Alphabet Soup: What do all these letters mean?? (National Age Group Motivational Times)

Alphabet Soup: What do all these letters mean?? (National Age Group Motivational Times)

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“That was a B time, that’s pretty good for his first meet”
A who?

If you are new to USA Swimming, then you have probably never heard of a ‘BB’ time or an ‘A’ Time. Welcome to the world of the National Age Group Motivational Times, or ‘Nagmits’ for short. I’m just kidding, they don’t call it that at all. Although I really did want to let you go to the other swim parents and be a fly on the wall when you said, “What’s the Nagmits for the 50 Butterfly?”, and watch the expression of utter confusion on their faces. That’s just too cruel of a prank, however…but I digress.

The National Age Group Motivational Times (click on the text to see them in a new window) are a measuring stick against which you can compare your athlete’s times vs the rough guesstimating of how the top swimmers in the country are doing. Except not really. Kinda Sorta. I’ll get into that in a bit.

The Nagmits (oh, great, now you’ve got me saying it)….err, National Age Group Motivational Times are described as the following by USA Swimming:

USA Swimming publishes sets of time standards for various reasons. One of the reasons behind standards is their usefulness for setting goals. They are also used to control the size of swim meets, as each higher or faster level in the standards has fewer swimmers – as the standards get faster, less swimmers achieve them. Almost every swimming federation in the world uses some form of stepped standards within their system.

Standards can also be used to offer swimmers a general idea how they match up with other swimmers in their age group and between age-groups, but raw times works better within age-groups. In a general sense they can be used to compare swimmers in different age-groups with each other, but just because a swimmer has “AAA” times as a 9-10 year old does not mean that same swimmer will get “AAA” times as a 13-14 year old. There are several reasons for this, including differing maturation rates, changing interests, and even injuries.

The scale of these times goes (something) like this:

National Age Group Motivational Times B Pin‘B’ Time: You are on the Chart. This will probably be the first time cut you will make as an 8&Under or 9 year old swimmer. Get a badge on Deck Pass. Very Exciting.


National Age Group Motivational Times BB Pin‘BB’ Time: You are getting in the ballpark of getting pretty fast. Getting this time standard usually grants you admittance to your first ‘BB+’ swim meet. Rad!


National Age Group Motivational Times A Pin‘A’ Time: You have arrived. You are now one of the swimmers that other kids and parents say, ‘Wow, Junior/Princess is pretty fast!”


National Age Group Motivational Times AA pin

‘AA’ Time: If the ‘A’ time didn’t get you to State Qualifying, this one probably does. Hopefully. We’ll get into that below.


National Age Group Motivational Times AAA pin‘AAA’ Time: Ok, you need to slow down, the water is starting to evaporate when you dive in.


National Age Group Motivational Times AAAA pin

‘AAAA’ Time: I smell college scholarship.


So where the heck did these all come from in the first place? I tried to pry the history of the National Time standards from the USA Swimming historian, but I guess they were too busy with all the really pressing swimming historian work to give me a timely response. The furthest back that USA Swimming tracks the Age Group Motivational Times is 1981.
But how are they calculated? Well, there is a formula, and it has to do basically with percentiles, developed around a specific ‘seed time’. This seed time is actually the fastest of a previous 5 year period’s 16th place in the Top 16 times in the country. A factor is then applied to that seed time to develop the B times, BB times, A times, AA times, etc. And then some adjustments are applied as well. Oh, yeah, and then don’t forget the age specific multipliers that change for 9-10 vs. the rest of the age groups.Your brain hurt yet? Just think of your most mind numbing math class ever, and then just go a couple notches of calculation pain over that. That’s the Age Group Motivational Times Calculation Formulas.

If you are a person who just doesn’t hate any kind of math at all, (and may also collect Star Wars action figures and wear a pocket protector…..I kid, I kid), I invite you to read the following method of calculation from the USA Swimming website. And then you can curl up on the couch with a bowl of Rocky Road and play with the formulas to your heart’s content:


We know where they came from, and how they are calculated, so what does it all mean, Splashfather?? Well, Swim parent, you are going to spend the foreseeable future with your child speaking in these tongues, so we should probably spend some time hashing this all out. At one point the A times were considered to be the Age Group State Championship qualifying time (AGQT), so if you got the A time you made the State Championship (‘States’). Unfortunately, in some states this can lead to some extraordinarily large meets, and in others, there would literally be 2-3 swimmers per heat.

So each state has its own Age Group Qualifying times that have little to no relation to the National Age Group Motivational ‘A’ times. For example, in our state, Virginia, an A time is still a great accomplishment for 13-14 50 Yard Freestyle.National Age Group Motivational Times javachipfrapp But that and $3.50 will buy you a Starbucks’ Tall Java Chip Frappaccino, with whipped cream. In Virginia, in the 13-14 Women’s 50 Yard Freestyle, you would need to post a time of 26.19 seconds in order to make States. The National Age Group Motivational ‘A’ time for the same Age Category and event is 28.19 seconds! The State Qualifying time in this case is actually faster than the next echelon up in the National Times, an ‘AA’ time!

In other states, where the state either does not have as many swimmers, or the sport has lower popularity, the Age Group Qualifying time can be substantially slower than the National Age Group Motivational ‘A’ times. National Age Group Motivational TimesIn Wyoming, where a swimming pool is probably frozen right up until the start of ropin’ and tyin’ season, the Age Group Qualifying Time for the 10&Under 50M Long Course Breaststroke is 1:01.29, whereas the National Motivational ‘A’ time is 48.09 seconds. This State Championship Qualifying time in Wyoming is actually the National Motivational ‘B’ time.

The only application you actually see for the A/BB/B times is in some meets, where the event desires to pull together all the strongest swimmers, sometimes they will run as was previously mentioned, a BB+ meet or an A+ meet. In these cases only swimmers with times that fall at or above those time levels can register for the meet. Other than that, they are simply a measuring stick, but one that will have immense significance to your child, so be prepared to spring for the celebratory Jim Dandy sundae (with all five flavors), when they get their first one on each level.

I really didn’t think I could write an article that long about a table full of times, but there you have it.

Did I forget anything? Please comment if I missed a nuance of the National Age Group Motivational Times (I think ‘Nagmits’ is starting to grow on me….)



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