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Tom Slear’s (USA Swimming’s) Abuse of of Statistics

November 27, 2014

By the way, anyone at USA swimming ( 8 lies about fast swimmers) want to bet me that a 10yo girl on my son’s team won’t make it to the trials?. you see, it is a myth, according to Tom Slear….Splash Magazine correspondent, that being fast at 10 has no correlation to being fast as an 18yo.   I’ll provide the name of the girl to any one who believes the article posted at USA swimming.  I’ll bet she will make it to the trials, which by most definitions is fast.  She’ll do it at 12, and she’ll do it at 16.  Let’s see how brave those who believe in the 8 lies will hold to their convictions, that its a myth that being fast at 10 has no correlation to being fast at 18.    Yeah, I don’t  think anyone at USA swimming will take me up on this bet.  Put your money where your mouth is, chumps…I have $1000 to bet you….and I am taking most of the risk with this, because the threat of injury and health is always a real risk to any athlete.

Tom Slear, “special correspondent” to Splash Magazine writes:

” A study by USA Swimming using the All-Time Top 100 swims in each age group through 1996 found that only 10 percent of the Top 100 10-and-Unders maintained their status through age 18. Only half of the swimmers among the Top 100 in the 17-18 age group had made any top-100 list when they were younger.”

My response…people at USA swimming are utterly incompetent when it comes to looking at statistics….they should stick to swimming.

Would it be statistically significant to say “A study of #1 swimmer in each event at 10 years of age found that only 0% maintained that #1 status through age 18”.  Of course, this kind of statistic would be even more meaningless.

How about “A study using the All-Time Top 10 swims in each age group through 1996 found that only 10 percent of the Top 10 10-and-Unders maintained their status through age 18. Only 10% of the swimmers among the Top 10 in the 17-18 age group had made any top-10 list when they were younger.”

This is again meaningless.

Do you get my point?

This is not the way of looking at this statistic.  The question is, What percentage of the top 10 NCAA swim school swimmers (ages 18-22) in their event, were elite (AA or better) at 10 in their event.  What percentage were AAA or better?  How about AAAA or better.  That is a meaningful way of looking at whether or not a fast 10yo will be fast at 18.

Unless Tom Splear wants to argue that swimming AA times at 10 is not “fast”…..Anyone can fall out of the TOP 100 in swimming….health, family, injury, economics, coaching, and a myriad of other reasons……since we are dealing with fractions of a second at 18 years of age, and a utterly small population of swimmers….that if you are not in the top 100 at 18, you are somehow not fast…..that the statistic these clowns produce are almost meaningless.

The real question is, of those in the elite class (top 1% of NCAA swimmers), were there any average Joes…..B standard swimmers.  And I’m not talking B swimmers new to the sport either at 10.  I mean B swimmers like MOST out there who have been swimming for a couple seasons…..they need to have gotten their feet wet….so to speak…..did any of those somehow magically break through between 10 and 18 to become the top 100?

“”Those winning races at 10 probably won’t be winning races when they are 20,” says John Leonard, the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association. “This is one of those things that is obvious to coaches but is a mystery to parents.”.

Oh, really Sherlock?….so you mean to say all those B swimmers are going to overcome the elite AA and above swimmers at 18?….er, John Leonard?    Or is it because those winning races at 10 had some kind of life event that prevented them from developing as a swimmer at 18.  Or…..I guess you mean to say that there is really one gold medalist at the Olympics, and everyone else isn’t “fast”.  Again, there is no significance to these kinds of statistics….there is always only one gold medalist, and many factors and luck play into that person being there and swimming his best time on a given day.

So, this is just a load of cr&p.   How about you just peruse any top swim school: Stanford, Berkley, Florida, Texas, and look at their swimmers time at 10 years of age. Their elite status at the NCAA level followed them from age 10.  Each athlete may not win every race as the level of competition gets stiff, but they through their history won more than their fair share.

