What IS the right age for youth to be able to compete against adults?

When I was a kid, sport (and implicitly competitive events) were pure fun. I tried hard, and did them to a decent level (soccer, basketball) but they were nothing but fun at all times. And that was largely how it stayed until some time when I became an 'adult' (whatever that term means) and I found that entering competitions in my early 20's to be way to serious for my liking.

Of course, my great friend Trish has come from a different background. For her, sport as a junior was ultra-competitive in the world of high-level gymnastics. Long hours, hard training (that has left lasting damage), and not fun. And when she reached adult age, stepped away from competing in gymnastics, then it became fun. 

Two completely different strands, leading to two different outcomes. And myself and Trish had a good discussion on this over on Twitter, please join in if you can bring yourself to (although stay away from topical news due to the craziness in American politics right now......).


I've got very mixed feelings on the Japanese competition above. 13, 14 and 16-year olds competing against the adults. Two of those I'm not particularly comfortable with (explained below)

I've written lots on this (e.g. here, here, here, here). I was going to write a post on the topic after seeing the above, but I've just realised my opinion hasn't really changed since this post in Oct 2014:

I came to a similar conclusion that there must some sort of minimum age limit, and I believe this should account for mental and physiological issues, and after that it should be anyone's came (i.e. they can compete against anyone).
The physiological issues are the ones where potential joint injuries can happen as the body grows and matures, and the mental issues were the psychological challenges of competing in pressure situations.
After that, I believe that kids should be given the option to compete so long as they are given sound, rational advice from the coaches on whether it is the correct thing for their current capabilities. I also believe that as they are the future of the sport, and will most likely be competing at even higher levels in the future that they should be allow to compete in any and all categories at the same time, even if it means they could potentially win all categories. My logic is this - realistically, the youth should not be beating the top-level adults at all. Their power levels aren't fully developed to peak and thus a fully trained adult should be able to be a match for the youth on most occasions (I'm sure there'll be exceptions to this like in any competition where some people have an off-day and don't perform to their peak - but this could affect the youth just as much). 

So, again, it all comes down to one thing first: are we doing damage:

  1. We can verifiably prove that fingers haven't fully matured until age 14/15 (links in the quote above) so straight away that puts a minimum limit on the age. yes, it's possible to set using holds that 'potentially' aren't doing damage, however even if a competition is 'fun', you'll always pull that little bit harder on edges, even if a child. 
  2. Psychologically, well I'd regard 16-year olds and above as mature enough to be able to be introduced to senior competition at times.  My reasoning here is two-fold: firstly, there's no physical damage being done - yay! Secondly, when many kids make the jump from youth to adult competition, there's a big jump in standard from youth. By introducing them in a safe way to senior competitions with good support from coaches and parents, it's setting them up to be ready, prepared for what is ahead of them in a few years. National events (especially in climbing) are small affairs so going up against top tier competitors in a small setting is no harm.

So in essence, I'm still comfortable enough with my idea that circa 16 or 17 is o.k. for kids to compete against 'adults'. 

Of course, the flip side is that many adults don't like been beaten by kids! And personally, as someone who used to organise the climbing comps in Ireland, I've no real sympathy for. Because I I don't need to boost my ego, and I grew up doing competitions that were fun, friendly, social! But of course that's opposite to some so very intrigued to hear what people have to say on this one.

Neal McQuaid