Relative Age Effect can lead to blind spot in talent identification

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In sport across the globe there is an increasing pressure on coaches to be able to identify talent at an early age to ensure the athlete gets the best possible coaching in order to allow them to reach their full potential. The demand by the top sports teams and coaches to uncover the next star as early as possible can have great benefits. For example, if talent is identified at an early age there is more time available to develop the athlete to reach the top level, thus increasing the chances of success.

However, it is now becoming clear that this demand to identify players very young can lead to coaches and teams missing out on a huge pool of talent – namely those whose potential may not be obvious until they are older. A lot of work goes into assessing the potential for any individual to reach elite level at sport, and such measures include skill, mental strength and physical ability. What recent research has illustrated is that the time of year in which a person is born is a factor in determining if they will make it to the top, and this is a concept known as Relative Age Effect (RAE).

Physical edge may give impression of more talent

This refers to the age difference between individuals within their age group (usually 12 months), where an individual born in January could be in the same age-group as a person born in December of the same year.

Naturally, the January child has a greater advantage in that they will mature quicker physically and mentally than their December counterpart. This physical edge may make them appear more talented and as a result more time will be invested into developing them. The December player may not get the recognition his talent deserves and as a result the lack of playing time may mean that they don’t get the opportunity to develop that they should.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

This issue is also referred to as the Matthew Effect as explained very clearly by Ross Tucker. That name was coined by the sociologist Robert Merton, based on the bible verse from Matthew:

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him (Matt 25:29).

He argues that this approach of picking the stronger players leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The strong player is picked because he is better, and then ends up being better because he was picked, apparently vindicating the coach’s early decision.

However, the question that must not be ignored is:

Was his initial selection the result of his age, or was he genuinely the better sportsman?

That is the challenge for talent identification.

Werner F Helsen, Jan Van Winckel and Mark Williams help us understand the basis of the problem in ‘The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe’ by explaining the average physical differences in a 10-year-old.

A 10-year-old child in the 5th percentile is likely to be 1.26 m tall with a body mass of 22 kg, whereas a child in the 95th percentile who is almost 11 years of age is likely to be 1.54 m tall and 49 kg in mass.

Consequently, a relatively small 10-year-old child can be approximately 0.2 m shorter and 27 kg lighter than an early maturer with a one-year relative age difference. A relative age difference of 12 months can therefore result in significant anthropometric variances.

According to Karim Tayara this has been borne out by research as he reveals

The relative age effect highlights that there are more elite athletes born in the earlier months of the calendar year in relation to athletes being born in the later months of the year (Helsen et al., 1998). Cobley et al., (2009) meta analysis on the relative age effect showed that for every 2 elites athletes born in the 4th quartile of the calendar year, there were 3 or more elite athletes born in the 1st quartile of the calendar year.

Many other examples back up these findings.

Measures to reduce effects of RAE

Clearly, the time of year an individual is born shouldn’t have such a dramatic impact on their potential to become an elite athlete. However, because the figures suggest otherwise, the onus is on coaches and teams to ensure they don’t miss out on talent that is very often right in front of them. Ideas put forwards to address this issue such as a yearly rotation in cut-off date or a smaller bandwidth (six months as opposed to one year) may be more difficult to implement, but among the practical solutions to this problem is one supported by Helsen, Winckel and Williams when suggesting that a change in mindset from coaches is needed.

Coaches should pay more attention to technical and tactical skills when selecting players as opposed to an over-reliance on physical characteristics such as height. In a similar vein, coaches should be encouraged to change their philosophical approach to instruction. The statement that ‘‘winning isn’t everything, but the only thing’’ currently represents the strategic thinking of many youth coaches. Coaches should find a better balance between short-term success and a more task- or process-oriented approach to instruction.

Examples where the Relative Age Effect is reduced are Ladies soccer, where the emphasis for selection is based more on technical skill and the South African schools rugby system. Tayara argues that a broader view must be taken to avoid the blind spot created by Relative Age Effect.

