Removing relative age effects from youth swimming: The development and testing of corrective adjustment procedures

J Sci Med Sport. 2019 Jun;22(6):735-740. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2018.12.013. Epub 2019 Jan 18.


Objectives: (1) Generate accurate estimates of the relationship between decimal age (i.e., chronological and relative) with swimming performance based on longitudinal data. (2) Determine whether corrective adjustment procedures can remove Relative Age Effects (RAEs) from junior/youth swimming.

Design: Longitudinal and repeated years of cross-sectional performance data were examined.

Methods: (1) Participants were 553 male 100m Freestyle swimmers (10-18 years) who participated in ≥five annual events between 1999-2017. Growth curve modelling quantified the relationship between age and swimming performance, permitting corrective adjustment calculations. (2) Participants were N=2141 male 100m Freestyle swimmers (13-16 years) who swam at state/national events in 2015-2017. Relative age distributions for 'All', 'Top 50%', '25%' and '10%' of swimming times were examined based on raw and correctively adjusted swim times. Chi-square, Cramer's V and Odds Ratios (OR) determined whether relative age (quartile) inequalities existed according to age-groups, selection level and correctively adjusted swim times.

Results: Based on raw swim times, for 'All' swimmers RAEs was evident at 13 and 14 years-old and dissipated thereafter. But, RAE effect sizes substantially increased with selection level, with large-medium effects between 13-15 years-old (e.g., 15 years - Top 50% Q1v Q4 OR=2.28; Top 10%=6.02). However, when correctively adjusted swim times were examined, RAEs were predominantly absent across age-group and selection levels.

Conclusions: With accurate longitudinal reference data, corrective adjustment procedures effectively removed RAEs from 100m Freestyle swimming performance, suggesting the potential to improve swimming participation experience and performance evaluation.

Keywords: Athlete development; Swimming; Talent identification; Youth competition.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors*
  • Athletes
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Child
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Swimming*
  • Youth Sports