Kojima, K., Brammer, c. L., & Stager, J. M. (2009). Age classification in USA Swimming are current competitive age groups appropriate? ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington. Presentation number 1844.

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Age classification in youth sports is an attempt to equalize competition, to enhance the chances of success, and to reduce the risk of injury associated with size and strength mismatches for all participants. USA Swimming has established four unisex age-groups according to chronological age. The groups are composed of plural chronological ages; 10 years and under, 11-12, 13-14, and 15 yrs and over. However, due to considerable differences in growth and maturational status among adolescents within any given age-group, by combining swimmers of different chronological ages into one group may compromise the opportunity to compete equally and fairly.

This study evaluated the current age classifications enforced by USA Swimming and to consider if proposing alternative age classifications might be advisable. Performances were acquired through the USA Swimming website for the top 100 men and women swimmers for each age (5 years to 20 years and >21 years) over the last three years. Data for each age were pooled and averaged for three distances (50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyle).

Significant differences in mean times between all ages were revealed up to 13, 13, and 14 years in females in the 50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyle, respectively. When collapsing distance, differences were found up to 14 years, and three homogeneous subsets were identified between the ages of 15 and 20 yrs (15-16, 16-18, and 17-20 years) in female swimmers. For the males, differences were found up to 15, 16, and 16 years old for the three distances, respectively. After collapsing distances, there were differences up to 16 years old. Three subsets (17-18, 18-19, and 19-20 years) were also demonstrated in male swimmers.

Implication. Because differences in performance exist among swimmers within the current defined age groups (11 year-old vs. 12 year-old for example), stratifying swimmers using a single chronological age may be a better method for insuring fairness and equality in competition. The significant differences in swim times disappear at a younger age in females when compared to males, which may be due to gender differences in growth and maturational timing. The number of age-group classifications for male swimmers could be increased up to 19-20 years.

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