ArticlePDF Available

The Rise of the Underdog? The Relative Age Effect Reversal Among Canadian-born NHL Hockey Players: A Reply to Nolan and Howell

Article

The Rise of the Underdog? The Relative Age Effect Reversal Among Canadian-born NHL Hockey Players: A Reply to Nolan and Howell

Abstract

The relative age effect associated with cut-off dates for hockey eligibility has been an ongoing debate in certain academic circles and in the popular media. The effect is primarily found in Canadian Major Junior Hockey, where a disproportionate share of birthdays fall in the first three months of the year. But when the National Hockey League rosters of Canadian-born players are examined, the pattern is less pronounced. Using publically available data of hockey players from 2000–2009, we find that the relative age effect, as described by Nolan and Howell (2010) and Gladwell (2008), is moderate for the average Canadian National Hockey League player and reverses when examining the most elite professional players (i.e. All-Star and Olympic Team rosters). We also find that the average career duration is longer for players born later in the year. In sum, there is a surprising ‘relative age effect reversal’ that occurs from the junior leagues to the most elite level of hockey play. This supports an ‘underdog’ hypothesis, where the relatively younger players are thought to benefit by more competitive play with their older counterparts.
International Review for the
Sociology of Sport
47(5) 644 –649
© The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission:
sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1012690211414343
irs.sagepub.com
The rise of the underdog?
The relative age effect reversal
among Canadian-born NHL
hockey players: A reply to
Nolan and Howell
Benjamin G Gibbs
Brigham Young University, USA
Jonathan A Jarvis
Brigham Young University, USA
Mikaela J Dufur
Brigham Young University, USA
Abstract
The relative age effect associated with cut-off dates for hockey eligibility has been an ongoing
debate in certain academic circles and in the popular media. The effect is primarily found in
Canadian Major Junior Hockey, where a disproportionate share of birthdays fall in the first three
months of the year. But when the National Hockey League rosters of Canadian-born players
are examined, the pattern is less pronounced. Using publically available data of hockey players
from 2000–2009, we find that the relative age effect, as described by Nolan and Howell (2010)
and Gladwell (2008), is moderate for the average Canadian National Hockey League player and
reverses when examining the most elite professional players (i.e. All-Star and Olympic Team
rosters). We also find that the average career duration is longer for players born later in the year.
In sum, there is a surprising ‘relative age effect reversal’ that occurs from the junior leagues to
the most elite level of hockey play. This supports an ‘underdog’ hypothesis, where the relatively
younger players are thought to benefit by more competitive play with their older counterparts.
Keywords
elite play, hockey, relative age effect
Corresponding author:
Benjamin G Gibbs, 2032 JFSB, Department of Sociology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84601, USA.
Email: benjamin_gibbs@byu.edu
414343IRSXXX10.1177/1012690211414343Gibbs et al.International Review for the Sociology of Sport
Article
Gibbs et al. 645
What is hockey success? Is it simply making a professional roster or is it actually excel-
ling on one? This is a critical distinction Nolan and Howell do not explore in their recent
article in the July 2010 issue of the International Journal of Sociology of Sport. They
were motivated by the first chapter in the best-selling book Outliers (Gladwell, 2008).
Malcolm Gladwell’s Iron Law of Canadian Hockey – citing the work of Barnsley et al.
(1985) – states that birth months are destiny. The ‘Iron Law’ claims that at least 40 per-
cent of players on minor league rosters across Canada were born in the first three months
of the year. Also known as the relative age effect (RAE) scholars argue that this occurs
for two reasons. First, because of the 1 January cutoffs for hockey play, players born in
January, February, and March are simply bigger and, therefore, better players than those
born later in the year – labeled primary effects. Second, these players simply have more
exposure to competitive play and training – secondary effects – which contribute to more
time for deliberate practice (Baker and Logan, 2007; Barnsley et al., 1985; Ericsson,
2007; Musch and Gondin, 2001).
Nolan and Howell (2010) found, like Barnsley et al. (1985), that age bias is not only
prevalent in the minor leagues but also carries over into the National Hockey League (NHL).
Whereas, Barnsley et al. reported that 32 percent of NHL players were born in the first quar-
ter in the 1982–1983 season, Nolan and Howell found that 30 percent of NHL players, 25
years later, were born in the first quarter. While this is not the large imbalance of 40 percent –
the standard to meet Gladwell’s ‘Iron Law’ – it still supports a relative age effect.
Surely being on an NHL roster is an achievement, but who is the best in the NHL?
Unfortunately, Nolan and Howell (2010) ignore studies that move beyond a static meas-
ure of NHL rosters done since Barnsley et al. (1985). When examined, these studies
complicate our understanding of RAE and its lasting impact on the career trajectories of
players. Although the relative age effect is present in the NHL, the effect fades across
draft rounds. And for more advanced play, RAE has no effect on statistical measures of
skill and performance (Wattie et al., 2007).1 The fading effect has also been found in
handball (Schorer et al., 2009) and other sports at the elite level (for a meta-analysis, see
Cobley et al., 2009).
