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Examination of birthplace and birthdate in World Junior ice hockey players

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Abstract

The present study investigated birthdate (known as the Relative Age Effect; RAE) and birthplace as determinants of expertise in an international sample of elite ice hockey players. The sample included 566 World Junior (WJR) ice hockey players from four countries (Canada, n = 153; USA, n = 136; Sweden, n = 140; Finland, n = 137). Participants competed in the International Ice Hockey Federation World U20 Championship between 2001 and 2009. A series of Poisson regression models were conducted to examine the consistency of direct then interactive relationships between both birthdate and birthplace and WJR membership across the four countries (Canada, USA, Sweden, and Finland). Findings revealed a consistent RAE across the four countries for World Junior participation from 2000 to 2009. WJR players from the four countries were also less likely to be from major cities. In addition, there was no evidence in any of the four countries of an interaction between RAE and birthplace. Future research should explore the contextual and cultural factors that influence elite athlete development in smaller towns, cities and communities.
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Examination of birthplace and birthdate in world
junior ice hockey players
Mark W. Bruner a , Dany J. Macdonald b , William Pickett c d & Jean Côté e
a School of Physical and Health Education, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario, Canada
b Department of Family and Nutritional Sciences, University of Prince Edward Island,
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
c Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario,
Canada
d Department of Emergency Medicine, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
e Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Available online: 29 Jul 2011
To cite this article: Mark W. Bruner, Dany J. Macdonald, William Pickett & Jean Côté (2011): Examination of birthplace and
birthdate in world junior ice hockey players, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:12, 1337-1344
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.597419
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Examination of birthplace and birthdate in world junior ice hockey
players
MARK W. BRUNER
1
, DANY J. MACDONALD
2
, WILLIAM PICKETT
3,4
, & JEAN CO
ˆTE
´
5
1
School of Physical and Health Education, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario, Canada,
2
Department of Family and
Nutritional Sciences, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada,
3
Department of
Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada,
4
Department of Emergency Medicine,
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and
5
Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston,
Ontario, Canada
(Accepted 13 June 2011)
Abstract
The present study investigated birthdate (known as the Relative Age Effect; RAE) and birthplace as determinants of expertise
in an international sample of elite ice hockey players. The sample included 566 World Junior (WJR) ice hockey players from
four countries (Canada, n¼153; USA, n¼136; Sweden, n¼140; Finland, n¼137). Participants competed in the
International Ice Hockey Federation World U20 Championship between 2001 and 2009. A series of Poisson regression
models were conducted to examine the consistency of direct then interactive relationships between both birthdate and
birthplace and WJR membership across the four countries (Canada, USA, Sweden, and Finland). Findings revealed a
consistent RAE across the four countries for World Junior participation from 2000 to 2009. WJR players from the four
countries were also less likely to be from major cities. In addition, there was no evidence in any of the four countries of an
interaction between RAE and birthplace. Future research should explore the contextual and cultural factors that influence
elite athlete development in smaller towns, cities and communities.
Keywords: Elite athlete development, expertise, relative age effect, community size
Introduction
For decades, individuals have been intrigued with
understanding how an individual’s early environ-
ment contributes to the attainment of success. In the
realm of sport, researchers have attempted to identify
if the size of a young athlete’s birthplace can serve as
a potential predictor of success in sport. Sport
research in this area dates back to the late 1960s
when Rooney (1969) uncovered geographical links
between birthplace and participation in college
football.
Curtis and Birch (1987) are credited as being
influential on the emergence of research examining
links between birthplace and athlete success. This
team of investigators empirically examined the
predictor of birthplace in the sport of ice hockey,
investigating the size of community of origin in a
sample of Canadian and US Olympic ice hockey
players and Canadian professional players. They
reported a curvilinear relationship between size of
community of origin and being an elite athlete.
Canadian players were found to be underrepresented
in communities of less than 1000 inhabitants and in
communities with over 500,000 inhabitants.
Shortly after the work of Curtis and Birch (1987),
Carlson (1988) qualitatively explored socialisation
into elite sport. Based on interviews with Swedish
elite tennis players, Carlson suggested that rural
areas were more fertile than urban areas in promot-
ing elite athlete development. While rural commu-
nities were perceived to offer fewer organised sport
opportunities, the athletes from rural communities
reported greater access to facilities and increased
opportunities for play and practice.
