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Age classification in youth sports is an attempt to equalize competition, to enhance the chances of success, and to reduce the risk of injury associated with size and strength mismatches for all participants. USA Swimming has established 4 unisex age-groups according to chronological age (CA). The groups are composed of plural CAs; 10 yrs & under, 11-12, 13-14, and 15 yrs & over. However, due to considerable differences in growth and maturational status among adolescents within any given CA, by combining swimmers of different CA into a group the opportunity to compete equally may simply not be so.PURPOSE: The aims of the study were to evaluate the current age classifications enforced by USA Swimming and to potentially provide a statistical rationale for proposing alternative age classifications.METHODS: Performances were acquired through the website of USA Swimming for the top U.S. 100 men and women swimmers for each age (5 yrs to 20 yrs and >21 yrs) over the last 3 years. Data for each age were pooled and averaged for 3 separate distances (50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyle). A 17 × 2 × 3 (age × sex × distance) ANOVA with Tukey's post-hoc test was used to analyze differences in performance between swimmers of different CA and to provide potential age classifications.RESULTS: Significant differences (p < 0.01) in mean times between all ages were revealed up to 13, 13, and 14 yrs in women in the 50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyle, respectively. When collapsing distance, differences were found up to 14 yrs, and 3 homogeneous subsets were identified between the ages of 15 and 20 yrs (15-16, 16-18, and 17-20 yrs) in women swimmers. For the men, differences were found up to 15, 16, and 16 yrs old for three distances, respectively. As collapsing distances, there were differences up to 16 yrs old. Three subsets (17-18, 18-19, and 19-20 yrs) were also demonstrated in men swimmers.CONCLUSIONS: Because differences in performance exist among swimmers within the current defined age groups (11 year-old vs. 12 year-old for example), stratifying swimmers using a single CA may be a better method for insuring fairness and equality in competition. The significant differences in swim time disappear at a younger age in women when compared to men, which may be due to sex differences in growth and maturational timing.