Without this literature cited, Nolan and Howell (2010) are able to ignore the growing
question for the RAE literature; why does the relative age effect fade across advancing
levels of hockey play? Although we do not resolve this important question here, our
results take this question one step further. We suggest that the effect may not only fade
(as Wattie et al., 2007 suggest) but reverse. Although a reversal has been found in soccer
where players born at the end of the year earn more than their teammates born at the
start of the year (Ashworth and Heyndels, 2007) there is little collaborating evidence
that suggests this pattern extends beyond soccer. As we will show, the relative age effect
appears to reverse for players selected onto All-Star and Olympic teams – the most elite
circles of hockey play.2 When hockey success is specified this way, we argue that an
underexamined phenomenon may be occurring – a reverse relative age effect.
Data and methods
To examine birth distribution for elite hockey, we compiled three sets of data, all focused
on the examination of RAE in recent years.3 First, we focused on minor league rosters
(Major Junior Hockey). We examined the rosters of the Western Hockey League’s
646 International Review for the Sociology of Sport 47(5)
Medicine Hat Tigers and Vancouver Giants in 2007, as reported in Gladwell’s Outliers
as well as their rosters in 2010. Although this is not a critical analysis for the literature, it
served as a starting point for the popular media’s coverage of the effect.
Second, we examined the distribution of birth months of first round draft picks of
Canadian players in the NHL for the years 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 (NHL.com, 2010).
These data represent only minor-league accomplishments and serve as a projection of
their future value. Their success in the top levels of professional hockey has yet to be
determined at this stage of their careers. The total number of Canadian-born first round
draft picks were n = 15 in 2007, n = 17 in 2008, n = 17 in 2009, and n = 15 in 2010.
Third, we focused on major league rosters (the National Hockey League). We exam-
ined all Canadian hockey players who played from 2000 to 2009 – a total of 1109 play-
ers. We collected data on the players age of entry and exit, career length (entry minus
exit) and birth month (www.databaseHockey.com, 2010).
Finally, we examined the All-Star and Olympic hockey rosters. We compiled information
on Canadian hockey players from All-Star rosters in 2007 (n = 25), 2008 (n = 26), and 2009
(n = 24) (ESPN.com, 2007, 2008; NHL.com, 2009) and the Canadian National Olympic
Team rosters 1998 (n = 23), 2002 (n = 23), 2006 (n = 28), and 2010 (n = 23) (HockeyCanada.
com, 2010). The All-Star starting line is chosen by the fans while the remainder of the team
is chosen by the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department.4 This is in contrast to Olympic
team selection that is at the discretion of Canadian administrators and general managers.
Our analysis is straightforward. We tallied the number of Canadian hockey players
born in each of the four quarters of the year: January, February, March; April, May, June;
July, August, September; and October, November, and December (n = 1109). As another
way to understand hockey success, we also examined career length by subtracting time
of league exit by entry to create a career-length variable.5 For this measure, we looked at
all careers that ended between 2000 and 2009. Because some players’ careers were not
yet complete in the data, we chose to exclude players who, at the time of the collection
of the data, were registered as still active in 2010. Thus, only those players who had
completed their careers by 2009 were included in the sample. The career-length variable
restricted the sample of 1109 Canadian hockey players to 1003.
Results
In our analyses, we found a strong relative age effect that eventually fades, then reverses
across levels of hockey play among Canadian-born players. In our first data, early birth-
month advantage is apparent in the Medicine Hat Tigers championship roster of 2007
(56%) and for their opponents the Vancouver Giants (44%), but it is less true of the same
teams three years later (33% and 39% respectively). The effect is also apparent among
Canadian-born first round draft picks, with 40 percent, 41 percent, 47 percent, and 33
percent born in the first quarters of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively) (see Figure 1).
But for the average player in the NHL, the effect seems to fade. Although the first round
draft picks confirm Gladwell’s law (33–47 percent across 2007–2010) – a reflection of
their Major Junior Hockey performance – the percent of all Canadian hockey players in
the NHL born in the first three months is a modest 28 percent (see Figure 1).
Looking at the most elite levels of play in hockey, the RAE reverses. Of NHL All-Star
rosters in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively, only 20 percent, 15 percent, and 13 percent
Gibbs et al. 647
6.9
7.6
7.4
7.8
6.4
6.6
6.8
7.0
7.2
7.4
7.6
7.8
8.0
Jan/Feb/MarApr/May/Jun Jul/Aug/SepOct/Nov/Dec
Figure 2. NHL career duration of Canadian hockey players by birth month, 2000–2009.
consist of Canadian-born players with birthdays in the first three months of the year. This
pattern can also be found among Canadian Olympiads. The 2010 gold medal-winning
Canadian Olympic hockey team had a mere 13 percent of its players born in the first
three months. Previous years confirm the trend with 17 percent in 2006, 26 percent in
2002, and 14 percent in 1998 (see Figure 1).
It appears that being born at the start of the year reduces the chance of elite play.