Since the seminal work of Curtis and Birch (1987)
and Carlson (1988), researchers in a number of
countries (Australia, Canada, Israel, Germany, Uni-
ted Kingdom, USA) have explored the size of an
athlete’s early developmental environment as a
predictor of expertise in sport (Abernethy & Farrow,
2005; Baker & Logan, 2007; Baker, Schorer, Cobley,
Correspondence: M. W. Bruner, Nipissing University, School of Physical and Health Education, North Bay, Ontario, Canada. E-mail: markb@nipissingu.ca
Journal of Sports Sciences, September 2011; 29(12): 1337–1344
ISSN 0264-0414 print/ISSN 1466-447X online Ó2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.597419
Downloaded by [Institutional Subscription Access] at 06:35 05 September 2011
Schimmer, & Wattie, 2009; Coˆte´, MacDonald,
Baker, & Abernethy, 2006; Fraser-Thomas, Coˆte´,
& MacDonald, 2010; Lidor, Coˆte´, Arnon, Zeev, &
Cohen-Maoz, 2010; MacDonald, Cheung, Coˆte´,
& Abernethy, 2009; MacDonald, King, Coˆte´, &
Abernethy, 2009; Schorer, Baker, Lotz, & Bu¨sch,
2010). This research examined professional and
amateur athletes from a number of sports including
American football, basketball, baseball, golf, hand-
ball, ice hockey, soccer, swimming and volleyball as
well as Olympic level athletes from summer and
winter games. While the bulk of the research has
sampled adult, male elite athletes, recent studies
have investigated female elite athletes (Baker et al.,
2009; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2010; MacDonald et al.,
2009b) and adolescent athlete samples (Baker &
Logan, 2007; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2010; Schorer
et al., 2010). In general, there is growing evidence to
indicate that elite athletes are less likely to come from
communities that are too small (51000 inhabitants)
or too large (4500,000 inhabitants) (Coˆte´ et al.,
2006; MacDonald et al., 2009a). However, discre-
pancies have been noted in terms of the optimal size
of the early developmental environment for athletes
in different sports and countries. In addition, the
mechanisms attributed to smaller communities have
been largely speculative in nature.
Most frequently, the community size of an
athlete’s birthplace has served as the proxy for the
location in which the young athlete was introduced
to sport and spent their developmental years
(Carlson, 1988; Coˆte´ et al., 2006; Curtis & Birch,
1987). It is important to acknowledge that birthplace
does not always coincide with the place of develop-
ment and that athletes may migrate between loca-
tions. For example, athletes born in small rural
communities may move to larger urban centres
during their childhood. This point was recently
raised by Schorer and colleagues (2010) who
suggested that the place of an athlete’s first club
team may be a more appropriate proxy. However,
previous research supports the use of birthplace as a
meaningful proxy for early developmental context.
Using a subsample of elite athletes, minimal migra-
tion was reported between communities during the
players’ developmental years (ages 10–14 years)
(Carlson, 1988; Curtis & Birch, 1987). In addition,
US census data suggests that minimal net migration
changes exist between metropolitan (areas surround-
ing large and densely populated cities) and non-
metropolitan areas in the census of 1980, 1990, and
2000 (Schachter, Franklin, & Perry, 2003). There-
fore, despite possible movement of athletes between
cities of different sizes during their early develop-
ment, one can argue that birthplace is a reliable
proxy for assessing a child’s place of development
and socialisation into sport.
In addition to the growing body of literature on
birthplace, researchers have established a consistent
relationship between an individual’s month of birth
relative to their peers and attainment of expertise (see
Cobley, Wattie, Baker, & McKenna (2009) and
Musch & Grondin (2001) for reviews). This phe-
nomenon is known as the Relative Age Effect (RAE)
and has been the subject of a significant amount of
research over the past 25 years. RAE has been
reported in a range of sports (e.g., ice hockey, soccer,
baseball) and found to be prevalent in sports with age-
grouped cohorts (Cobley et al., 2009; Musch &
Grondin, 2001). For example, in ice hockey, age
groupings are typically based on the calendar year of
January to December. Study results consistently show
that athletes born in the first three months of the year
(January–March) are overrepresented compared to
athletes born in the remaining months of the year
(Barnsley & Thompson, 1988; Cobley et al., 2009;
Sherar, Bruner, Munroe-Chandler, & Baxter-Jones,
2007). Similarly, RAE has been reported for young
athletes born early in the selection year for such sports
as soccer, swimming, and tennis (Baxter-Jones &
Helms, 1994; Brewer, Balsom, & Davis, 1995). Des-
pite the substantial body of research reporting RAE in
sport, it is important to acknowledge that there have
been a small number of studies which have reported
no RAE (MacDonald et al., 2009a; Schorer et al.,
2010) or an opposite trend (Ste-Marie, Starkes, &
Cronin, 2000).
