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In my last blog post we spoke about some of the pitfalls for swimmers and parents. I wanted to take this opportunity to go through some of those pitfalls in a more detailed way. Namely the one to do with comparing yourself or your child to swimmers who are chronologically the same age. A child’s physical development can play a large part in how successful they are at a young age, however, it is not necessarily indicative of how successful they will be as they get older.

The below goes into detail about how struggling at a younger age can in some ways be beneficial to a swimmers’ longer-term opportunities and success.

“Relative Age: Relatively young and relatively old”

As young people are developing through their sporting careers relative age can play a very large role in success. By relative age, I mean those children who are born through the first quarter of the year (Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr) are deemed relatively old, whilst those born in the last quarter are relatively young. With multiple swimming events at a young age being based around age as of the 31st of December, this leads to a disproportionate amount of relatively old swimmers performing and qualifying for these events at a young age. When looking at talent identification programmes in rugby and cricket at a young age the following graph shows how those born in the first quarter of the year are often highlighted at these younger ages…


These biases towards those born in the first quarter are also demonstrated within swimming, where the British Swimming team that competed at the last European Junior Championships was also heavily weighted towards swimmers born in the first few months of the year in comparison to those born later.

Now obviously this may seem like common sense, but the interesting part particularly in the cricket and rugby examples were that those who went on to compete at senior level were not just balanced out in terms of relative age but favoured those born later in the year.


So why is this the case? What advantage do those who are born later in the year have over those that are born earlier in the year?

Roadblocks, challenges and resilience

Some of the research and studies that have gone into this subject suggest that those who are born later in the year naturally have more challenges handed to them earlier in their competitive careers which in turn allows them to build more mental resilience to the inevitable ups and downs that they will face through their development.

The importance of resilience within young athletes during their development cannot be overstated. If young athletes have too much of an “easy ride” through their formative years, then when it comes to the tough moments in their careers, they are more likely to give up or lose motivation and generally do not know how to deal with these issues.

So as coaches, parents and swimmers what can we do to ensure that we are not only building the technical and physical aspects necessary to achieve at the highest level, but also develop the mental aspects for success in the future?

The main thing is to ensure that “roadblocks” are put in place for our young athletes during their development. This can include putting artificial roadblocks in place where we set our young athletes up for failure in order to teach them how to deal with it, but also making sure that when these events occur naturally, swimmers/parents and coaches are aware of the best way to deal with these issues.

The Best Way to Deal With “Roadblocks”?

So when these roadblocks present themselves, how can we ensure that our young swimmers are developing the right processes to deal with them? As a triangle of parents—swimmers—coaches, we need to be pushing the right mental strategies. The typical cliché of focussing on the process is one of the easy things to say, but often this is hard to do when swimmers are feeling disappointed or struggling. At this point communication between parents/swimmers and coaches is absolutely vital.

Staying positive with the swimmers and helping them to understand that these roadblocks can be a positive part of their development is essential. Pointing out multiple examples of swimmers who have overcome and thrived following tough times is a good way to illustrate this – so please ask the coaching team for role models from different squads and stories of swimmers who have been in similar situations. Finally, we need to be helping swimmers understand that these situations that occur are temporary and are not the final result! Failure is a finite outcome; you only allow yourself to fail if you stop because of a setback!


These roadblocks and bumps will occur during a swimmer’s career, they may be not moving to the squad that they had hoped for, not getting the results that they wanted or possibly not being able to train due to illness or injury. Whatever bumps occur I think it is vitally important that we are all on the same page with regards to how we react to them. They are a positive thing when dealt with in the right way. Let’s encourage our young athletes to take risks and not be afraid to fail! In the long run they will be better people because of it.


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