003.009 Best Practices for Age Group Championships

The main purpose of USA-S age group championships is to recognize athlete accomplishment.  Therefore, it is vital that the process for selecting participants be fair. While analyzing recent age group championships sanctioned by LSCs and Zones, we discovered multiple inequities in the athlete selection process.  To address these inequities, we recommend that USA-S age group championships follow these five best practices.

1. Expect to See More 14/Under Females than Males.

A fair championship meet provides equal opportunity to both sexes.  USA-S has significantly more 14/Under female athletes than male athletes.  Accordingly, championship meets whose participants and swims do not reflect that sex distribution are not fair.  This is the most important point arising from our investigation of age group championships.

2. Use Qualifying TImes.

Age group championships should use qualifying times to determine participation.  Accepting athletes based on their place in an LSC age group championship is needlessly arbitrary and manifestly unfair.  It is arbitrary because it relies on an athlete’s performance in in a single swim or on a single weekend. It is unfair to athletes in larger LSCs, who have a greatly reduced likelihood of participating when compared to athletes in smaller LSCs.  It is difficult for swim families to plan for, and needlessly stressful for age group athletes.

3. Use USA-S Motivational Time Standards.

The fairest age group championships use USA-S motivational time standards for their qualifying times.  The fairest JOs use “A” times (Lake Erie, North Texas) while the fairest Zones use “AAA” times (Central Zone).  The USA-S motivational time standards are imperfect, but they are enormously fairer than any other qualifying times used in an age group championship meet.  Unless your qualifying times are chosen using detailed statistics on athlete gender and performance, please just use the motivational times.

4. Accept Non-Conforming Times.

Requiring LCM times for an LCM championship meet artificially limits participation.  The long course season is too short, and 50 meter pools too rare, for all age group athletes to get LCM times in their best events every season.  Requiring LCM times for a LCM meet is, ultimately, a form of economic discrimination. It’s fairer to accept more stringent non-conforming times than it is to require looser conforming times.

5. Restrict Participation to 14/Unders.

Allowing 15/Overs to participate in an age group championship reduces 14/Under participation.  15/Overs have multiple other championship opportunities outside of their LSC, including Senior Zone Championships, Sectionals, Super Sectionals, Futures, and Junior Nationals.  14/Unders have no other realistic championship opportunities, either inside or outside their LSC. While it is technically possible for 14/Unders to qualify for those meets, it is statistically very difficult.