Swimming – “The National Age-Group Championships”
The first National Age-Group Championships took place in 1964 and it was Jock Coutts, the S.A.S.A. Secretary who was the driving force behind their introduction.
Initially, the S.A.S.A. Council was not too enthusiastic about establishing Age Group events but Coutts was determined to have his idea accepted. He argued that they would help to improve the quality of Scottish swimming by providing those, who were too young to achieve qualifying times for the existing National Championships, with vital competitive experience and also increase the number of youngsters passing from Junior to Senior competition.
Council finally agreed to support the idea and asked him to organise a Trial Competition for 1964. Each District was asked to arrange a Gala to find the fastest five swimmers for each stroke in two age groups. The winners went forward to the first National Finals, which were held in Edinburgh during February 1965.
The Championships were formalised in the following month.
For the first official Championships in 1965 there were five age groups: 10&U, 11, 12, 13,14.
Each District ran Preliminary Heats and the Finals were held in Glasgow with 718 entries. Coutts was delighted with the response. He was convinced that good Age Group competitions would help to improve competitive standards. After the Championships he wrote:
“The results were gratifying and most encouraging and no doubt we shall see a big improvement in young swimmers in the future and again see our swimmers taking a big part in British swimming.”
Support for the Championships blossomed, in 1964 there were 600 entries and during the next five years the entries rose steadily to 718, 982, 1408, 1709 and 2238. In 1971 they reached 2327. Coutts commented, “We cannot do enough for the Age Groupers, who are our future Champions and Internationalists.”
Of course, not every age grouper could become an International swimmer but there were many successes. Alan McClatchey was one, at Dunfermline in 1966, he won the 10&U 50 yards Freestyle, won a medal at each of the next four Championships and in 1972 he won the 15-16 age group 400 yards freestyle. He progressed successfully to Senior level and in 1975 won a Silver Medal at the World Championships in Cali (Columbia), as a member of the British 4 x 200 metres Freestyle Relay Team.
There has been a number of alterations over the years to the age gradings.
In 1966 a 15 year old group was added and three years later one for 16 year olds. In 1971 there was a complete change to 10&U, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18. Within two years there were further changes to 10&U, 11, 12-13, 14-15, 16-17.
The grades in 1987 were: 12&U, 13, 14, 15-16, 17-18, 19-24.
Some of these changes were introduced to fall into line with internationally agreed grades and also to influence participation patterns. The format of the Championships and their place in the swimming calendar were changed in 1982, because they appeared to be inhibiting progress. The date of the Championships was changed to June because the traditional November date clashed, with a recently revised Senior calendar and in addition, a Centralised Championship format was introduced because there was a 6-7 week break between Heats and Finals, which appeared to affect some swimmers' form and performance.
From modest beginnings the Championships have developed into one of the Premier events in the Domestic Swimming Calendar.