Consider the average distribution of players born in the first quarter of the year for the
NHL Canadian-born players – 28 percent. The combined average of the All-stars and
Olympic rosters is 17 percent. This represents a 40 percent reduction in the distribution
of players born in the first three months of the year. If birth month had no effect on elite
play, the percentage would remain 28 percent.6
Perhaps the most surprising finding is that the career duration of all Canadian-born NFL
hockey players who were born in the first quarter of the year was one season shorter than
those players born in the last quarter of the year (see Figure 2). Whereas Wattie et al. (2007)
56%
44%
33%
39% 40% 41%
47%
33%
28%
20%
15% 13% 14%
26%
17%
13%
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Junior Hockey and First Round Dra Picks
Medicine Hat Tigers 2007
Vancouver Giants 2007
Medicine Hat Tigers 2010
Vancouver Giants 2010
NHL Canadian 1st Round Dra Picks 2007 NHL Canadian Players 2000-2009
NHL Canadian All-stars 2007
NHL Canadian All-stars 2008
NHL Canadian All-stars 2009
Canadian Naonal Olympic Team 1998
Canadian Naonal Olympic Team 2002
Canadian Naonal Olympic Team 2006
Canadian Naonal Olympic Team 2010
NHL Canadian 1st Round Dra Picks 2008
NHL Canadian 1st Round Dra Picks 2009
NHL Canadian 1st Round Dra Picks 2010
Elite Hockey
Average Birth Month Distribuon
Gladwell’s Iron Law
Figure 1. Distribution of Canadian hockey players born in January, February, or March across
various rosters.
648 International Review for the Sociology of Sport 47(5)
found no relative age effect on a related measure of career-length – career number of wins
– we find a reverse relative age effect when examining the actual length of a player’s career.
Conclusion
Hockey success is not simply joining the NHL, but it is participating in elite play. When
elite play is considered, it appears that it is better to be born in any month beside January,
February, or March. While popular accounts of RAE may be persuasive, the phenome-
non is complex. Our findings illustrate how critical it is to define hockey success. When
hockey success is defined as playing Major Junior Hockey, the effect is strong, as
Gladwell reported in the popular press. But the effect diminishes when success is defined
as making the NHL (Howell and Nolan, 2010), and fades when performance and skill are
considered (Baker and Logan, 2007). When hockey success is defined as the most elite
levels of play, the relative age effect reverses.
Our findings lead to two unresolved questions. What advantages would a relatively
younger player accrue in the junior leagues that would lead to greater representation on All-
Star and Olympic rosters? Why would early disadvantage lead to longer careers? Although
we leave this puzzle for future work, we think one explanation is persuasive. As Schorer et al.
(2009) suggest, relatively younger players are challenged by their more advanced – slightly
older – peers. This ‘underdog’ hypothesis flips the relative age effect on its head. What truly
makes an elite player may simply be overcoming the odds, including the relative effect of age.
Acknowledgements
We are grateful for the assistance from Aaron Woodall and Shawn Meiners.
Notes
1. That is, career number of wins, losses, ties, and shut-outs for goalies as well as the career
number of games played, goals, assists, total points, and penalty minutes for all other players.
2. The starting line is chosen by the fans while the remainder of the team is chosen by the NHL’s
Hockey Operations Department. Thus elite status is conferred by both fans and the NHL. It
should be noted that new rules are in place for 2010–2011 season.
3. This also is the time period when NHL players became eligible for Olympic Hockey play,
beginning in 1998.
4. It should be noted that new rules are in place for 2010–2011 season.
5. Without this restriction, the data would be right-censored, meaning players still active have
unknown career length. There is no reason, however, to suspect the result would be any different.
6. This is a conservative estimate given that the first round draft picks have an average 40
percent distribution in the first quarter of the year. Arguably, these players have the greatest
potential to become an All-star or Olympic player.
References
Ashworth J and Heyndels B (2007) Selection bias and peer effects in team sports: The effect
of age grouping on earnings of German soccer players. Journal of Sports Economics 8:
355–377.
Gibbs et al. 649
Baker J and Logan AJ (2007) Developmental contexts and sporting success: Birthdate and birth-
place effects in NHL draftees 2000–2005. British Journal of Sports Medicine 41: 515–517.
Barnsley RH, Thompson AH and Barnsley PE (1985) Hockey success and birthdate: The relative
age effect. Canadian Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (CAHPER)
Journal 51: 23–28.
Cobley S, Baker J, Wattie N and McKenna J (2009) Annual age-grouping and athlete develop-
ment: A meta-analytical review of relative age effects in sport. Sports Medicine 39: 235–256.
Ericsson KA (2007) Deliberate practice and the modifiability of body and mind: Toward a science
of the structure and acquisition of expert and elite performance. International Journal of Sport
Psychology 38: 4–34.
ESPN.com (2007) 2007 NHL All-Star Game Rosters. Available at: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/
allstar2007/news/story?id=2731966, accessed 9 November 2010.
ESPN.com (2008) 2008 NHL All-Star Game Complete Rosters. Available at: http://sports.espn.
go.com/nhl/allstar2008/news/story?page=08rosters, accessed 9 November 2010.
Gladwell M (2008) Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown.
HockeyCanada.ca (2010) Olympic rosters. Available at: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/index.php/
ci_id/57519/la_id/1/lp_id/57533.htm.
