gaining a puck along the boards or making a slick move on a defender. It’s what sports and hockey are all about. Those small victories over our competitors — and ourselves.
It also might explain the darker side of the competitive spirit — the uncalled for trip/slash/rough play to gain advantage over an opponent. Fortunately in most rec hockey these plays are self-regulated by the group and offenders — though they may be friends — pay by being called out or ostracized. Fairness usually prevails.
But hockey, whether it’s a beer league for middle-aged guys or the NHL there is a level of competitiveness that makes those who play the game come alive. In some small way, as men we want to assert ourselves, hold or gain our position in the hierarchy, as the study points out. When we lose that ability or that outlet, our lives become smaller.
The good news is the study found that competitive spirit lingers until about 65.
As the pundits like to say, there’s still a lot of hockey to be played.