Does the United States’ emphasis on competition at younger ages than are represented in international youth competition give them an advantage, disadvantage, or both? We have heard arguments that the US emphasis on competition before Youth-B:

  • gives them an initial advantage at international competitions which does not translate to the adult level.
  • provides early learning opportunities which translate to better preparation by the adult-level.

The United States includes two age categories not typically recognized by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC): Youth-C (Ages: 12/13) and Youth-D (Ages: 11 and under).

  • First, we asked whether the best countries also include a younger age category.
  • Second, we needed to know how to compare the youth categories.
  • Third, we asked whether the US does better at younger age categories they would seemingly be better prepared for (e.g. “Youth-B”) and less as other countries catch up (e.g. “Youth-Jr” category).

What do other Countries do?

  • The United States currently has Youth-C (12-13) and Youth-D (11 and under) go to Nationals. However, they are considering a proposal to remove Youth-D’s and give them an age-appropriate alternative.
  • According to a Vice-President in charge of competition in a region in France, Youth C/D (as well as a younger — “E” — category) compete in a “combined” format involving all disciplines. Specialization is allowed at Youth-B.
  • According to a former national team coach for a European country, there is no Youth-C (or younger) champion in most countries in Europe.
  • According to a national team coach in Japan, Japan has not historically held competitions for Youth-C or younger. However, it will begin holding Youth-C competition starting this year.
    • One reason given is the success of younger Japanese female athletes (e.g. Ai Mori, Natsuki Tanii), a topic The Beta Angel Project will explore soon in a larger write-up on how early sport specialization research may apply to climbing.

Comparing Categories – Top-25, Top-10, or Medalists

We tried three different ways of comparison: Top-25, Top-10, and Medalists. The six teams we used were the best in 2009, and the below graphs compare Female B with Female Jr across a span of 11 years.

Comparing all three methods in the Female Jr. Lead (left) and Female-B Lead (right) categories.

We were concerned the Top-25 (greens bars) give an advantage to smaller teams (the U.S. historically sends a large team). The medalist (red bars) visual was also interesting, especially because it showed such marked distinctions. However, the data-set was understandably too small to compare across years and there were wide discrepancies between years and countries. As a result, we chose to use top-10 (yellow bars).

Percent of each nation’s athletes ranked in the top-10.

Looking at the Top-10 by nation, the United States has only broken 30% once, whereas every other country has multiple incidences. Germany has fallen off in recent years, and Slovenia has been all over the place the last three years. Also of note is that Japan has been really good for some time.

Are our numbers historically better in Youth-B and decline in older categories?

From a visual standpoint, the answer is mixed.

Comparison of U.S. female youth athletes (by youth category) who made the top-10
Comparison of U.S. male youth athletes (by youth category) who made the top-10

On the female side, female-B’s won the match-up with the older categories only 3 of the 11 years. If you include ties with only one other category, that rate jumps to 7 of 11 years. Male-B’s won 5 of 11 years, or 6 of 11 years with ties.

Compare that to 3 definitive wins by the Female Jrs, 1 by the Female A’s, 2 by Male Jrs, and 3 by Male A’s. In other words, while an argument could be made that the B’s certainly hold their own — e.g. Male B’s won 3 of the last 4 years — the data are not particularly conclusive.

Bottom Line

  • Other successful structures include non-specialization before B (France), non-championship before B (Europe in general), as well as championship before B (Japan).
  • The other successful structures discuss Youth-C and Youth-B as starting points for national-level competition, not Youth-D.
  • If there is an initial advantage for starting national-level competition early, it is either non-existent or small, and more likely to be on the Male side than the Female side.
  • Irrespective of whether there is an initial advantage, more data is needed to understand the relationship of starting early with the adult-level.

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