RAE in sport has primarily been attributed to
differences in maturity between young athletes. It has
been suggested that the maturational differences
between older and younger athletes are a function
of the chronologically older athletes (i.e., athletes
born early in the selection year) being mistaken as
‘‘more talented’’ or ‘‘more promising’’ when in fact
they may simply be more mature than their younger
counterparts (Helsen, Starkes, & Van Winckel, 1998;
Helsen, Van Winckel, & Williams, 2005). Athletes
born early in the year may be almost a full year older
than their peers and benefit from physical and
cognitive developmental advantages compared to
athletes born later in the selection year (Bisanz,
Morrison, & Dunn, 1995; Delorme & Raspaud,
2009). The misidentification of physically larger
youth being more talented results in these athletes
receiving more attention from coaches during prac-
tice and being given more opportunities to play dur-
ing games (Delorme & Raspaud, 2009; Helsen et al.,
1998; Sherar, Baxter-Jones, Faulkner, & Russell,
2007). Collectively, these factors result in a pattern
which allows the relatively older athletes to
develop better skills than younger athletes and
therefore be more likely to be selected for higher
levels of competition during development (Delorme,
Boiche´ & Raspaud, 2010a; Sherar et al., 2007a).
1338 M. W. Bruner et al.
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This misidentification process can serve as a ‘‘spring-
board’’ for future success in sport for the relatively
older athlete (Ward & Williams, 2003). In addition,
this pattern of selection has been found to contribute
to an increase in the number of dropouts for athletes
born late in the selection year (Barnsley &
Thompson, 1988; Helsen et al., 1998). For example
in the sport of soccer, from the age of 12 years on,
higher numbers of dropouts have been reported for
those players born toward the end of the selection
year (Helsen et al., 1998). In a more recent study,
Delorme, Boiche´, and Raspaud (2010b) showed that
soccer participants in age groups as young as seven
years of age followed a biased distribution similar to
RAEs. The Delorme et al. 2010b findings imply that
athletes ‘‘self-select’’ themselves into sports that
favour their development early on. Additionally,
athletes born later in the year may subsequently
dropout of the sport if they consider themselves
physically inferior to their peers. The implications of
these findings suggest that RAEs are potentially more
complex than originally thought and require addi-
tional research to understand how they interact at a
young age and affect long-term participation in sport.
Collectively, birthplace and RAE are linked to the
attainment of expertise in sport. However, it is unclear
if birthplace and RAE interact and create a synergistic
effect in helping athletes outperform others. Support
for the exploration of the interaction between birth-
place and RAE can be drawn from theory and a
previous attempt to examine this interaction. Bron-
fenbrenner’s (1979) bioecological theory of human
development suggests that an individual’s develop-
ment will be strongly influenced by individual (i.e.,
birthdate) and environmental (i.e., birthplace) factors.
Building upon this supposition, Coˆte´andcolleagues
(2006) investigated if birthplace and RAE were
independent from each other in predicting elite per-
formance in sport in a sample of professional ice
hockey (National Hockey League; NHL), basketball
(National Basketball Association; NBA), baseball
(Major League Baseball; MLB), and golf (Professional
Golf Association; PGA) male athletes. Chi-square
analysis revealed that city size did not moderate any
relative age effects indicating that the effect of birth-
place and birthdates on expertise are independent of
each other. Given this theoretical underpinning and
the limited existing evidence, it is important to
investigate if and how the concepts interact.
