This study examined developmental differences in motives for participating in competitive swimming across the lifespan. Six age groupings were chosen based on underlying cognitive criteria identified in the literature: younger and older children, high school/college age, and young, middle, and older adults. Swimmers from YMCAs (N= 100) completed the Participation Motivation Questionnaire modified by D. Gould, Feltz, and Weiss (1985). An exploratory factor analysis identified seven factors: characteristics of competitive swimming, health/fitness, social status, affiliation, energy release, significant others, and fan. A MANOVA on the factor scores revealed a significant age group main effect. Follow-up analyses indicated that characteristics of competitive swimming was rated significantly lower by the older adults while social status was rated significantly higher by older children and high school/college-age swimmers. Significant others was rated significantly higher by children, and fen was rated most important by younger children and older adults. Finally, health/fitness motives were rated highest by young and middle adults and lowest by older children and older adults. Implications of the findings for a cognitive-developmental approach to participation motivation are discussed.