Kjendlie, P.-L. (2007). Career development of international top level swimmers versus national level swimmers. ACSM Annual Meeting New Orleans, Presentation Number, 2270.

"It has been hypothesized that a too early start of training, too early specialization, or too much training at an early age may hinder the optimal development of a sporting career".

This study investigated international top performance level swimmers’ career development compared to a control group of national performance level swimmers. A retrospective questionnaire was administered to medalists at the Olympic Games or world championship between 1968 and 1998 (N = 123) and a control group consisting of Norwegian and Danish championship participants, who were not of an international level (N = 36). Questions covered the ages when the athletes started to train, debut of different types of competition, time of specialization, when learning to swim, and age of stopping the competitive career. An analysis of training volumes also was conducted.

The age when top swimmers learned to swim did not significantly differ from the national swimmers. However, the starting age of training, the age at the first competition, and the age by first participation in nationals were lower for the top swimmers when compared to the national swimmers. There were no statistical differences in the age when the two groups specialized for an event or the age when they stopped competing. The top swimmers showed a 40% higher number of training sessions per week, and a 70% higher total yearly training volume in the ages from 12 to 20 years compared to the national swimmers.

Implication. Although top swimmers do not learn to swim at an earlier age than national swimmers, they start to train regularly, start to compete and participate in their first nationals about one year earlier than national swimmers. The early debut may be important for their performance development, but does not contribute to a shorter career. The considerably higher training doses administered to top swimmers does not contribute to a shorter swimming career. The development of a successful swimming career may require an early start, and certain level of high volume of specialized training.

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