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to extend
previous literature and investigate RAE and birth-
place as determinants of expertise in an international
sample of elite ice hockey players. We used recent
participants in the International Ice Hockey Federa-
tion (IIHF) World U20 Championship (commonly
referred to as the ‘‘World Junior Hockey Champion-
ship’’) as a sampling frame. Players from four
countries (Canada, USA, Sweden, and Finland)
constituted the study sample. In doing so, our
specific objectives were to examine: (1) the relation-
ship between birthdate and World Junior (WJR)
membership, (2) the relationship between birthplace
and WJR membership, and (3) the potential inter-
action between birthdate and birthplace and WJR
membership, across the four countries. Based upon
previous research in sport expertise (Cobley et al.,
2009; Coˆte´ et al., 2006) and Bronfenbrenner’s
(1979) developmental theory, it is hypothesised that:
(1) RAE will be present in WJR players from
Canada, USA, Sweden and Finland, (2) WJR players
will be more likely to be born in communities of
5500,000 inhabitants, and (3) there will be an
interaction between birthdate and birthplace in
predicting WJR players across the four countries.
Methods
Participants
The sample included 566 WJR hockey players from
four countries (Canada, n¼153; USA, n¼136;
Sweden, n¼140; Finland, n¼137). Since its incep-
tion in 1977, the IIHF World U20 Championship has
become a prestigious elite international tournament
featuring the top junior hockey players from around
the world. Each participant had competed in one or
more of the IIHF World U20 Championships
between 2001 and 2009. Demographic information
for the participants including player names and date
of birth were collected from the official WJR hockey
website (http://www.iihf.
com/iihf-home/history/past-tournaments.html; www.
iihf.com). Based on this information, birthplace data
for each participant were obtained and validated from
related websites (www.eurohockey.net; www.
hockeydb.com; www.nhl.com). The population size
of each participant’s birthplace was then retrieved
from one of four population database websites (http://
www.columbiagazetteer.org, www.world-gazetteer.
com, citypopulation.de/index.html, www12.statcan.
ca/english/Profil/PlaceSearchForm1.cfm).
In total, 601 players from four countries were
initially identified from the official WJR hockey
website as being a past participant of a IIHF World
U20 Championship from 2001–2009. However,
population size information was not available for 24
of the birthplaces listed for participants on the WJR
website (14-Sweden, 7-Finland, and 3-USA). Con-
sequently, demographic information was collected
for 577 of the 601 WJR players. Inspection of the
data revealed that 11 athletes (5-Sweden, 4-Finland,
and 2-USA) were born outside of their country of
representation and were excluded from the analyses.
A total of 566 of the 601 (94.1%) 2001–2009 WJR
Birthplace and birthdate 1339
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players from Canada (100%), USA (96.4%), Sweden
(88.1%), and Finland (92.6%) were included in the
analysis.
Procedure
To evaluate the birthplace effect, the birthplaces of
the WJR players were compared with a distribution of
males in the general population using census data.
The Census Bureaus of the countries of interest were
contacted to obtain information about the country’s
demographic makeup. Specifically, a distribution of
seven- to nine-year-old males from the 1990 or 1991
census (Canada-1991, USA-1990, Sweden-1990,
Finland-1990) were obtained and these distributions
were used to develop estimates of population counts
to be used as denominators (offsets) in later regres-
sion analyses. At the study’s onset, WJR participants
from six countries (Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland,
Russia and Czech Republic) were initially examined
for possible inclusion in the study. However, due to
insufficient census data being available, two countries
(Czech Republic & Russia) were removed from the
analysis. Males seven to nine years of age were
selected as they were representative of the partici-
pants’ early developmental years in minor hockey. To
permit comparison between countries, the distribu-
tion of males was further segmented into five
community size categories: (1) 510,000, (2) 10,000
to 530,000, (3) 30,000 to 5100,000, (4) 100,000 to
5500,000, (5) 500,000 based upon the population
categories used in the census data from Canada and
the other three countries. Similar to other studies
investigating birthplace and athlete development
(Carlson, 1988; Coˆte´ et al., 2006), the birthplace of
the athletes was used as a proxy for the location in
which the young athletes were introduced to sport
and spent their developmental years.
To evaluate RAE, birthdates for all players were
collected from the official WJR hockey website (http://
www.iihf.com/iihf-home/history/past-tournaments.
html). The birth month for each of the players was
categorised into quarters (Q1 ¼January, February,
March; Q2 ¼April, May, June; Q3 ¼July, August,
September; Q4 ¼October, November, December)
to reflect the calendar year of Canadian, US,
Swedish and Finish hockey from January 1st to
December 31st.
Statistical analysis
For each of the four countries in the study, we
described the proportion of WJR players who were:
1) born in each of the four quarters of the year
(January to March; April to June, July to September;
October to December); 2) born in communities of
varying sizes (510,000; 10,000 to 530,000; 30,000
to 5100,000; 100,000 to 5500,000; 500,000).
