Climbing competitions – Age categories explained

Climbing competitions – Age categories explained

“Which category is my child in?” is one of the most commonly asked questions of competition organisers by parents.

It’s usually fairly straight forward but not always clear as there are different age structures organisers use to suit their competition. The main ones are explained here but always best to confirm with the competition organiser in the event of a query … if you follow this information without double-checking with the rules/organiser you may end up in the wrong category on the day.

The ‘Official’ version

The IFSC (the International Federation of Sports Climbing) age categories are used in most major national competitions in the UK including the BMC Youth Climbing Series, the British Lead Climbing Championships, the British Bouldering Championships. It’s also the basis of the format followed by some of the larger competition series such as the Midlands Youth Climbing Series and Blokfest.

The system is based on applying a category band to a birth year. Here are the categories and the appropriate birth years for 2019:

Competition YearUpper
A
Lower
A
Upper
B
Lower
B
Upper
C
Lower
C
Upper
D
Lower
D
Upper
E
Lower
E
2021born in 2004born in 2005born in 2006born in 2007born in 2008born in 2009born in 2010born in 2011born in 2012born in 2013
20222005200620072008200920102011201220132014

Each year the IFSC will move the categories on, so in 2023 category E will be 2014 & 2015, etc.

Other versions

Many local or fun competitions and even some of the national competitions such as Battle of Britain, combine a wider range of age groups. Older children may be in a category with adults and some competitions will accept children as young as 14 in a competition only aimed at adults.

Usually male and female are in different categories but sometimes they are combined in the Under 12’s. Here’s an example system used by many local competitions:

  • 12 and under
  • 13 to 16 Male / Female
  • Over 16s Male / Female
  • Veterans (over 40) Male / Female

The ages applied are usually ‘the age of the competitor on the day of the competition’.

Series

Sometimes a series may span the birthday of a child, meaning they start the series as an Under 12, but finish as a 12 year old. In general, competition organisers go with the ‘age you were on the date on the first round of the competition’ but always check with the organiser before the first round, just in case.

Open categories

There are other competitions which impose no age categories. That doesn’t mean that kids can’t enter, it simply means that, when the scores are counted up, they’ll be directly compared with everyone else in the comp.

For really young children this generally puts them at the bottom of the list (but not always; I know some extremely strong and capable 9 year old climbers who frequently beat half the field).


So, that’s it. Age categories are not yet (and probably never will be) standardised but at least you now have a bit more information to help you decipher which is applicable.

If you have seen other schemes that you think would be useful for others to know, let us know and we’ll add the details to this article.

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