Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

The Relatively Older Advantage

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KIN 6300 Seminars: The Relative Age Effect

Our age is one of the few defining factors today’s society uses to interpret our status and measure our future potential. Typically this is done by using age brackets or by looking at annual age groups. We (I say this meaning Generation Y) have mostly grown up in a society where status, education, friendships and sport are divided by age, where society tries to collectively group together youth that are the same ages for developmental purposes.


But what if I told you, that this creates advantages and disadvantages for these youth? What if I told you that grouping kids within the same annual age, still doesn’t even the playing field in development.

 You might ask:

What are you talking about? They are the same age; of course it’s even.images1

My response:

Within a given year there are 12 months, in which a kid born in January has 11 months of development and maturity under them then a kid who was born in December. And the most miraculous part is they are the same annual age.

Furthermore, our current social, education and sport systems have had to deal with the problem of how to group children for equal and safe competition.

The current fix to this problem has been to create annual age grouping policies and having a selection date criteria or cut-off date (i.e. December 31st). The cut-off dates used within the systems creates an uneven advantage to youth being born shortly after the cut-off date (i.e. January) and those born just prior to the cut-off date (December).

But what does this mean?

Well, this phenomenon known as the relationship between individual birth dates and various developmental outcomes in provides evidence that our education and sport systems have had the unintended consequence of “advantaging relatively older children, while disadvantaging those who are relatively younger within the same cohort” (Dixon, Horton & Weir, 2011). These relatively older youth benefit in the following ways:


Relative Older Advantage Relatively Younger Disadvantage
Ø  Attainment in school & selection to high ability streams Ø  Dropout of sport
Ø  Higher attendance Ø  Disengagement in education
Ø  Higher self esteem Ø  Self Selection in sport
Ø  Greater opportunity for leadership roles Ø  Maturation Selection
Ø  Selection to competitive sport Ø  Less Opportunities for advancement in elite sport
Ø  Attaining elite level in sport Ø
Ø  Choices in higher education Ø

The toughest idea to swallow regarding the relative age effect is the emphasis we put on early development and maturity in both education and sport. Teachers, coach’s, parents and their respective systems focus on ability streaming early on in age, and once they are in this stream the opportunities and experiences are vastly greater, thus giving an advantage to the adolescents with greater development, maturity and ability.

Thus, the relative age effect suggests that the following is occurring in society both in a social, sport and educational context:

Potentially talented athletes are being overlooked because of maturational disadvantages early on


Due to current sport policies and participation barriers children may not have equal opportunities to experience the benefit in both sport and education.

However the most meaningful consideration for me personally in regards to the relative age effect is that it provides evidence that ‘talent’ is being mismeasured with early physical maturity rather then developed skill. This suggests our current sport; recreation and education systems are knowingly choosing adolescents because of their early physical maturation rather then their skill.

If this is the case we as a society are “handicapping youth by a inconvenient birthdate” (Verhults, 1992) which predetermines the opportunities and experiences available to them.

As a final thought if it is indeed our institutionalization of sport and education that have caused this, what can be done to right this wrong?

And as a society will we accept the status quo to which we ultimately predetermine the futures of the next generation?

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