In summary, the relative age effect is present in a wide range of elite sports and sheds light on the flaws of many talent identification systems. Due to the short-term approach to success in elite sports, coaches select players that will win them games in the immediate future. This means selecting players who are physically and emotionally more mature. The implications of this process will lead to a big pool of talent being overlook and misrepresented. Talent identification programmes must try to reduce the risk of the RAE through raising awareness, monitoring player’s maturation rate and avoid employing intensive early age talent selection


References
The Matthew Effect: Talent ID and sports science application by Ross Tucker, Science of Sport
The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe, Werner F. Helsen, Jan Van Winckel, A. Mark Williams
The Relative Age Effect in Sport by Karim Tayara
Football talent spotting: Are clubs getting it wrong with kids? by Alistair Magowan, BBC Sport

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Dave Passmore

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Derek Bol
Strength & Conditioning Coach, Valparaiso University
"As a school that cannot spend large amounts of money on athlete monitoring, Metrifit has provided us with a great tool for monitoring stress and athlete readiness at a great rate. Being athlete driven, we're able to get buy-in from the athlete, and drive individual or team wide conversations regarding lifestyle and performance education in the direction needed. Seeing acute and chronic stress on a real-time basis has greatly improved the way we schedule workouts and arrange travel during the season."
"We have been using Metrifit for the past season at Cornish Pirates. It has been greatly beneficial for us to have our wellness and load management data on one easy to access system. We have found this invaluable over the past season whereby Coaches, Physios and Strength and conditioning coaches can monitor both the psychological and physiological load of our athletes on a daily basis."

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Head Physiotherapist, Cornish Pirates Rugby Club

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Paul Cremin

Head Physiotherapist, Cornish Pirates Rugby Club

"We have been using Metrifit for the past season at Cornish Pirates. It has been greatly beneficial for us to have our wellness and load management data on one easy to access system. We have found this invaluable over the past season whereby Coaches, Physios and Strength and conditioning coaches can monitor both the psychological and physiological load of our athletes on a daily basis."
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Strength and Conditioning Coach at DCU Sport and with Dublin Minor GAA

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"I've found Metrifit an invaluable resource. Not only to monitor daily wellness, readiness to train and training load within the squad, but also to monitor training load externally with additional external squads. Furthermore, Metrifit has acted as a key teaching tool, allowing young athletes associate good sleeping, eating and recovery habits to an improved sense of wellness and thus superior on-field performance."
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Cian O’Neill

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CEO, Shift Performance, Miami

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Michael Torres

CEO, Shift Performance, Miami

"What’s more impressive is the ability to utilize the basics but at the same time have the capability to explore detailed and intricate correlative data points that helps us as coaches gain the most from our athletes. Metrifit has also served as an easy communications hub to ensure essential information is passed to the appropriate team. We are excited to what the future from Metrifit will bring."
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CEO Achieve Total Performance Pty Ltd

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Dr. Dale Richardson

CEO Achieve Total Performance Pty Ltd

"The Metrifit RTP platform is an excellent tool to monitor, evaluate and make the right decisions for your athlete’s well being and performance. It enables coaches and athletes to track and sift through all the variables that underpin well being and performance on a day to day basis and to address an issue or potential issue in real time. A simply wonderful product."
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Head of Fitness for International Football/Fitness Coach Men's Senior Team
Football Association of Ireland

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Dan Horan

Head of Fitness for International Football/Fitness Coach Men's Senior Team
Football Association of Ireland

"Metrifit has been instrumental in helping our international Managers, Coaches and Medical teams to identify players who require modifications in training loads or who are struggling with some aspect of their preparation for, or recovery from, training and matches.  One of the big strengths of this technology is that it allows our Managers and Medical teams to monitor players both during international competition and outside of these times."
"While working with the Clare Senior Hurling team (2012-2014), Horse Sport Ireland (U25 European Eventing Champions) and currently with the Limerick Senior Hurling Team, Metrifit provides our team with critical information across a number of essential aspects of elite athletic performance. You don’t really know how your players are responding to training stimuli unless you have daily data and Metrifit provides and easy to use and highly effective means of finding this critical information."