Chi-Square analyses were conducted to examine
variations of these proportions across the countries.
Next, a series of Poisson regressions models were
created within countries to estimate the effect of both
birth quarter and community size on the likelihood of
being named to each respective WJR team. Estimates
of the total number of live births for males with the
same birth years as the WJR participants were
estimated based upon census data in each country.
The latter estimates were employed as offsets in the
Poisson regression models. Results are presented as
adjusted relative risks, 95% confidence intervals, and
associated tests for linear trend.
The final step in the analysis was to examine the
interaction between birthdate (birth half, as cell sizes
precluded using birth quarters in the interaction
terms) and birthplace (the five categories of com-
munity size) as determinants of WJR participation.
This was done by including an interaction term in
each country specific Poisson Regression model. All
analyses were conducted using SAS Version 9.1.3.
Results
Birthdate and birthplace
Table I provides a comparison of birthdates (quarter)
and birthplaces (community size) among players who
represented each of four countries in the IIHF World
U20 Championship for the years 2001–2009. In each
of the four countries, the largest percentages of players
were born in the first half of the year (January through
June), consistent with expectations. This effect was
observable in all countries: Canada (66.6%), USA
(68.4%), Sweden (65.0%), and Finland (64.2%).
Similar analyses are also presented for the size of
communities where these players were born. Statis-
tically significant (P50.001) differences can be
observed in the player distributions across the coun-
tries (Table I). To illustrate, in Canada the largest
percentages were observed for players born in
community sizes of less than 10,000 and between
100,000 to 500,000 while in Finland, players mainly
come from communities of 30,000 to 500,000.
The effects of both birthdate and birthplace on
participation in the IIHF World U20 Championship
obtained from a multiple Poisson regression model
are summarised further in Table II. In each of the
four countries, consistent effects were observed in
association with the first two birth quarters of the
year. Across all countries in the study, players born
between January and March were approximately 2-
to 3-fold more likely to be selected to play for their
country. Effects associated with birthplace were less
consistent. In Canada, players from communities of
100,000 to 5500,000 were 1.6-fold more likely to
1340 M. W. Bruner et al.
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Table I. World junior hockey players 2001-2009 in four countries, by birth quarter and size of community.
Country
Canada USA Sweden Finland
No. (%) Offset Pop % No. (%) Offset Pop % No. (%) Offset Pop % No. (%) Offset Pop % P-value
Birth quarter (Birth year 1981 to 1991)
Q1 (Jan to Mar) 51 (33.3) 1265887 59 (43.4) 8535318 53 (37.9) 320190 44 (32.1) 219462 0.11
Q2 (Apr to Jun) 51 (33.3) 1384037 34 (25.0) 9331947 38 (27.1) 350074 44 (32.1) 239946 0.30
Q3 (Jul to Sept) 28 (18.3) 1362411 24 (17.7) 9186136 25 (17.9) 344604 31 (22.6) 236196 0.56
Q4 (Oct to Dec) 23 (15.0) 1262195 19 (14.0) 8510423 24 (17.1) 319256 18 (13.1) 218822 0.86
Community size (1000s) (1991)
510 40 (26.1) 1634013 31.0 22 (16.2) 8088876 22.8 32 (22.9) 75987 5.7 14 (10.2) 306297 33.5 0.04
10 to 530 22 (14.3) 820908 15.5 20 (14.7) 6972417 19.6 25 (17.9) 410616 30.8 22 (16.1) 253152 27.7 0.40
30 to 5100 24 (15.7) 1038015 19.7 40 (29.4) 8297721 23.3 50 (35.7) 532845 39.9 43 (31.4) 169317 18.5 50.001
100 to 5500 40 (26.1) 1011177 19.2 36 (26.5) 6656409 18.7 11 (7.9) 232353 17.4 58 (42.3) 185661 20.3 50.001
500 27 (17.6) 770418 14.6 18 (13.2) 5548401 15.6 22 (15.7) 82323 6.2 0 (0.0) 0 0 50.001
Table II. Results of Poisson regression describing potential determinants of world junior hockey team membership in Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland 2001–09.
