The Relative Age Effect

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The race to produce the next biggest star in sport is a continuous process within professional sport. It’s commonplace to see scouting networks created for soccer clubs all over Europe or football teams across America, in order to sign future potential professionals and convince their parents to move from an early age. However, it is becoming clear that large pools of talent are not being identified. In youth sport, physicality differences from one age group to the next is often obvious. However, even within age groups these differences can still be present. Research has illustrated that the timing of the year at which an individual is born has an effect on talent identification and birth selection. This concept is known as Relative Age Effect (RAE).

What is the Relative Age Effect (RAE)?

The term relative age effect (RAE) is used to describe a bias where participation is higher amongst those born early in a selected cohort than would be expected from the normalized distribution of live births. For example, an 11 month age difference between individuals within a particular age group, especially in teenage years, may result in significant differences in performance and favor those born earlier within that grouping. Different countries create different grouping criteria. For example, in England it is common to align sporting years with academic years, whereas in Ireland sporting years commonly align with the calendar year. The Relative Age Effect has been evidentially proven in a 2009 meta-analysis to have considerable effects on talent identification and ultimately persist into professional rankings. The meta-analysis presented findings that suggest RAEs are ‘robust’ and generally prevalent across the sports contexts examined. It was found that for every two participants born in the last quartile of an annual age-group, over three are participating from the first quartile of the same age-group.

The Matthew Effect

As up to almost 12 months of a gap can often exist within competing players, discrepancies in physical qualities are common, with those born in the 1st quartile often being able to dominate the physical battles and key performance measures. Differences in size, strength and speed increase/decrease the likelihood of selection at the onset of maturity. A study on rugby league players in North England highlighted that from U13 to U19, individuals were up to 50% less likely to participate if they were born in Quartile 4 vs Quartile 1.

Rugby League Research

The difficulty is how to keep those players who are physically disadvantaged involved in the sport so that after maturation they have the opportunity to benefit from any advantage that they may have in technical ability

Coaches and scouts can fall victim to The Matthew Effect. That name was coined by the sociologist Robert Merton, based on this 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. – Matthew 25:29

The Matthew Effect describes the situation where a coach fails to differentiate between maturity and skill. Often maturity is the deciding factor in youth selection where maturity often determines capability. As a result, the more mature player plays against higher competition, receives better coaching and is given more attention. The gap continues to grow between the individuals and the more mature player gets better and better.

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 – Ross Tucker

However, it must be questioned in the first place “Was his initial selection the result of his age, or was he genuinely the better sportsman?”.

Changing the focus at youth level

Of course, the quartile in which an individual is born, should not have a large effect on dropout rates and the likelihood in which they will make it to the elite level. However, it is clear that in reality it does. Some solutions to this problem which have been discussed include:-

Change the coaching mindset
The challenge is on coaching and scout networks alike to better establish the maturity and skill considerations of youths. This is a solution presented 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

Although it is common practice to ‘Play to Win’ at youth level, it is likely a ‘Play to Play’ model may provide more beneficial long-term outcomes. Player retention at youth level is essential. By allowing a more enjoyable environment and the ‘Play to Play’ mindset, late developers may be at a lower risk of dropout. Ultimately and ironically, this can lead to better performance long term as more players available at the senior levels will likely help performance. They conclude:-

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

More cut off ages
Another solution is to create more age categories with a smaller bandwidth (e.g. half a year instead of a full year). This may result in fewer physical differences presenting amongst individuals and ultimately a smaller RAE.

Bio-banding
Bio-banding is the process of grouping athletes based on attributes associated with growth and biological maturation, rather than chronological age / year of birth groups. In 2015, Southhampton FC hosted the world’s first bio-banded tournament. Players competed in teams based on their maturational status and biological age, rather than chronological age.
A 2019 study investigated the effect of bio-banding upon physical and technical performance in elite youth soccer athletes in the English Premier League. Results demonstrated that bio-banded competition changed the technical demand placed upon athletes compared to chronological competition, without reducing the physical demands. Bio-banding is still in its infancy and more research is needed to evaluate the benefits of bio-banding in youth development.

Delay the selection process
Another solution would be to delay the processes of selection process beyond puberty and maturation (15-16 years of age.) Fortunately, RAE does reduce at about the age of 17. Therefore, late developers with world class talent may be retained. Furthermore, early specialization can lead to further issues highlighted in a previous Metrifit blog.

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 selectionKarim Tayara

Monitoring using Metrifit

Metrifit is an athlete monitoring system that gathers subjective and objective information from both coaches and athletes in a simple but effective manner with intelligent visualization helping coaches and athletes to act on that data. To find out more about the Metrifit Ready to Perform product and gain insight on the physical and mental state of your athletes through our daily well-being questionnaire contact us at .

About the author

Michael is a Sport Science student intrigued by understanding the variables and key determinants that impact an individual’s (athlete or general population) readiness to perform from both a psychological and a physiological standpoint. His primary areas of research revolve around physical development and the role of nutrition, sleep and stress in physical development. Michael works in multiple strength and conditioning environments from Rugby to Soccer to GAA, and also runs an online coaching service at Synthesize Coaching.

