The Relative Age Effect in youth sports is used to describe the bias or skew of chronological ages within age group squads.  Young athletes born in the first two quarters of the playing year are more likely to be selected.  Children born in the last two quarters have significantly less chance of selection.  The relative age effect can be demonstrated across a number of different sports.  Let’s face it – it makes perfect sense too because children born earlier in the playing year are simply older than those born later.  The difference can be up to a maximum of a year!  Older athletes are likely to be more physically mature and therefore perform better than their younger counterparts.  Such physical superiority is more likely to catch the eye of performance coaches and scouts whose role is to select the best performers.

Research sheds new light upon the importance of skeletal maturity

Whilst the relative age effect is still well established in youth sports, recent research performed on members of Manchester United FC’s Academy players and young athletes from the Aspire Academy offer a more accurate picture.  Researchers measured the skeletal maturity of Academy athletes by scanning the bones of the wrist.  The results revealed a strong correlation between skeletal maturity and selection.  This relationship was stronger than the effect of birth date.  So it appears that a young athletes biological maturity has a stronger influence on selection than their chronological age.  Once again, this makes perfect sense.  More mature athletes are likely to be more physically dominant.  The physicality of elite team sport increases towards the senior ranks, therefore demanding a more physical athlete.


Implications for young athletes impacted by the relative age effect

Nothing can be done to increase a young athletes rate of biological maturation.  Athletes born in the last 2 quarters will continue to be under represented in age group teams.  However, this latest research highlights that biological maturity is even more important as athletes progress through the ranks.  Young athletes must therefore continue to develop all aspects of performance throughout their youth playing careers in order to maximise their opportunities to play representative and high level sport when they are older.  NK Fitness work extensively with young athletes to develop age appropriate strength & conditioning programmes to maximise performance.