Canada USA Sweden Finland
Birth quarter (Birth year 1981 to 1991) RR (95% CI) RR (95% CI) RR (95% CI) RR (95% CI)
Q1 (Jan to Mar) 2.21 (1.35 to 3.61) 3.10 (1.85 to 5.19) 2.20 (1.36 to 3.56) 2.10 (1.20 to 3.69)
Q2 (Apr to Jun) 2.02 (1.24 to 3.31) 1.63 (0.93 to 2.86) 1.44 (0.87 to 2.41) 2.23 (1.29 to 3.86)
Q3 (Jul to Sept) 1.17 (0.68 to 2.02) 1.18 (0.65 to 2.16) 0.96 (0.55 to 1.69) 1.60 (0.89 to 2.85)
Q4 (Oct to Dec) 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00
P(trend) 0.001 50.001 50.001 0.01
Community size (1000s) (1991)
510 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00
10 to 530 1.14 (0.68 to 1.91) 1.05 (0.58 to 1.93) 0.14 (0.09 to 0.24) 4.98 (2.61 to 9.51)
30 to 5100 0.94 (0.57 to 1.57) 1.77 (1.05 to 2.98) 0.22 (0.14 to 0.35) 1.67 (0.82 to 3.39)
100 to 5500 1.62 (1.04 to 2.51) 1.99 (1.17 to 3.38) 0.11 (0.06 to 0.22) 1.76 (0.89 to 3.50)
500 1.43 (0.88 to 2.33) 1.19 (0.64 to 2.22) 0.63 (0.41 to 0.99)
P(trend) 0.05 0.08 0.15 0.43
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play for their country than players from the smallest
(510,000). In the USA, effects of a similar
magnitude were observed for players in the 30,000
to 5100,000 and 100,000 to 5500,000 size com-
munities. In contrast, players from Sweden were
much more likely to come from small (510,000)
communities, and selected players from Finland
were more likely to emerge from communities of
10,000 to 530,000.
Interactions between birthdate and birthplace
In order to test the hypothesis that birthdates and
birthplace may interact to influence player selection,
we further examined these two factors in a series of
Poisson regression models. Although we continued
to observe main effects, there was no evidence of an
interaction existing between the two potential deter-
minants of WJR membership (all Pvalues 40.20;
see Table III).
Discussion
There are three main findings to this study. First, we
observed a consistent RAE across the four countries
for WJR participation from 2001 to 2009. Second,
there was a general trend toward WJR players from
the four countries not being from large cities. Third,
there was no evidence of an interaction between RAE
and birthplace in any of the four countries.
The consistent birthdate effect across the four
countries including the two Scandinavian countries
(Sweden, Finland) supports the study hypothesis and
previous reviews (Cobley et al., 2009) observing
RAE in a number of sports and countries predomi-
nantly in North America. The birthplace findings are
consistent with the study’s second hypothesis and
support previous research indicating a curvilinear
relationship between community size and expertise
in junior and professional hockey players (Coˆte´ et al.,
2006). In Canada and the USA, smaller city effects
(100,000 to 500,000 residents) were reported while
in the two Scandinavian countries, there were
pronounced small town effects; Swedish WJR players
were more likely to be from a community size of
510,000 while Finish WJR players were more likely
to come from a community size of 10,000 to 30,000.
These findings are in support of common assump-
tions by the sport media about elite athlete develop-
ment in hockey and examined two decades ago by
Curtis and Birch (1987). While Curtis and Birch did
not find empirical evidence to support the notion of a
‘‘small town effect’’ in hockey, this study did so for
the countries of Sweden and Finland.
The inconsistency in the birthplace findings begs
the question of why is there overrepresentation of
elite young athletes from smaller towns in the two
Scandinavian countries and not the two North
American countries. One possible explanation to
account for the inconsistent findings is the culture of
sport and athlete development in Sweden and
Finland. Carlson’s (1988) study in Sweden sug-
gested that smaller, more rural communities afforded
greater opportunities for elite athlete development.
Given that Carlson’s sample of elite athletes were
from a different sport (tennis), further research is
necessary to delve into what early contextual and
cultural factors in the small towns in Sweden and
Finland are contributing to the elite development of
WJR ice hockey players. Similarly, it is important to
examine what early contextual and cultural factors in
smaller cities in North America are contributing to
elite hockey player development.
An important consideration in attempting to better
understand the role of context and culture is the
integration of theory into future athlete development
research. Despite the increasing attention of birth-
place in the literature, few attempts have been made
to theoretically examine the phenomenon and the
underlying mechanisms associated with smaller cities
and towns being associated with expertise develop-
ment. One of the first attempts to integrate theory
into birthplace research was Carlson (1988), who
used Bronfenbrenner’s ‘‘bioecological model of
development’’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) to investigate
the role of the environment in athlete development.