Musch J and Grondin S (2001) Unequal competition as an impediment to personal development: A
review of the relative age effect in sport. Developmental Review 21: 147–167.
National Hockey League.com (2009) All-Star Game Rosters 2009. Available at: http://www.nhl.
com/ice/page.htm?id=29090, accessed 9 November 2010.
National Hockey League.com (2010) NHL Draft Search. Available at: http://www.nhl.com/ice/
draftsearch.htm?year=All&round=1&supl=N, accessed 9 November 2010.
Nolan J and Howell G (2010) Hockey success and birth date: The relative age effect revisited.
International Review for the Sociology of Sport 4: 507–512.
Schorer J, Cobley S, Busch D, Brautigam H and Baker J (2010) Influences of competition
level, gender, player nationality, career stage and playing position on relative age effects.
Scandinavian Journal of Sport Science and Medicine 19: 720–730.
Wattie N, Baker J, Cobley S and Montelpare WJ (2007) A historical examination of relative age
effects in Canadian hockey players. International Journal of Sport Psychology 38: 178–186.
... More specifically, research conducted in rugby union (Kelly et al. 2021a), cricket (Kelly et al. 2022); basketball (Kelly et al. 2021b), and soccer (Kelly et al. 2020a) has shown how later born players are less likely to be selected by academy systems but are more likely to transition into senior squads once selected. These findings are explained using the "underdog hypothesis" (Gibbs et al. 2012), whereby it has been suggested that relatively younger players may hold the greatest potential for success at the adult level, due to being required to develop superior technical, tactical, physical, psychological, and social skills in order to compete with their relatively older and more advanced peers (Schorer et al. 2009;Gibbs et al. 2012;McCarthy et al. 2016). This body of research shows it is important to capture players' career trajectories to better understand how age group structures can impact senior opportunities for young players who enter talent pathways at youth levels. ...
... More specifically, research conducted in rugby union (Kelly et al. 2021a), cricket (Kelly et al. 2022); basketball (Kelly et al. 2021b), and soccer (Kelly et al. 2020a) has shown how later born players are less likely to be selected by academy systems but are more likely to transition into senior squads once selected. These findings are explained using the "underdog hypothesis" (Gibbs et al. 2012), whereby it has been suggested that relatively younger players may hold the greatest potential for success at the adult level, due to being required to develop superior technical, tactical, physical, psychological, and social skills in order to compete with their relatively older and more advanced peers (Schorer et al. 2009;Gibbs et al. 2012;McCarthy et al. 2016). This body of research shows it is important to capture players' career trajectories to better understand how age group structures can impact senior opportunities for young players who enter talent pathways at youth levels. ...
... Based on the results of our study, relatively younger players who enter the national system at a younger age are more likely to experience soccer success at senior level, compared to the relatively older players who enter the system at the same age. Relatively younger players may be challenged by older peers (Schorer et al. 2009) and have to develop certain technical proficiencies and/or tactical awareness to counteract with them (Schorer et al. 2009;Gibbs et al. 2012;McCarthy et al. 2016). It has been suggested that since BQ4 players have to face greater challenges in order to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, in that they are less likely to be selected by talent development organisations, they develop a more robust coping mechanism (Roberts and Stott 2015), learning to "work harder", which then results in facilitate resilience and improved motivation (Schorer et al. 2009), which can in turn help them building the required character to successfully complete the youth-to-senior transition (Kelly et al. 2022). ...
Article
Relative Age Effects (RAEs) appear largely throughout youth soccer. However, little is known about how RAEs at youth levels can impact selection and performance at senior levels. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to provide further test of RAEs by exploring the birth quarter (BQ) distribution of 2,030 Italian players born from 1975 to 2001 (both years included) who have played in any of the Youth National Italian Soccer Teams (U15-U21); and (b) to investigate how RAEs influence future career outcomes, by exploring the BQ distribution of players who completed the transition from youth levels to the Senior National Team (n=182) and those who eventually achieved the Super International Achievers (SIA) status (i.e., plating at a senior level in a UEFA European Championship and/or FIFA World Championship; n=58). Chi-square statistics revealed a significantly skewed (all P value <0.0001) BQ distributions for all Youth squads (BQ1=41.4% vs. BQ4=10.8%), and for the cohort of players who completed the transition (P=0.003). In contrast, results from the Odds Ratios (ORs) highlighted how BQ4s are more likely to transition from youth-to-senior compared to BQ1s (ORs from 2.81 to 4.31). Results showed relatively older players remain overrepresented at senior level likely due to a residual bias effect. Whereas relatively younger players who were able to overcome selection process at youth levels had the highest likelihood of competing at senior levels. Therefore, involving players career trajectories in RAEs studies is needed to understand how relative age impacts career outcomes of early selected players.
... 5,6,23,24 Alternatively, if athletes born later in the year are, on average, less physically developed than their older peers, they may need to develop superior psychological, tactical, or technical skills to compete successfully against larger, faster, more powerful opponents. 25 This "under-dog hypothesis" 26 suggests being relatively younger during adolescents may be advantageous in the long-term when these athletes eventually catch-up physically by the time they are adults, but only if one is able to survive in the system. Evidence supporting this has been found in rugby union, 27 cricket, 28 ice hockey, 26,29 and soccer. ...