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NISUS Fitness, S&C Coach Clare Senior Hurling, Horse Sport Ireland and Limerick Senior Hurling

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NISUS Fitness, S&C Coach Clare Senior Hurling, Horse Sport Ireland and Limerick Senior Hurling

"While working with the Clare Senior Hurling team (2012-2014), Horse Sport Ireland (U25 European Eventing Champions) and currently with the Limerick Senior Hurling Team, Metrifit provides our team with critical information across a number of essential aspects of elite athletic performance. You don’t really know how your players are responding to training stimuli unless you have daily data and Metrifit provides and easy to use and highly effective means of finding this critical information."
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Richard Deuchrass

Lincoln University Athletic Performance Manager

"Metrifit has been used to gain a more in-depth insight into our student-athlete’s progressive athletic development and balance relative to their particular sporting and training activities, academic studies and total load. Metrifit doesn’t just help with optimising our Sports Scholarship students’ athletic performance. It assists us in helping them get the balance right between their sporting activities and academic studies."
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Athletic Development Coach, MSc ASCC
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Millfield School, UK

"Metrifit has enabled us to bring to life the complexiities associated with managing the academic, pastoral and sporting demands of pupils aged 13 - 18 in a UK day and boarding school environment It has provided another bridge between coaches and sports pupis, giving pupils a space to provide honest self reflection on wellbeing and providing coaches a head start on appropriate freshness and fatigue balance across the school week."
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Academy Directory, SJ.B (St. Joseph’s Bray ) Academy

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Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie

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Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

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Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

"Metrifit provides immediate insight and feedback on the physical and mental states of the student-athletes.  It allows us to adjust practices and training sessions to accurately meet needs. We have been able to identify potential injury concerns, track current injury status and monitor return to play progress."
"Metrifit has been hugely beneficial in supporting our coaches and back room staff to track and monitor our players training loads, performance and readiness to train. Having a one-stop shop for collating all relevant information across a holistic picture of the player allows us to help prevent burnout, injury and provide timely feedback and communication to all."

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Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Kerry Senior Football, Manager

"Metrifit has been hugely beneficial in supporting our coaches and back room staff to track and monitor our players training loads, performance and readiness to train. Having a one-stop shop for collating all relevant information across a holistic picture of the player allows us to help prevent burnout, injury and provide timely feedback and communication to all."
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Brijesh Patel

Quinnipiac University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

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Brijesh Patel

Quinnipiac University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

"Metrifit is an outstanding platform to track your athletes’ wellness. It’s simple to use, easy to implement and gives outstanding information on your athlete’s subjective wellness which can be used to assign training loads. I highly recommend Metrifit for any coach looking to begin implementing technology into their program"
"The ability to acutely monitor stress and recovery and make the correct adjustments was critical to our health and performance throughout the NCAA tournament. Metrifit has a very strong educational component. With the information we get, I am able to clearly understand the habits and behaviors of our athletes, and how they may be impacting performance."

Erik Helland

Director of Strength & Conditioning and Head Strength Coach Men’s basketball, University of Wisconsin

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Erik Helland

Director of Strength & Conditioning and Head Strength Coach Men’s basketball, University of Wisconsin

"The ability to acutely monitor stress and recovery and make the correct adjustments was critical to our health and performance throughout the NCAA tournament. Metrifit has a very strong educational component. With the information we get, I am able to clearly understand the habits and behaviors of our athletes, and how they may be impacting performance."
"The visualisation of data allows for easy discussion between athletes, performance staff and medical teams and offers the potential to predict and avoid issues which could hamper performance. Over the year the data has proven instrumental in our critical decision making. Metrifit is a excellent monitoring tool however the unsung additional aspect is the fantastic and tireless customer support."

