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Exploiting Age Grading

Three years ago this month the article I wrote was called “Age Grading Made Simple” in order to convince people in the industry to more widely use it.  That has happened with those responsible for that wider use crediting age grading with attracting more and new people to the sport.  Credit for that happening should not be given to the article, but, simply giving innovative race administration better tools has proven efficacious since the beginning of our industry.  Let’s recap and look at some of the examples  of innovative use of age grading.

The WMA (nee WAVA) age grading standards are 25 years old this year.  They have gone through several “fine tunings” regarding modifying the standards slightly, but, at least in Road Running, the fine tunings are done and we have a finished product. What is the product? At its simplest, it is a way of handicapping athletes to compensate for the aging process and at its most complex it is a model containing world-wide empiric data.  It can translate your result either into its equivalent time for an Open athlete or it can translate it into a percentile.  It is most often used as a percentile, since most people can relate excellence to a percentile.  Typically the percentiles are stated thusly:
                                        100% - Approximate World Record Level
                                        Over 90% - World Class Level
                                        Over 80% - National Class Level
                                        Over 70% - Regional Class Level

One of the leaders in innovative use of these standards is the Masters Long Distance Running Committee of USATF.  In our championship guidelines we require more award money be awarded for age grading than for overall winners.  Why? Simply because the overall prize winners are almost always going to be 40 year olds and we want to encourage runners over 40 of all ages to participate and we want to give them as level a playing field as possible and the age grading tables allow us to do that.  As a case in point at our 2012 10K Championship held in Ann Arbor, MI, Chris Kennedy, 57, who finished 42nd overall was first in age grade; second in age grade was Kevin Miller, 50, who was 4th overall; third went to Malcolm Campbell, 41, who was first overall; fourth was Edie Stevenson , 62, who was 67th overall and fifth was Doug Goodhue, 70,  who was 50th overall.  It has been recommended that all Association Championships and Grand Prixs follow a similar pattern and award the most prestigious awards to age grade winners since that approach reaches a more diverse set of age groups, which the Michigan results illustrate.

Another  innovative approach that highlights age grading is done in the Pacific Association.  They keep a current list of the top 50 age graded performers and performances on their website and update it weekly.  It can be seen at http://www.pausatf.org/data/2014/RRPerformances2014.htm#PERFORMANCES.  It both highlights the performers and performances, on a dynamic basis, and represents a challenge to be listed.  Does your Association even know who your top age graded performers are?  Do your athletes even know their age grade performance level?  It has been suggested that Associations hold a dedicated Age Graded Championship to determine, annually, who are the best age grade performers, with appropriate awards.

Still another approach which illustrates the versatility of age grading, has one club competing in several championship races with other clubs, with the winner being determined by the top 10 age graded performances for each team.  Something that is frequently overlooked is that age grading, although used extensively by Masters, also contains standards for all ages, including Open.  Thus in competitions of these types, the top 10 may consist of a mix of gender and ages, to include Youth, Open and Masters.  If you are looking to expand your base of athletes who can score in events such as these, age grading is an unrivalled vehicle for that purpose.

If your club or Association is doing something innovative, please let me know at dmlein@earthlink.net  so that we can inform others as to how this very versatile tool can be used to reach a broader audience and bring in more members.

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