... 25 This "under-dog hypothesis" 26 suggests being relatively younger during adolescents may be advantageous in the long-term when these athletes eventually catch-up physically by the time they are adults, but only if one is able to survive in the system. Evidence supporting this has been found in rugby union, 27 cricket, 28 ice hockey, 26,29 and soccer. 30,31 For example, compared to athletes born early in the year, those born late in the year have been shown more likely to achieve professional status, 30 and earn higher wages in professional soccer, 32 and ice hockey. ...
Article
In many youth sports, selection into elite training academies is dominated by athletes born earlier in the year. Previous research suggests this is partly due to these athletes being more physically developed than their younger peers. How athletes born later in the year survive in elite academies is less understood. Here, we tested the hypothesis that players born later in the year are more technically skilled than their peers born earlier in the same year. Using 150 youth players (10–19 years of age) from an elite Brazilian soccer academy, we measured each player’s date of birth, height, and mass; sprinting ability; dribbling ability; and kicking accuracy and speed. We found most players in this academy were born in the first half of the year, and those born earlier in the year (relatively older) tended to be taller and heavier than those born later in the same year (relatively younger). In addition, relatively older players were faster when sprinting and dribbling the ball in a straight line. Conversely, relatively younger players were more accurate when passing the ball with their nondominant foot, providing some evidence these players were more technically skilled than their older peers of the same age. We suggest skill tests with youth players need to consider relative age and physical size in order to best assess a player’s potential.
... While such studies highlight the significance of the RAE, it was commonly more pronounced at youth levels becoming less significant at senior levels (Musch and Grondin 2001;Helsen et al. 2005). The decreasing RAE at senior levels may be explained by theories (e.g., reversal effects of relative age and the underdog hypothesis) that suggest relatively younger players who are initially disadvantaged, eventually catch-up (and potentially overtake) their relatively older peers through developing sport-specific skills over the long term (Gibbs et al. 2012;McCarthy et al. 2016). However, not all studies of the RAE have shown a reversal of the selection bias of players as they transition through the development pathway. ...
... Specifically, somewhere during the transition phase (i.e., U17 to senior), players who once represented the majority (BQ1s and BQ2s) are disappearing from the elite pathway. While it is evident that relatively younger players are 'catching-up' with their relatively older peers, possibly through the creation of a competitive environment with their older teammates (Gibbs et al. 2012;McCarthy et al. 2016), the current status of older players is a cause for reflection for the GAA. Although findings have shown that relatively older players tend to be recruited into talent development pathways at youth levels, it seems they comprise a greater percentage of those who fail to succeed at senior levels (Kelly et al., 2022). ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: Background: In the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Talent Academies (TAs) and senior teams cater for high-performing players. However, only two previous studies have quantified the relative age effect (RAE; i.e., a selection bias favouring those born near the beginning of the cut-off date) in these cohorts. Additionally, no studies have explored stakeholder understanding of the RAE using qualitative methods. Aim: This study aimed to: (a) quantify the RAE in TAs and senior teams, and (b) investigate stakeholder perspectives of the talent development environment, providing practical insight into the RAE. Methods: A mixed methods sequential explanatory study design was employed. Phase one involved a retrospective analysis of longitudinal data for the frequency and distribution of births using TA (n = 12,445) and senior (n = 8,752) players. Phase two comprised two focus groups of key stakeholders [coaches (n = 4) and Talent Development Leaders (n = 4)] at TA and senior level. Results: Analysis revealed a significant difference between TA birth quarter (BQ) distributions compared with expected distributions (P < 0.001; BQ1 = 30.4% vs. BQ4 = 17.6%), whereas at senior level, there were no significant differences observed (χ2 (df = 3) = 3.812, P = 0.282). In phase two, inductive analysis revealed three higher-order themes: (a) understanding of the RAE, (b) selection criteria, and (c) player characteristics. Conclusion: The GAA are encouraged to reflect on the practice of chronological age band grouping, investigate possible solutions to limit the effects of the RAE, and offer support programmes to educate key stakeholders.
... 21 Of relevance from a talent development perspective, later maturing players may hold the greatest potential for success at the senior level, in a phenomenon called the 'underdog hypothesis'. 22 The underdog hypothesis suggests that to be competitive and remain within a youth talent programme, such as a youth national team, later maturing players must either possess or develop superior technical-tactical and psychological skills. The comparatively greater challenge that is experienced by later maturing players within an academy environment where they are competing against on-time and early maturing players is thought to encourage the development of these attributes. ...
