Variation in competition performance, number of races, and age: Long-term athlete development in elite female swimmers

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 18;15(11):e0242442. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242442. eCollection 2020.


While talent development and the contributing factors to success are hardly discussed among the experts in the field, the aim of the study was to investigate annual variation in competition performance (AVCP), number of races per year, and age, as potential success factors for international swimming competitions. Data from 40'277 long-course races, performed by all individual female starters (n = 253) at the 2018 European Swimming Championships (2018EC) for all 10 years prior to these championships, were analyzed. Relationships between 2018EC ranking and potential success factors, i.e., AVCP, number of races per year, and age, were determined using Pearson's correlation coefficient and multiple linear regression analysis. While AVCP was not related to ranking, higher ranked swimmers at the 2018EC swam more races during each of the ten years prior to the championships (P < 0.001). Additionally, older athletes were more successful (r = -0.42, P < 0.001). The regression model explained highly significant proportions (P < 0.001) and 43%, 34%, 35%, 49% of total variance in the 2018EC ranking for 50m, 100m, 200m, and 400m races, respectively. As number of races per year (β = -0.29 --0.40) had a significant effect on ranking of 50-400m races, and age (β = -0.40 --0.61) showed a significant effect on ranking over all race distances, number of races per year and age may serve as success factors for international swimming competitions. The larger number of races swum by higher ranked female swimmers may have aided long-term athlete development regarding technical, physiological, and mental skill acquisitions. As older athletes were more successful, female swimmers under the age of peak performance, who did not reach semi-finals or finals, may increase their chances of success in following championships with increased experience.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adult
  • Aptitude / physiology
  • Athletes / psychology
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.