The research confirms it – the younger you are in an age-group, the greater your chances of winning!

The IntroductionMasters Podium

Most competitive masters athletes, and I include myself, know it’s best to ‘hit’ a five- or ten-year age group in the first couple of years to maximize your chances of doing well. Sport scientists call this ‘relative age’ – you are the ‘baby’ of the age group relative to others in the age-bracket. Cross-sectional studies have previously done on masters swimmers and track and field athletes and indeed studies have compared the two sports and even compared this trend across countries. Yep, the younger you are, the better your chances of winning a medal! A recent Ozzie study by Nikola Medic from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia took a longitudinal view and examined the participation of thousands of US masters swimmers in national championships over a six-year period. The results showed that the odds of a Masters swimmer participating in the championship during the first year of any five-year age category was more than two times greater than the odds of that athlete participating during the fifth year.

The Research

Using archived data from the 2003 to 2009 US Masters Short Course National Championships, swimmers’ attendance was followed for a period of six consecutive years. Their participation was analysed to see whether they were more likely to compete in at the younger age of an age-group or the older end.

The Results

The results indicated that a participation-related relative age effect was observed among swimmers who, over a period of six years, competed in either at least one championship or at least three championships. Overall, the analysis indicated that the odds of a Masters swimmer participating in the championship during the first year of any five-year age category was more than two times greater than the odds of that athlete participating in the final year of that age-group.

The So What?

The results support what most competitive age-groupers know. If you want to win a medal, best to do it at the beginning of an age group. The sad fact of life is that most of us are slowing down as we age, even if keep training hard, hitting the gym and looking after ourselves. Sadly, as we get older every year we lose muscle mass and our maximum heart rate slows down, factors that mean we find it harder to compete against the ‘youngsters’ in our age group.

 Medic, N., Young, B. and Medic, D. (2011). Participation-related relative age effects in Masters swimming: A 6-year retrospective longitudinal analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences. 29(1): 29 – 36.

Photo Source: http://randwickbotanycc.org.au/Results%202004/Opens%202004/Photos%20Masters%20State%20Road%20titles/Horny%20podium.jpg