Article
Full-text available
This study investigated the associations between biological maturation status (classified using the Khamis-Roche method for the percentage of predicted adult height at the time of observation) and relative age (expressed as a decimal value relative to the difference between birth date and competition cutoff date) and the extent to which their relative selection biases existed across competitive age groups in an analysis of players within the Football Association of Ireland's (FAI) national talent pathway. The players assessed were either from the U13 FAI National Academy (n = 125), the Ireland U15 national team (n = 18), or the Ireland U16 national team (n = 16). A moderate to very large selection bias in favour of early maturing players was observed across all age groups, increasing in magnitude with successive age groups (p < 0.05). A total of 46-72% of players selected into the national talent pathway were early maturing; 0% of U15 and U16 players were late maturing. A relative age effect existed across all competitive cohorts (p < 0.05), although not increasing with chronological age and smaller in magnitude than maturation biases. A small positive correlation between relative age and absolute maturity status at U13 was observed, and an inverse correlation between relative age and relative maturity status at U15 (p < 0.01) was observed. There were no other significant correlations between relative or absolute maturity status and relative age. We encourage Football Associations to critically reflect upon their criteria for national talent squad selection; the current system diminishes the chances of selection for late maturing players.
... RAE also is found in group and individual sports (Smith et al. 2018) and has been the subject of measurement in different regions of the world, including Europe (González-Víllora, Pastor-Vicedo, & Cordente, 2015), the U.S.A. (Glamser & Vincent, 2004), Africa (Grobler, Shaw, & Coopoo, 2016), and Asia (Liu & Liu, 2008). Several studies found no evidence of the RAE and even found an opposite effect (Gibbs, Jarvis, & Dufur, 2012;Fumarco et al., 2017). One explanation for this is the motivation of the young players in the group to deal with the other players who are physically bigger and stronger. ...
... More recently, the literature has challenged these assumptions and has begun to report a potential positive that emerges from the attritional and/or challenging experiences of the relatively young. This has separately been identified as the 'underdog hypothesis' [19] and 'advantage reversals' [1,20], identifying that whilst a disproportionately high number of early birthday athletes are initially selected, the relatively young are proportionately more likely to reach senior elite status. This finding appears robust across a wide range of sporting contexts: in handball [21], cricket [22], ice hockey [23] and across male elite sport [24]. ...
Article
Full-text available
(1) Background: There is abundant literature in talent development investigating the relative age effect in talent systems. There is also growing recognition of the reversal of relative age advantage, a phenomenon that sees significantly higher numbers of earlier born players leaving talent systems before the elite level. However, there has been little investigation of the mechanisms that underpin relative age, or advantage reversal. This paper aimed to investigate (a) the lived experience of relative age in talent development (TD) systems, (b) compare the experience of early and late born players, and (c) explore mechanisms influencing individual experiences. (2) Methods: interviews were conducted with a cohort of near elite and elite rugby union players. Data were subsequently analysed using reflexive thematic analysis and findings considered in light of eventual career status. (3) Results: challenge was an ever-present feature of all players journeys, especially at the point of transition to senior rugby. Psycho-behavioural factors seemed to be a primary mediator of the response to challenge. (4) Conclusions: a rethink of approach to the relative age effect is warranted, whilst further investigations of mechanisms are necessary. Relative age appears to be a population-level effect, driven by challenge dynamics.
... In sports where the physical characteristics of athletes are less important, the RAE seems to be less prominent or absent altogether [36,37]. Furthermore, within some sports where it is advantageous to be of smaller stature, selection favors the relatively later born; notable examples are dance [38] or horse racing [39], where the effect seems to work in the opposite direction and relatively late-born athletes are in the majority (an effect that has been termed the RAE reversal phenomenon [37,[40][41]. However, this reversal is the same RAE mechanism. ...
Article
Full-text available
The relative age effect (RAE) is a statistical bias observed across sport contexts and consists of a systematic skewness in birth date distribution within an annual-age cohort. In soccer, January 1 st is the common cut-off date when categorizing players in competitions according to their chronological age, which potentially disadvantages those within the cohort who were born later in the year. Thus, relatively older soccer players in their cohort can be favored in talent identification, selection, and development. The aim of the current study was to investigate the variations in RAE in male and female international youth world-cup tournaments (U17 and U20) in the period from 1997–2019 and in international senior world-cup-tournaments from 2006–2019. A total of 20,401 soccer players participating in 47 different tournaments were analyzed. The birthdate distributions were categorized into four quartiles (January-March, Q1; April-June, Q2; July-September, Q3; October-December, Q4) and compared to a uniform distribution using Chi-square analysis with Cramer’s V ( Vc ) as a measure of effect size. Based on the existing data concerning RAE in elite junior and senior soccer, it was hypothesized that: (I) the RAE is present in youth soccer world cup tournaments but is stronger in male players than in female players; (II) the younger the soccer players, the stronger the RAE; and (III) the RAE in world cup soccer tournaments has strengthened over time. All these hypotheses were supported by the data; novel findings included that the effect has now entered women’s soccer, and in men’s soccer it persists into senior world cup tournaments. Thus, a strong RAE bias occurs in selection among elite soccer players competing in international world cup tournaments.
... McCarthy and Collins (McCarthy & Collins, 2014) confirm this "reversal" of the RAE in rugby. This reversal effect has been called the "underdog" effect (Gibbs et al., 2012). Finally, de la Rubia et al. showed a relative age effect still present in the adult male and female categories in international handball (De la Rubia et al., 2021). ...
