Article - Performance Level Percentage Tables: A Motivational Option in Masters Swimming?

Swimming pool at the 2021 World Masters in Hungary: 5,500 entries

Figure. Swimming pool at the 2021 World Masters in Hungary: 5,500 entries in the middle of the year of the COVID-19 pandemic

Performance Level Percentage Tables: A Motivational Option in Masters Swimming?

Paulo Franco Rosa Nadar!
Lúcio Franco Rosa Nadar!

Swimming competitions for veteran swimmers have attracted thousands of athletes around the world. The first world championships of the category brought together one thousand participants in Tokyo in 1986, but after that, the numbers only increased, the World Masters held in Riccione, Italy in 2012 attracted more than 12 thousand participants and the World Cup in Budapest, held in the middle of the year of the COVID-19 pandemic had 5,500 registered in the swimming competitions alone.(Figure)

This article reviews the studies that evaluated the motivational perception regarding the age groups of swimmers included in the competitive Masters' movement and how an alternative award considered fairer - based on performance level tables or age-grading - could increase participation in events. At the same time, we paint the difficulties in implementing age grading in swimming.

Palavras-chave: master swimming, veteran, age grading, performance, motivation


Few studies have been demonstrated the age and gender-related motivational effects associated with veterans' swimming participation (1,2,3,4) in the current five-year age division type, where swimmers who are in the first year of the band have advantages over those who are in the final year. In athletics, the PLP - Performance Level Percentage tables emerged to face this problem and have become popular since their creation in the late '1980s. Nevertheless, in swimming, there is still no consensus (5) about their use.


Talking about sports engagement, after the age of 25, 30, or 40, directly refers to the issue of age, more than that, it refers to the problem of the weight of age. But, has anyone ever thought that age is also synonymous with experience? In the early 1990s, athletic competitions began to award 60-year-old runners with gold medals ahead of 25-year-olds. It was the beginning of the classification by PLP - Performance Level Percentage, an index that became popular in the veterans' races of athletics.

The index or PLP approaches 100% as the athlete's run time approaches the world time standard for his age and distance. Between 90% and 100%, he will have fit in world-class. Above 80%, national class. Above 70%, regional class and above 60%, local class.

100% = Approximate World Record Level

90 % + = World Class

80 % + = National Class

70 % + = Regional Class

60 % + = Local Class

Table. Typical percentages for PLP calculation

The former WAVA, current WMA (World Masters Athletics), the world body that governs athletics aimed at Masters athletes, has developed tables with indices for calculating the performance of the PLP, popularly known as age grading, for long-distance running and racewalking, covering age groups ranging from 8 to 100 years for all main events. (6)

WAVA factors try to compensate for the slowdown in performance with age by providing a correction factor for time. The first official age rating tables compiled were published by National Masters News in 1989. The revisions (taking into account performance improvement at all ages) were released in 1991, 1994, 2006, 2010, and 2015 and a proposal already exists for 2022. (7)

The most newsworthy thing about the tables created for PLP calculations, and some were have already been developed for swimming, is that, in addition to finding a PLP, one can use the factor or index expressed in the table to compare performance between athletes, from other categories.

Take a look at this example: The following numbers demonstrate the results based on the PLP calculation and hypothetical timing patterns of two sprinters: Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel (43 years old, finished the race in 39'48”). Its factor is 0.9471 and the standard test time 28’29”.

Gretel (53 years old, finished the race in 45’18”). Its factor is 0.8545 and the standard test time 35’01”.

Hansel made 39'48” in the 10km. The factor or index for the 10km for him is 0.9471. Multiplying 39’48” (or 2388 seconds) by 0.9471 will get your graduated time, which will be 37’48”.

The PLP of this athlete must be determined using the standard time shown in the table and was pre-determined by who made the table, in this case, based on a world mark, which is 28'29" and dividing it by Hansel's time in the race, which was 39'48”. Let's get the PLP of 71.6%.

Continuing our example, let's see the result of Gretel, who is 53 years old and time 45’18” in the 10km. The factor for her is 0.8545. Multiplying 45’18” (or 2718 seconds) by the factor we get her graduated time, which is 38’43”. To determine your PLP let's take the default time for it which is 34’01” (or 2101 seconds) which we divide by your result which was 45’18”. Thus, we obtain a PLP of 77.3%.

Summarizing: Gretel is a woman, she is older than Hansel took longer to finish the race, but according to the age-grading classification she beat him by scoring 77.3% against 71.6%.

How can this happen? Simple, Gretel, in her age group and according to her gender is better in terms of performance than Hansel, since she is closer to 100% than him.


