May 7, 2018
Biological Age vs Chronological Age
In all aspects of growing up there is an amazing amount of variability in children from birth thru college. All children mature at different ages, this creates an “uneven” playing field during sports which leagues, teams and coaches are always looking for the best “solution”. Do you put children in a group that is closer to their biological age? Where they currently are in their physical maturation. Or do you put them in a group based on their chronological age? Where they are with peers and can form lasting friendships based on similar experiences.
When I first started coaching year round the groups were loosely based on ages, but with a wide range. There were 8 and under groups, 9-12 groups and 13 and older groups. All of which had the school year September 1st cutoff. Yes in some cases we would end up with 9 year olds who had already physically matured swimming with 12 and even 13 year old who had not yet matured.
Fast forward a few years and we moved to strictly merit based groups. This worked for the most part, but again you would end up with a mature 10 year old swimming with an unmatured 13 year old and we wondered if it benefited either one. Are we helping the 10 year old by taking them away from their actual peers and pushing them to do more work instead of making sure they have mastered their current level? Are we discouraging the 13 year old by having them swim in the same group as a 10 year old? One of the major factors that keeps coming up is the number of top level 10 and under swimmers (based on top 100 times published by USA swimming) that continue to perform at that level at 17 and 18 years of age….10%.
This then brings us to our current model. One which puts swimmers in groups based upon their chronological age. This keeps them in groups of their peers. Other athletes who see the same movies, attend the same sort of classes, and have similar interests outside of the sport. This also makes it easier on coaches to teach the group. Athletes of similar ages have similar reasoning and cognitive skills. As an athlete gets older their have better understanding of their surrounding, how to make changes, how to train more effectively. By keeping athletes in groups of their peers we also make sure that every couple of years there is a jump in their training to stimulate their next step of growth. By using this “slow burn” philosophy we make sure that the swimmers truly master one step before moving to the next. We also hope that the swimmers club to college step up also stimulates another stop of growth and have seen the successes of this approach.