Article
This study aims to identify the potential bias of the relative age effect (RAE) in French alpine skiers and to propose a mathematical correction adjustment for such a bias. All performances and birthdates of skiers on the national and international circuit were collected from the 2004 up to 2019. A goodness-of-fit chi-square test and the residuals were used to study the distribution of birth trimesters in youth competitors. A linear relationship between the distribution of performances and the months obtains a calibration coefficient allowing to rebalance the performance by considering the effect of RAE. Individuals born at the beginning of the year are over-represented in the elite young selections in all disciplines for both genders. A coefficient based on the relationship between month of birth and performance adjusts individual performance and cancels out the effect of RAE. The results show that RAE is present in French alpine skiing. We present a method allowing to consider the effect of the RAE in the performances realized in each gender and discipline. This method allows coaches to have a more objective opinion on performance and to reduce selection bias.
Article
Full-text available
Maturity-related selection biases are engrained within professional academy soccer programmes. The process of grouping of children by biological maturity (“bio-banding”), rather than age is not new. However, practice of bio-banding is becoming increasingly popular with youth soccer development programmes where maturity-related differences in size and athleticism have been cited as key mechanisms behind the over-selection of early over late maturing players. However, the objectives of bio-banding require further clarity to avoid a disconnect between contemporary academic evidence and present and future practitioner practice. Therefore, the purpose of this commentary is to 1) provide a concise overview of the literature (to date), 2) identify possible applications of bio-banding to permit more informed decisions relating to the evaluation and management of young soccer players and (3) propose future directions for both research and applied practice.
Article
Full-text available
Around the world, billions of children participate in sport, and many are identified as being talented. However, only a small number of these individuals go on to become elite athletes. In fact, you have more of a chance of being struck by lightning than becoming an elite athlete! So how do those who do become elite athletes make it happen? What enables a talented young athlete to become an international superstar? In this article, we will review key information about talent development and answer some important questions: How early should I start my sport? Should I focus on one sport or try lots? How important is “failing” in the journey to stardom? We will discuss various talent development pathways and why some may be better than others. We will also look at the factors that might influence an athlete’s chances of success.
Article
Full-text available
Annual age-grouping is a common organizational strategy in sport. However, such a strategy appears to promote relative age effects (RAEs). RAEs refer both to the immediate participation and long-term attainment constraints in sport, occurring as a result of chronological age and associated physical (e.g. height) differences as well as selection practices in annual age-grouped cohorts. This article represents the first meta-analytical review of RAEs, aimed to collectively determine (i) the overall prevalence and strength of RAEs across and within sports, and (ii) identify moderator variables. A total of 38 studies, spanning 1984–2007, containing 253 independent samples across 14 sports and 16 countries were re-examined and included in a single analysis using odds ratios and random effects procedures for combining study estimates. Overall results identified consistent prevalence of RAEs, but with small effect sizes. Effect size increased linearly with relative age differences. Follow-up analyses identified age category, skill level and sport context as moderators of RAE magnitude. Sports context involving adolescent (aged 15–18 years) males, at the representative (i.e. regional and national) level in highly popular sports appear most at risk to RAE inequalities. Researchers need to understand the mechanisms by which RAEs magnify and subside, as well as confirm whether RAEs exist in female and more culturally diverse contexts. To reduce and eliminate this social inequality from influencing athletes’ experiences, especially within developmental periods, direct policy, organizational and practitioner intervention is required.
Article
Full-text available
Children born shortly before the cutoff date for age grouping in youth sport programs suffer from being promoted to higher age groups earlier than their later-born peers. Skewed birthdate distributions among participants in youth sport and professional sport leagues have been interpreted as the result of this disadvantage. A growing body of research shows that this Relative Age Effect in sport is a worldwide phenomenon and that it exists in many, but not all, competitive sports. Both physical and psychological mechanisms that may be responsible for the effect are identified. Negative consequences on personal development and possible remedies to the problem are discussed. Finally, desirable and necessary directions for future research are formulated.
Article
Full-text available
Annual age-grouping is a common organizational strategy in sport. However, such a strategy appears to promote relative age effects (RAEs). RAEs refer both to the immediate participation and long-term attainment constraints in sport, occurring as a result of chronological age and associated physical (e.g. height) differences as well as selection practices in annual age-grouped cohorts. This article represents the first meta-analytical review of RAEs, aimed to collectively determine (i) the overall prevalence and strength of RAEs across and within sports, and (ii) identify moderator variables. A total of 38 studies, spanning 1984-2007, containing 253 independent samples across 14 sports and 16 countries were re-examined and included in a single analysis using odds ratios and random effects procedures for combining study estimates. Overall results identified consistent prevalence of RAEs, but with small effect sizes. Effect size increased linearly with relative age differences. Follow-up analyses identified age category, skill level and sport context as moderators of RAE magnitude. Sports context involving adolescent (aged 15-18 years) males, at the representative (i.e. regional and national) level in highly popular sports appear most at risk to RAE inequalities. Researchers need to understand the mechanisms by which RAEs magnify and subside, as well as confirm whether RAEs exist in female and more culturally diverse contexts. To reduce and eliminate this social inequality from influencing athletes' experiences, especially within developmental periods, direct policy, organizational and practitioner intervention is required.