Robert Walsh
Strength Coach
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Robert Walsh
Strength Coach
Nederlandse Ski Vereniging (Netherlands Ski/Snowboard Team)
"The visualisation of data allows for easy discussion between athletes, performance staff and medical teams and offers the potential to predict and avoid issues which could hamper performance. Over the year the data has proven instrumental in our critical decision making. Metrifit is a excellent monitoring tool however the unsung additional aspect is the fantastic and tireless customer support."
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Brian Clarke

Head Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator,Noblesville High School

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Brian Clarke

Head Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator,Noblesville High School

"Our coaches through Metrifit basically have an ‘X-ray’ vision into the habits and lifestyles and stressors their athletes have on a day to day basis, especially when they are not together. Thus the professional authentic relationships created through the casual conversations, reflection process and application provided is priceless."
"Gaelic football is an intermittent high-intensity collision-based field sport requiring high levels of endurance, strength, power, agility, and speed as well as proficiency with gaelic-related skills. These components comprise the training modalities used at the elite level and the monitoring of such a vast range of modalities is central to peak performance. The athlete monitoring tool Metrifit allows us to do this and can keep us one step ahead of our competitors."

Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

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Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

"Gaelic football is an intermittent high-intensity collision-based field sport requiring high levels of endurance, strength, power, agility, and speed as well as proficiency with gaelic-related skills. These components comprise the training modalities used at the elite level and the monitoring of such a vast range of modalities is central to peak performance. The athlete monitoring tool Metrifit allows us to do this and can keep us one step ahead of our competitors."
"The holistic approach of medical, physical, emotional and even tech/tactical; bringing together what we need to monitor and evaluate our University players. “If you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist.” I know we were the first Canadian University to use the program and I know many more will be asking for it in the future! I highly recommend Metrifit."

Tino Fusco, B.Sc. ChPC

Head Coach, Women's Soccer, Mount Royal University (Canada)

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Tino Fusco, B.Sc. ChPC

Head Coach, Women's Soccer, Mount Royal University (Canada)

"The holistic approach of medical, physical, emotional and even tech/tactical; bringing together what we need to monitor and evaluate our University players. “If you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist.” I know we were the first Canadian University to use the program and I know many more will be asking for it in the future! I highly recommend Metrifit."
"I wanted to reach out to thank Metrifit for an extremely successful season. Our Regis University women’s side won the ultra-competitive RMAC with a 11-0-1 record. Our student-athletes reported in post-season interviews the positive use of Metrifit that enabled their own reflection about their bodies and also found value providing information to coaches for our strategic planning purposes. On more than one occasion, we recognized deviations from norms and were able to step-in with a quick chat to help a player get back on track or refer her to the proper support personnel for further assistance. Fantastic! "

J.B. Belzer
Head Coach, Women's Soccer at Regis University

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2018-09-13T13:47:09+00:00

J.B. Belzer
Head Coach, Women's Soccer at Regis University

"I wanted to reach out to thank Metrifit for an extremely successful season. Our Regis University women’s side won the ultra-competitive RMAC with a 11-0-1 record. Our student-athletes reported in post-season interviews the positive use of Metrifit that enabled their own reflection about their bodies and also found value providing information to coaches for our strategic planning purposes. On more than one occasion, we recognized deviations from norms and were able to step-in with a quick chat to help a player get back on track or refer her to the proper support personnel for further assistance. Fantastic! "
“Metrifit has become a multifactorial platform that has helped up us provide deeper context to the decisions that we make on a daily basis in regards to the physical development of our student-athletes. We have intimately been utilizing both the subjective wellness questionnaire along with player training load data to drive professional conversation and actionable tasks to enhance the sporting results and quality of life for our student-athletes with unparalleled success.”

Kevin Schultz
Associate Director of Strength & Conditioning
Director of Olympic Strength & Conditioning
University of Wisconsin

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2017-06-20T12:12:33+00:00

Kevin Schultz
Associate Director of Strength & Conditioning
Director of Olympic Strength & Conditioning
University of Wisconsin

“Metrifit has become a multifactorial platform that has helped up us provide deeper context to the decisions that we make on a daily basis in regards to the physical development of our student-athletes. We have intimately been utilizing both the subjective wellness questionnaire along with player training load data to drive professional conversation and actionable tasks to enhance the sporting results and quality of life for our student-athletes with unparalleled success.”