You can’t extrapolate from 10 to 18 because of life events (illness, injury, economics and a myriad of other reasons).  But you can extrapolate from 18 back to 10 to see if your “8 myths of swimming” is even remotely true.  I doubt that most  are not myths at all….USA swimming is painting some kind of politically correct narrative.  Most elite NCAA swimmers were very FAST at 10…..I am defining an AA standard as one who is very FAST at 10….and  those at a top 10 swim school in the NCAAs as extremely fast at 18.    As I have said you have to start at 18, and look back to when they were 10, to see whether or not the 8 myths of swimming is even remotely a myth.


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  1. David Erickson permalink

    RE swimming lies.

    I’ve been asking the same question, but when my son was 10 and a AAA swimmer. He’s 12 now and is ‘still’ a AAA swimmer. And swims with a team who had world record holders and went to Jr nationals. So we know lots of AAAA kids. And, guess what? Some of them are just fast age group swimmers. Lookkit Michael andrew. Going from ‘next Phelps’ to ‘not likely to make the US Olympic team.’

    Here are some truths :

    – you’re right, a sharp statistical mind would start at, let’s say, at ‘making a D1’ team and work backwards. Mr Lee over @ swimmingrank.Com has the data. Maybe you ask him.

    – multiple papers show that statistically and scientifically, taller is better. Sorry, is what it is.

    – there are always exceptions. So your rant on PC aside, you can excel if you’re outside the norm. Stef curry, Janet Evans. But those are anomalies.

    – usa swimming are apparently inconsistent. Check out the cuts for special zone camps. USA swimming says ‘stick with it,’ but in reality, their actions are ‘oops, sorry, ‘. If you aren’t ‘fastest in the zone’ as an age group swimmers, you’re apparently not an “emerging young athlete.” This isn’t ever talked about on lsc or even blog sites.

    – all that said, USA swimming is an excellent structure for identifying and nurturing best in world swimmers. It beats the crap outa the mess that is aau bball (they give fifa a run for the money).

    • Sorry I’ve been sloth to maintain my blog. Our house flooded, and my life has been in turmoil and hell trying to do something about it. Its finally going to be over, however.

      I’ve looked at perhaps 100s of swimmers….non of who I personally know and have found NO glaring exceptions to the rule, and only what I call minor deviations…if you fast at 10, you’ll probably be fast at 18. Your son, an AAA swimmer will probably continue in that ballpark throughout his swimming career so long as his training is consistent. My son, a BB swimmer will probably continue as a BB swimmer throughout his career glancing here and there on A times (he has 3 A times in the breast).

      What I have done, and it works great is to go on and look at 14yos and how they have swam since 10….its pretty consistent overall. They start off slow when they age up, but by the time they are about to age up again 10, 12, 14, they are swimming about they best they ever swim at 14 and 12 vs 10.

      I agree taller is better.
      I heard my son’s swim coach….who coaches the jr. national swimmers here at the OTC basically parrot the same line…that there is no correlation at 10 and 18. I don’t expect much from the group think at USA swimming. Yes, I changed swim teams to a new team where he is coach…but I mainly changed teams because he has more 10yo boys my son’s age. I like him for the most part; he runs good practices. I don’t expect he’ll have much impact on how good a swimmer my son will become, however.

    • I was talking to a colleague who used to do sports measurement about Janet Evans. I guess she had incredible VO2max. Something has got compensate for the size.

      My son has progressed from a B to a AA swimmer from 8 to 12. We’ll see how this goes.

  2. Tomaž Podobnik permalink

    Were the “8 lies about fast swimmers” published in the Splash Magazine? If yes,
    which volume/number/pages?

    Btw, I think (I may be wrong) the author of the “8 lies” is Mike Gustafson, not Tom Slear.

    Kindest regards,

    • The original article link is broken, but was through usa swimming. My recollection is that it was Tom Slear who took credit for the article.

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