Article
The relative age effect (RAE) shows that the older one is relative to one's peers in the same grouping or junior sport team the greater the probability of eventually becoming an elite athlete. The present study tracked the existence of the RAE among elite male and female Canadian ice hockey players and investigated the relationship between relative age and performance at the elite level, ''fear and month of birth as well as several performance measures (career games played, goals, total points, assists) were collected using the Hockey Hall of Fame Registry for males (N = 4195) and data from the Canadian Women's National Championship in 2004 (N = 150) and in 2006 (N = 172) for females. Players' birth-dates were organized by month into quartiles (Jan-Mar, Apr-June, July-Sep, Oct-Dec). Analyses revealed significant differences among quartiles in NHL players born after 1956 (X2 ranging from 8.31 to 28.02, all p < .05), suggesting that the relative age effect first manifested in the NHL within the late 1970s (average age of player entry into the NHL 21.8 years). No RAE was observed among birth quartiles in elite women players (p = .355). Further, there were no relative age discrepancies in career performance measures in the male players. These data reinforce the notion that the RAE is a complex phenomenon likely with a multitude of social and cultural antecedents.
Article
In a replication of studies by Barnsley et al. (1985), and Grondin et al. (1984) the authors gathered birthdates of players in the National Hockey League (NHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The players were categorized according to month of birth. Additionally, the players were categorized by country of birth, reflecting the changes in professional hockey over the period since the original studies. The results indicate that despite the globalization of hockey and changes in minor hockey, relative age effect, that is, a strong linear relationship between the month of birth (from January to December) and the proportion of players in the leagues studied, still exists.
Some researchers in sports attribute elite performance to genetic talent. However, they do not offer complete genetic accounts that specify the causal processes involved in the activation and expression of the dormant genes in DNA during practice in the athletes' development that lead to the emergence of the distinctive physiological and anatomical attributes (innate talent). This article argues that it is possible to account for the development of elite performance among healthy children without recourse to unique talent (genetic endowment)-excepting the innate determinants of body size. This account based on the expert-performance approach shows that the distinctive characteristics of elite performers are adaptations to extended and intense practice activities that selectively activate dormant genes that all healthy children's DNA contain. The expert-performance approach has provided accounts for elite performance in several domains of expertise, such as music, ballet, chess, and medicine. This article shows how the superior performance of athletes can be captured and reproduced under laboratory conditions to discover the mechanisms mediating superior performance. The discovered mechanisms have, so far, been shown to reflect predominantly complex skills and physiological adaptations acquired over years and decades as a result of high daily levels of activities, which were specially designed to improve performance (deliberate practice). The second part of this article describes the development of expert performance in sports as an extended series of stable states of adaptation with associated physiological mechanisms that mediate performance. One section describes how frequent intense engagement in certain types of practice activities is shown to induce physiological strain which cause biochemical changes that stimulate growth and transformation of cells, which in turn leads to associated improved adaptations of physiological systems and the brain. A careful review of the published evidence on the heritability of acquisition of elite sports achievement failed to reveal reproducible evidence for any genetic constraints for attaining elite levels by healthy individuals (excluding, of course, the evidence on body size). The theoretical framework of expert performance explains individual differences in attained performance by the factors that influence the engagement in sustained extended deliberate practice, such as motivation, parental support, and access to the best training environments and teachers. Consequently, the development of expert performance will be primarily constrained by individuals' engagement in deliberate practice and the quality of the available training resources. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Relative age, referring to the chronological age differences between individuals within annually age-grouped cohorts, is regarded as influential to an athlete's development, constraining athletic skill acquisition. While many studies have suggested different mechanisms for this effect, they have typically examined varying sports, precluding an examination of the possible inter-play between factors. Our three studies try to bridge this gap by investigating several moderators for relative age effects (RAEs) in one sport. Handball is a sport with position-specific demands, high cultural relevance and a performance context with established developmental structures and levels of representation for males and females. In Study 1, we investigated the influence of competition level and gender on RAEs before adulthood. In Study 2, elite participation, player nationality and stage of career are considered during adulthood. In Study 3, playing position and laterality (i.e., right vs left handedness) are investigated as moderators. Collectively, the results emphasize the complex inter-play of direct and indirect influences on RAEs in sports, providing evidence toward explaining how RAEs influence the development and maintenance of expertise.
Article
This article analyzes how age grouping in youth competitions and soccer education programs affects wage formation at the professional level. A simple theoretical model shows that professional players born late after the cutoff date are expected to earn systematically higher wages than their early-born peers. Two discriminating factors are responsible for this: a systematic bias in the talent detection system and peer effects in the production process of human (sports) capital. The authors demonstrate the existence of such an effect among (native) German professional soccer players. Estimating an earnings function for players in the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 seasons, the authors find clear evidence of a month-of-birth-related wage bias. Players born late after the cutoff date earn systematically higher wages, though this effect is not discernible in all positions; it is strongest for goalkeepers and defenders but not evident for forwards.