'The benefits of engaging in lifelong physical activity are well known. They include decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes', according to Katzmarzyk et al. quoted in a book edited by J. Baker. (8) Despite the benefits, the participation rate decreases with age. In addition to the aging process after the age of 25, which accelerates after the age of 70, Masters athletes - although above average in terms of involvement in physical activities, according to Hawkins - quoted in the same book (8) - are faced with serious motivational issues due to the current format of competitions. This was evident in the study carried out by McMaster University, Canada. (1) Researcher Nicola Medic and his team found that, as was suspected, in the current age group division, the athletes and swimmers surveyed who were in the first year of track had advantages over seniors, for example. The same research found that swimmers who were in the penultimate or final year of a given belt are the least motivated because they know they will compete with younger and possibly more skillful athletes and consequently participate less in competitions and break fewer records. The so-called age effect was considered a problem in sports in general, as it disregards the individual abilities of each one.

Another study,(4) indicated the existence of relevant elements for the preparation, participation, and success in Master competitions, which were the awareness of the advantages, the expectation, the motivation, in addition to training and physiological capacity that will directly influence the decision to participate in events. As a result of this potential awareness, they may have the opportunity to evaluate your event registration based on their perceptions of kinda relative advantage to their age-group position.

'...for more serious veteran swimmers (those who participated in at least three championships over a period of six years), 70% of them were more likely to return when they found themselves in a situation of relative competitive advantage (ie, the first year of an age category)...' (1)

When we talk about advantage awareness, this is not mere empiricism, as previous studies have shown that, indeed, the probability of setting a record increased if Masters athletes were in the first year, and decreased if they were in the third, fourth, or fifth year, of an age category. (1) The participation of athletes in the events also corroborates this line of thought. From data from the North American National Championships Masters Short Course from 2003 to 2009, it was found that the chances of a master swimmer participating in the championship during the first constituent year of any age group from 5 years old were more than twice higher than the chances of that athlete participating during the fifth year of the respective range. (3).


Although it is relatively easy to find calculators and age grading tables for running events on the internet (7,9-12 ) and with sports entities, unfortunately, there is not much dissemination of PLP tables for swimming. The last tables elaborated by US Maters Swimming, presented in an article by Professor David Nordstrom - where lists are suggested already with the calculated factors for all races and records ranging from 19 to 84 years - (13,14) date from 2006, therefore the records used as parameters are already out of date. The entity itself reinforces the need for these so-called 'motivational metrics' to encourage its affiliates(5). However, they have not yet definitively adopted, as they run into issues such as a) definition of the master world record to be used; b) definition of the type of record to be considered, whether in the master category or not; c) frequency of updating the tables; d) analysis of a virtual margin of error in the tables; e) need to develop classifications that take into account gender and age and f) questions regarding the validation of results in the future.


Taking into account that the motivational perception of Masters swimmers regarding their participation in championships is affected by their position in the age classification and that this position may actually be affected depending on their age, we suggest that organizers of competitions for Masters seriously consider implementing age grading systems to reward and recognize performances in a fairer and more motivating way, removing the drawbacks of current regulations. New research should be carried out, alleviating doubts and difficulties - such as the type of record to be adopted, the frequency of renewal of lists, official validation of results, etc. - which has been obstructing the popularization of PLPs for swimming veterans.


(1) Medic N, Starkes JL, Young BW. Examining relative age effects on performance achievement and participation rates in Masters athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2021 Nov 9];25(12):1377-1384. Available from:

(2) Medic N, Starkes JL, Young BW, Weir PL, Grove JR. Gender, age, and sport differences in relative age effects among US Masters swimming and track and field athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2021 Nov 9];27(14):1535-1544. Available from:

(3) Medic N, Young BW, Medic D. Participation-related relative age effects in Masters swimming:: A 6-year retrospective longitudinal analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2021 Nov 9];29(1):29-36. Available from:

(4) U.S. Masters Swimming [Internet]. Sarasota: U.S. Masters Swimming; 2017 Nov 23. USMS Age-Grading: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(5) World Masters Athletics [Internet]. Monaco: World Masters Athletics; c2021 [cited 2021 Nov 9]. Available from:

(6) World Masters Athletics [Internet]. Monaco: World Masters Athletics; 2021. Proposed 2022 Age Factors; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(7) Baker J, Horton S, Weir P. The Masters Athlete: Understanding the Role of Sport and Exercise in Optimizing Aging. Oxfordshire: Routledge; 2009. 216 p. ISBN: 978-0415476560.

(8) Howard Grubb [Internet]. United Kingdom: Howard Grubb; 2020 Jul 17. USATF MLDR Road age-grading calculator 2020; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(9) EMA: European Masters Athletics [Internet]. Ratingen: European Masters Athletics; 2021. Proposed 2022 Age Factors; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(10) [Internet]. London: Aryta Ltd; 2021 May 14. WMA Masters Predictors and Age-Grade Calculators; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(11) runbundle [Internet]. [place unknown]: Simon Loughran; c2016-2021. Tools: Age Grading Calculator; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(12) U.S. Masters Swimming [Internet]. Sarasota: U.S. Masters Swimming; 2006 Mar 01. Age Grading; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

(13) MOVE! [Internet]. Boston: Cathy Utzschneider; 1992-2021 c. Aging Tables: Swimming and Running; [cited 2021 Nov 9]; Available from:

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