Young athletes can grow at a quite phenomenal rate. That growth affects many aspects of their performance, for better or for worse, both temporarily and permanently. Understanding how an athlete is growing can help coaches better tailor their training loads to the individual, and help the athlete understand changes in their performances.
Working with young athletes on a daily basis means it's easy to miss growth spurts happening right in front of you. But those growth spurts can have a big impact in the pool. Changes to limb length are often not compensated for by the athlete, who suddenly looks clumsy and unbalanced where before they swum with smooth efficiency. Long bones growing faster than connective tissue often means pain and unexpected tightness as those tissues are stretched by the extended bone.
Many growth related phenomena can impact swimming performance, both positively and negatively. The energy required by the body to grow will obviously detract from training performance, leaving an athlete tired and lethargic. Conversely, a new bigger body may be stronger than before and race much faster (or slower if the athlete is still coming to terms with the longer levers). Indeed, most of the massive improvements made by young athletes come purely from growth, and we're all well aware how fast developing young athletes easily outperform later developers in those early years.
Every body is different and grows at different rates and times. This is a project that tries to help us all (athlete, parent, and coach alike) understand those differences, and to some extent predict where they will take us.
We started off in 2018 measuring 3 things.
- Standing Height
- Wingspan (finger tips to finger tips)
- Foot Length
After sitting in on a few seminars and workshops, we've decided to add a couple to that list.
- Seated Height
Our objective is to gather such measurements monthly (see below), to give a fine grained view of where our athletes are in their growth curve.
As a one off collection, we would also like parents to get involved in 4 of those (don't worry, we're not wanting your weight). The theory suggests that those figures will allow us to predict, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the final dimensions of our growing athletes.
Obviously, for some people, 1 or more of these measurements may be a sensitive area. You are under no-obligation to take part in this, and should you wish to submit a subset of these measurements that is also perfectly fine. Any measurement you're not happy to submit, or you're not in a position to submit, simply miss them out.
How to Measure
We would like you to do the measurements at home. Ideally every month, or at least every 3 months. Below is an easy guide to keeping those measurements consistent and reasonably accurate. We know from the data we have already gathered that these can fluctuate up and down, but the general trend is what we're interested in. So don't worry when you suddenly discover that your wingspan is 2cm shorter this month than last - it happens.
Please measure in cm or mm and kg, then email your numbers with the date they were taken to the coaching team.
Stand back to a wall with your feet flat on the ground, heels up to the wall. No shoes and ideally no socks. You'll need a right angled edge (a dining table place mat is often perfect or a clipboard). Place the clipboard on top of the head and push it up against the wall aligned vertically. If the vertical edge is flat against the wall and the horizontal edge is pressed against the head, you can measure from floor to bottom edge of the clipboard for an accurate measurement. Do this at a wall corner to be sure you have a vertical measure (no diagonal variation).
Same as the standing height, but sitting on the floor up against the wall. This one obviously allows us to see weather legs have grown or torso.
Stand against a wall with a tape measure behind you and stretch your arms out in a giant capital T. The arms should be level with your shoulders, and palms facing outwards. Stretch your fingers out as wide as you can - unassisted of course!
This will require access to a wall and two right angled edges (clipboard or place mat). This time, hold the clipboards in a horizontal plane, 1 edge against the wall, the other edge perpendicular to the wall. Slide the foot between the clipboards and slide them tight. Press them against the heel and toe. Move the foot to measure its longest length.
Weight can be affected by a number of variables, clothing especially. Best to take your weight in a swimsuit or similar - definitely no footware. The important thing is to be wearing consistent clothing each time.
Also it's very important for young athletes to understand that a higher weight is not a bad thing (even when compared to your friends). Modern culture is dangerously weight obsessed, when in fact healthy athletes will be bigger, stronger and thus heavier than the general population.
- Sport increases bone density - making them heavier.
- Sport increases muscle mass - which is also heavier.
It is important for athletes to understand that food is fuel and the nutrients it provides help to repair and build your body - and allows your brain to function correctly. Weight is a useful measure of how your body is developing and reacting to training. It is nothing whatsoever to do with idealised body shapes. Do not compare your weight with anyone else. This project is only interested in variations over time, not the absolute number.
As most of you will be aware, our performance database contains details of our athletes' race performances and a small number of training performances too. Storing these measurements alongside that race data allows for study of performance versus growth and other interesting things.
Don't worry, on leaving Dartes we will anonymise this data within 6 months. It will not be passed on to 3rd parties in a non-anonymised form (most likely not at all).