Why Monitor

References

Bio-banding in Sport: Applications to Competition, Talent Identification, and Strength and Conditioning of Youth Athletes

The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe

Effects of Bio-Banding upon Physical and Technical Performance during Soccer Competition:
A Preliminary Analysis

The relative age effect in sport by Karim Tayara

Family Planning: Football Style. The Relative Age Effect in Football

Annual Age-Grouping and Athlete Development: A Meta-Analytical Review of Relative Age Effects in Sport

Participation trends according to relative age across youth UK Rugby League

The Matthew Effect // Talent ID and sports science application

Birthdate and success in minor hockey: The key to the NHL

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Joe O’Connor

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

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Robert Walsh
Strength Coach
Nederlandse Ski Vereniging (Netherlands Ski/Snowboard Team)
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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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Kerry Senior Football, Manager

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2017-06-12T14:01:46+01:00

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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Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

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2017-06-12T14:23:50+01:00

Jason McGahan

Sports Scientist, Kildare Football, PhD Sports Science Researcher

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Dan Horan

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

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2017-06-16T15:11:55+01:00

Dan Horan

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

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

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2018-09-13T13:47:09+01:00

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! "
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2019-03-04T20:48:39+01:00

Robert Karlsson, Professional Golfer

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Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

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2017-06-16T15:08:31+01:00

Kari Thompson

Head Volley Ball Coach, Southern Illinois University

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Head Coach, Irish Hockey

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2017-06-15T12:51:46+01:00

Dave Passmore

Head Coach, Irish Hockey

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Derek Bol
Strength & Conditioning Coach, Valparaiso University
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2017-06-20T22:26:45+01:00
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."
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Kildare Senior Football Manager

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2017-06-14T13:24:03+01:00

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Kildare Senior Football Manager

"The cutting edge technology of Metrifit enables Managers, Coaches and Players to use this innovative technology to gain these crucial percentage points over their opponents in a technologically advanced yet easy to use web-based platform. The data collated on a daily basis greatly informs Management Teams while the educational aspect of the system really appeals to modern day athletes who are constantly looking for that extra edge."
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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."
"The success of young athletes using Metrifit was an interesting challenge in the Elite Soccer space… After six months of learning, creating habit with teenagers the project is a huge success…. 90% completion rate has allowed us deal with all the key KPI’s that are needed in their development. In our space with developing athletes…Metrifit is a godsend and is the most important tool in this space."

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Academy Directory, SJ.B (St. Joseph’s Bray ) Academy

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Niall O’Driscoll

Academy Directory, SJ.B (St. Joseph’s Bray ) Academy

"The success of young athletes using Metrifit was an interesting challenge in the Elite Soccer space… After six months of learning, creating habit with teenagers the project is a huge success…. 90% completion rate has allowed us deal with all the key KPI’s that are needed in their development. In our space with developing athletes…Metrifit is a godsend and is the most important tool in this space."
"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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2017-06-16T15:06:04+01:00

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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Graham Williams

Athletic Development Coach, MSc ASCC
Millfield School, UK

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2017-06-19T14:14:37+01:00

Graham Williams

Athletic Development Coach, MSc ASCC
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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Edgar K. Tham

Founder and Chief Sport & Performance Psychologist, SportPsych Consulting (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines)

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Edgar K. Tham

Founder and Chief Sport & Performance Psychologist, SportPsych Consulting (Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines)

"Metrifit is an amazingly easy-to-use yet comprehensive monitoring tool for training and recovery! The elite athletes we work with are able track and monitor their situations and states daily, in order to maximize their performance loads and recovery practices. This also helps our coaches customize the training programs ‎more effectively. I'd recommend this for any serious team / athlete or coach in wanting to bring out the very best in their long-term performances! "
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Brijesh Patel

Quinnipiac University, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

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2017-06-12T17:58:50+01:00

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"
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Dr. Dale Richardson

CEO Achieve Total Performance Pty Ltd

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2019-03-04T21:38:45+01:00

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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Michael Torres

CEO, Shift Performance, Miami

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2017-06-14T14:09:22+01:00

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."
"Metrifit is an integral part of the set up within the senior and intermediate inter-county Camogie.  The data collected daily on the individual players is critical to the decision making of the backroom team including, managers, trainers, selectors, physiotherapist and indeed myself. As a nutritionist it allows me to monitor the quality of the player’s diet, energy levels, sleep pattern and overall wellbeing."

Yvonne Treacy

Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie

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2017-06-13T16:38:55+01:00

Yvonne Treacy

Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie

"Metrifit is an integral part of the set up within the senior and intermediate inter-county Camogie.  The data collected daily on the individual players is critical to the decision making of the backroom team including, managers, trainers, selectors, physiotherapist and indeed myself. As a nutritionist it allows me to monitor the quality of the player’s diet, energy levels, sleep pattern and overall wellbeing."
"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."

Tommy Mooney

Strength and Conditioning Coach at DCU Sport and with Dublin Minor GAA

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2017-06-14T13:31:14+01:00

Tommy Mooney

Strength and Conditioning Coach at DCU Sport and with Dublin Minor GAA

"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."
"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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2017-06-12T11:42:14+01:00

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."
"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."

Richard Deuchrass

Lincoln University Athletic Performance Manager

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2017-06-12T13:58:58+01:00

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."
"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."

Brian Clarke

Head Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator,Noblesville High School

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2017-06-12T14:21:17+01:00

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."
“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

Metrifit Athlete Monitoring System
2017-06-20T12:12:33+01:00

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.”
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