The University of Sydney and Swimming Australia are collaborating on a world-first nation-wide research project H2gr0w, aimed at investigating the impact growth spurts and different rates of development in adolescence have on performance and ongoing involvement in swimming.
“We know that factors like different rates of growth and body maturation, coupled with when a child is born during the competition calendar, can have a big difference on swimming performance in the early teen years,” said University of Sydney project lead Associate Professor Stephen Cobley from the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“Even though our research shows these differences even out by the late teen years, it can be easy for kids to find this discouraging or for coaches to be misled into selecting the relatively older or more developed kids who are likely that bit stronger in the water earlier on.”
Swimming Australia project lead Jamie Salter said Project H2gr0w aims to change this by collecting nation-wide data to track growth and maturation in 1000 developing swimmers.
This will allow researchers to pinpoint stages of development to help coaches, clubs and parents better understand exactly where a child is at.
“Our end goal is to retain more athletes in the sport and help them transition from junior swimming right through to potentially becoming a Dolphin in the future,” said Salter, General Manager of Performance Pathways at Swimming Australia.
We have identified a way to take into account the fact that we can have children almost a year apart in age and development competing against each other.
In a paper in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport the research team, including collaborators from the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport, demonstrated how they can eliminate the influences of developmental differences in swimming - whereby older athletes within an age grouping typically perform better and have selection advantages for development programs.
The researchers used longitudinal data from state and national swimming events to identify the relationship between age (10-18 years) and 100m swimming performance in over 550 males. Using this relationship, they then adjusted performance times on a sample of male junior freestyle swimmers to revaluate swimming performance and remove any bias.
“Basically we have identified a way to individually acknowledge and take into account the fact that we can have children almost a year apart in age and development competing against each other – which is particularly relevant around the time of puberty,” said Associate Professor Cobley.
“When swimmers turn up to participate or compete, we now have the basis to calculate the expected difference in time between the two individuals based on relative age. In essence we can make adjustments to level the playing field.
“This is vitally important to keep kids engaged in sport, which is a priority for national public health and parents alike.”
Based on the research collaboration Swimming Australia has already implemented measures to assist in identifying future athletes that may have been previously overlooked, and ways to support coaches in pinpointing more accurately their swimmers’ stage of development.
The research has also been instrumental in determining competition changes at a national and state level to increase the longevity of all swimmers in the sport. These include delaying the entry age at national competitions, having different age bands for males and females to account for differences in maturation, and establishing different competition formats at a state level.
Project H2gr0w is a multi-faceted research project developed and instigated by Associate Professor Stephen Cobley from the University of Sydney and Jamie Salter of Swimming Australia Ltd.
The project aims to:
For more information visit: https://www.swimming.org.au/projecth2gr0w