Growing up and reaching for the top: A longitudinal study on swim performance and its underlying characteristics in talented swimmers

This article delves into the nuanced development of swimmers during puberty, aiming to distinguish between those on track to elite levels and those who are not. Over three swimming seasons, data was collected from 90 talented sprint and middle-distance swimmers, focusing on their performance and underlying characteristics. Here’s what the study found:

Participants and Data Collection:

  • Longitudinal data of 90 talented sprint and middle-distance swimmers were collected over three swimming seasons.
  • Swimmers were followed during their pubertal years (males aged 13–15; females aged 12–14).

Classification and Performance:

  • Swimmers were classified as high-performing or lower-performing late juniors based on their season best times (SBT) at late junior age (males aged 16; females aged 15).
  • High-performing late juniors had faster SBT throughout puberty compared to their lower-performing peers.
  • Faster progression in performance was observed in high-performing late juniors compared to lower-performing peers.

Underlying Performance Characteristics:

  • High-performing late junior swimmers demonstrated higher levels and faster progression in maximal swimming velocity, stroke index (SI), and countermovement jump (CMJ) compared to lower-performing peers.
  • Taller height, particularly in females aged 13–14, was associated with superior swim performances post-puberty.

Maturation and Training:

  • Inter-individual differences in timing of peak height velocity (PHV) and training hours influenced performance and its underlying characteristics.
  • High-performing late junior swimmers tended to engage in slightly more swim training hours per week, which may have advantaged their performance.

Strengths and Limitations:

  • The study included a wide range of talented swimmers and followed them over time, providing insights into developmental patterns during puberty.
  • However, there were limitations such as potential survivorship bias and the focus on pubertal swimmers who qualified for the Dutch National Junior Championships.

Perspective:

  • The study emphasizes the importance of maximal swimming velocity, SI, and season best performances in the advancement towards elite-level swimming performance.
  • Coaches could focus on developing these factors and monitor swimmers’ progression towards the elite level, considering inter-individual differences in maturation and training.

Overall, the study highlights the complex developmental pathway towards swimming expertise and suggests areas for further research and coaching considerations.