Bronfenbrenner espoused that development results
from the constant interaction between the individual
and his or her environment. Surprisingly, minimal
research has built upon Carlson’s work and used
Bronfenbrenner’s framework in the area of birthplace
and expertise.
A second theory which may significantly contribute
to our understanding of the birthplace effect is Bar-
ker’s ‘‘theory of behaviour settings’’ (Barker, 1978).
Barker’s theory proposes that the number of people in
a behaviour setting will influence an individual’s
behaviour. Barker suggests that situations with fewer
(i.e., undermanned) or more than (i.e., overmanned)
the optimal number of participants needed to
Table III. Results of Poisson regression examining potential
interactions between birth month (2 categories) and community
size (4 or 5 categories) as determinants of membership on the
world junior team – 4 country analysis.
No. of categories
Country
Birth month
categories Community size
P-value
(interaction)
Canada 2 5 0.944
USA 2 5 0.950
Sweden 2 5 0.845
Finland 2 4 0.228
1342 M. W. Bruner et al.
Downloaded by [Institutional Subscription Access] at 06:35 05 September 2011
complete a task will result in different experiences for
individuals involved. In undermanned settings, in-
dividuals are reported to experience a greater number
of roles in the setting, put forward greater effort, and
report more frequent occurrences of success and
failure (Barker, 1978). In the sport domain, it may be
hypothesised that smaller settings such as smaller
communities may be more likely to be undermanned
and afford youth with greater developmental oppor-
tunities. However, the theory has not been applied in
sport psychology and expertise research on athlete
development. This awaits future research.
In light of Bronfenbrenner’s claim about the
interaction between the individual and his or her
environment leading to optimal development, the
third aim of the study was to examine the potential
interaction between RAE and birthplace. This aim
was a novel aspect of the study as minimal research
has investigated the interaction. However, the study
findings did not support the theoretically driven
hypothesis that there would be an interaction between
RAE and birthplace. The results supported previous
research (Coˆte´ et al., 2006) that RAE and birthplace
are independent predictors of athlete development
and sport expertise. Quite simply, why didn’t athletes
born early in the birth year who were also born in
smaller communities have a greater likelihood of
obtaining expertise? Drawing upon Barker’s theory, it
may be possible that smaller cities represent ‘‘under-
manned’’ settings that create developmental condi-
tions that are beneficial to all athletes independent of
their relative age. From this perspective, smaller cities
would provide an environment in which competition
for spots on select teams is reduced because of the
smaller number of athletes available, therefore,
diminishing the need to select athletes based on their
skill and maturation levels. Consequently, relative
age effects may be reduced or even removed in
smaller cities. This hypothesis needs to be tested
directly with further research, however, it provides
support for the ‘‘maturation-competition’’ hypothesis
consistently put forward to explain relative age.
The study findings should be viewed within the
context of its limitations. Although, it was considered
that the use of census data for male youth from the
four different countries was a strength of the study, it
is also a possible limiting factor because the census
data did not disclose the number of youth hockey
registrations for each community size from each
country. An examination of the minor hockey regis-
tration data may reveal an existing biased distribution
within the population which may impact the analysis
and conclusions draw from the research. If possible,
future research in RAE and birthplace should con-
sider using athlete registration data for the different
community sizes from different countries as an
optimal source of reference data (Delorme, Boiche´,
& Raspaud, 2010a). A second limitation was the use
of birthplace as a proxy for an athlete’s place of
development. While previous research (Carlson,
1988) has found birthplace to be a reliable proxy
for developmental context, further research would
benefit from a replication of the study with a more
detailed account of each elite athlete’s place of resid-
ence during development. A third limitation was that
the study design precluded offering any definitive
explanations for the study findings on RAE and
birthplace across the four cultures. Additional
research is necessary to investigate the mechanisms
contributing to RAE and birthplace in different
cultures and contexts.
Conclusion
The present study examined RAE and birthplace as
independent and synergistic predictors of expertise
in an international sample of elite ice hockey players.
