Check out http://www.t2aquatics.com for information on T2 Aquatics!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Measuring Success (Correctly) in Swimming

Measuring Success (Correctly) in Swimming


In the sport of Swimming, athletes, parents, and coaches seem to have an obsession with “dropping time”.  This obsession can be healthy when approached with perspective and maturity; but oftentimes our obsession with “dropping time” is not only unhealthy – but inaccurate when assessing forward-moving or stagnant performance.

As a disclaimer: I realize that one of the beautiful things about swimming is that the stopwatch can tell us exactly what is going on.  Things seem black and white with swimming like they seem to be with Track and Field, which are much different sports when compared to football, basketball, or soccer.  Many people are drawn to the sport of swimming because it seems relatively easy to see where you stand and where you rank.  But here’s the problem: the human organism is ever-changing, and to measure its changes from a black and white perspective simply doesn’t make sense.  Swimming isn’t really black and white; it just seems to be.  Oftentimes, we don’t account for growth, or lack of growth.  We may not account for how that growth affects stroke technique.  We may not account for the learning of a better racing strategy – or simply trying a new strategy that is less effective than a previous strategy.  Our sport is not as black and white as we may think it is when looked at from these perspectives!

Take a look at the numbers below.  I’ve looked at the USA Swimming database to determine the 1st, 10th, and 50th ranked times for single age groups (I used men age 14 through 16, and women age 13 through 15 -- from 2011 through 2013).  I looked at the difference between the Top Ranked time at age 14 (for men) and 13 (for women), and calculated the amount of time dropped over the next two years (for age 15 and 16 for men, and age 14 and 15 for women).  I did the same thing for the 10th fastest time each year, and the 50th fastest time for each year, as well as for each gender.  I averaged the time drops for the #1 ranking, the #10 ranking, and the #50 ranking to get the “Average Time Drop” for the particular age and event.

The facts show the following:

A.       Over the 200M distance, Men drop an average of 4.4 seconds per year from age 14 to age 15, and an average of 2.4 seconds per year from age 15 to age 16.

B.       Over the 200M distance, Women drop an average of 5.0 seconds per year from age 13 to age 14, and an average of 1.9 seconds per year from age 14 to age 15.


Here are the raw numbers:


200 Freestyle -- Men         

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time               #50 US Time          Average Time Drop/year

2011 (14)              1:56.2                                    1:59.3                             2:01.6                   

2012 (15)              1:52.2                                    1:54.9                             1:58.1                    4.3 seconds

2013 (16)              1:48.6                                    1:53.8                            1:55.9                    2.3 seconds


200 Backstroke – Men

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                 #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (14)              2:08.1                                    2:11.9                              2:16.2                   

2012 (15)              2:02.9                                    2:07.8                              2:10.9                    4.8 seconds

2013 (16)              2:03.5                                    2:06.1                              2:09.5                    0.8 seconds


200 Breaststroke – Men

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (14)              2:21.2                                    2:28.0                             2:35.2

2012 (15)              2:19.5                                    2:23.5                             2:28.5                    4.7 seconds

2013 (16)              2:15.8                                    2:20.3                             2:25.9                    3.6 seconds


200 Butterfly – Men

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                 #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (14)              2:04.1                                    2:09.9                              2:15.7                   

2012 (15)              2:00.9                                    2:06.8                              2:10.4                    3.8 seconds

2013 (16)              1:56.5                                    2:04.4                              2:08.4                    2.9 seconds

200 Freestlye --Women    

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                 #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (13)              2:05.0                                    2:08.2                             2:11.0                   

2012 (14)              2:00.0                                    2:04.0                             2:07.2                    4.3 seconds

2013 (15)              1:59.3                                    2:03.1                             2:06.1                    0.9 seconds


200 Backstroke – Women

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time               #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (13)              2:19.8                                    2:21.8                            2:27.2                   

2012 (14)              2:14.2                                    2:17.7                            2:23.0                    4.6 seconds

2013 (15)              2:10.3                                    2:16.6                            2:20.7                    2.8 seconds


200 Breaststroke – Women

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (13)              2:37.1                                    2:41.1                              2:49.5                   

2012 (14)              2:26.3                                    2:37.7                              2:44.3                    7.0 seconds

2013 (15)              2:31.0                                    2:36.2                              2:42.7                    2.6 seconds


200 Butterfly – Women

Year (Age)             #1 US Time                            #10 US Time                #50 US Time          Average Time Drop

2011 (13)              2:15.2                                    2:22.2                             2:27.5

2012 (14)              2:11.1                                    2:18.0                             2:23.2                    4.2 seconds

2013 (15)              2:10.3                                    2:17.5                             2:21.6                    1.3 seconds


It’s easy to draw a few conclusions with these facts:

A.       If you are not dropping 4-5 seconds off of your 200, during the critical years (14-15 for men and 13-14 for women), then you are simply not keeping up with your competitors throughout the US.  Many athletes, parents, and coaches will be very excited to see a 3 second time drop in an event, from year to year; but between these years, a 3 second time drop means that the athlete is simply not holding their US ranking.

B.       If you are not dropping about 2 seconds the following year (15-16 for men and 14-15 for women), then you are not keeping up.  The same idea applies, but here the challenge is to keep our stagnant swimmers into the sport and looking forward with optimism.  To have a smaller time drop during this time of their career is normal; and certainly we would like to see a bigger drop, but this is when “relative plateaus” may occur.  These athletes need to keep plugging.

C.       Men, when compared to women, drop less time ‘early’ and more time ‘late’; whereas women drop more time ‘early’ and less time ‘late’.  The implications for this are vast, particularly on the women’s side: women who are dropping the big time ‘early’ need to realize that it’s normal to see their time drops level off a bit (they still may be gaining on their competitors if they drop 3.8 seconds from 13 to 14, and only 2.5 from 14 to 15); but on the other side of the thought process, both the women and men should realize that at the age of 15 or 16 many of their peers are not improving at the same rate that they did when they were 14 or 15 – which leaves an open door for a committed, focused young athlete.  Certainly the top athletes in the US keep the ‘pedal down to the floor’ from age 15 through age 18 – and they do so with better efficiency than their peers.


There is a lot to this type of comparison, and certainly I’m aware that it is small sample size. I don’t see this type of comparison as a way to determine what types of athlete will make the 2016 Olympic Team – it’s more of a comment on 18 and under athletes in the US, and how we can accurately assess performance.

We need to be careful when assessing performance, because swimming is not the black and white sport many of us are guilty of believing it to be.

See my post on FloridaSwimNetwork.com:

No comments:

Post a Comment