Large N: A Strategy for Improving Regional Sport Performance

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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It has been hypothesized that large differences in maximal performance can arise between various geopolitical regions solely on the basis of differing numbers of participants in the target activity. While there is evidence in support of this hypothesis for a measure of intellectual performance, the same relationship has not been examined for a measure of physical performance.


To determine whether the number of participants is a predictor of the best athletic performance in a region.


The 2005–2010 USA Swimming Age Group Detail reports were used to determine the number of competitive swimmers participating in each age group for the 59 local swimming communities in the United States. The USA Swimming performance database provided 50-yd-freestyle times in each community for boys and girls for each age (6–19 y). Simple linear regression was used to examine the relationship between the outcome variable (fastest time) and the predictor variable (log of the number of swimmers) for each combination of age, sex, and calendar year.


The log of the number of swimmers in a region was a significant predictor of the best performance in that region for all 168 combinations of age, sex, and calendar year (P < .05) and explained, on average, 41%, and as much as 62%, of the variance in the fastest time.


These findings have important implications for the development of regional sport strategic policy. Increasing the number of participants in the target activity appears a viable strategy for improving regional performance.

Cornett is with the School of Health Promotion & Human Performance, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI. Stager is with the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Address author correspondence to Andrew Cornett at