The results supported RAE across the four countries
and offered support for smaller cities and towns
promoting elite athlete development for ice hockey
players from North American and Scandinavian
countries. It was also found that birthdate (RAE)
and birthplace were independent predictors of
expertise. Given the independent effect of birthplace
on expertise and the central role of sport in smaller
centres (Tonts, 2005), a greater understanding of the
contextual and cultural influences is necessary to
inform elite athlete development.
Acknowledgements
This research was supported through a Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada (SSHRC) operating grant (410-08-1266)
and a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship to the lead
author. The authors would like to thank Jordan Van
Staveren, Laura Chambers, Laura Lorenz, and
Connor Higgins for their assistance with the data
collection. The authors also wish to acknowledge
Caitlin Mason for her assistance with the data
analysis.
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The consistent asymmetry in the birth-date distribution of senior professional soccer players has led us to investigate whether similar asymmetries emerge throughout youth categories in soccer. Birth dates were considered for professional players, national youth teams, youth players transferred to top teams, and regular youth league players. Kolmogorov Smirnov tests assessed differences between observed and expected birth-date distributions. Regression analyses examined the relationship between month of birth and number of participants at various levels of play in soccer. Results indicated that youth players born from August to October (the early part of the selection year), beginning in the 6–8 year age group, are more likely to be identified as talented and to be exposed to higher levels of coaching. Eventually, these players are more likely to be transferred to top teams, to play for national teams, and to become involved professionally. In comparison, players born late in the selection year tended to dropout as early as 12 years of age. Recommendations suggest a review of the 24-month age band and current methods for talent detection and selection. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 10:791–798, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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A conventional wisdom in the lay sociology of sport journalism is that North American professional ice hockey players are disproportionately recruited from smaller communities and rural areas. One explanation given for this is that avenues for social mobility are more limited in such communities and that sport is heavily pursued as one of the few areas of opportunity. Sections of the sociological literature would suggest, though, that the opposite relationship may occur because larger cities have better opportunity structures for developing and expressing sport skills. These alternative expectations are tested for Canadian-born players in three professional leagues and for players on the last three Olympic teams. In addition, data for U.S. Olympic teams are presented. In interpreting the results, we also employ Canadian national survey data on mass participation of male youths in hockey. The findings show that the largest cities are underrepresented as birthplaces of players at each elite level, whereas small towns are overrepresented. Yet, community size does not appear related to the general population of male youths’ rate of participation in hockey. Emphasized are interpretations concerning how amateur hockey is organized.
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This study examined the existence of two factors associated with achieving a high level of proficiency in sport - the relative age effect (RAE) and the birthplace effect. Information on these effects was collected from 521 male players playing for various Division 1 ball clubs in Israel (the highest division in the country): 68 basketball players, 161 handball players, 209 soccer players, and 83 volleyball players. Three main findings emerged from the data analyses: (a) RAE did not exist in the studied ball games, (b) a birthplace effect was observed in soccer, handball, and volleyball, but not in basketball, and (c) the birthplace effect was not found to be associated with cities of a similar size. It is proposed that a sport- and culture-specific approach be adopted when examining environmental factors associated with sport expertise in countries with a small population such as Israel.© 2010 International Research Association for Talent Development and Excellence.
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This study analyzed the process of socialization of elite tennis players, thereby contributing to an explanation of the success experienced by Swedish tennis players in recent years. The top five male and top five female Swedish players, along with parents and coaches, were interviewed regarding background, early life sport experiences, and development. All five males held ranking positions among the 15 best in the world. The control group was chosen by matching pairs regarding age, sex, and junior ranking. Results indicated that both groups at the ages of 12 to 14 were equal, but after puberty the development of the groups diverged. As teenagers, some elite players were ranked among the world’s top players while the control group players did not experience success. The results clearly indicate that it is not possible to predict who will develop into a world-class tennis player based on individual talent alone. Personal qualifications and early life experiences in combination with social structures, tradi...
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The literature on environmental knowing is largely problem-oriented (though see Moore and Golledge, 1976, for statements of current theory), and finding solutions to these problems has occupied the greatest part of the total research effort in this area. So intent has this search been on collecting and representing cognitive information that the equally important task of determining how to analyze results has been relegated to the background. An inevitable result of this neglect can be the selection of inappropriate analytical methods for the level of data collected. To help overcome this problem, I present in this paper a variety of multivariate and multidimensional analytical techniques. The selection is not exhaustive; rather, it attempts to illustrate some of the relationships between data type or representational form and a subset of appropriate analytical methods.