Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Coach Selections and the Relative Age Effect in Male Youth Ice Hockey

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Coach Selections and the Relative Age Effect in Male Youth Ice Hockey

Article excerpt

Relative age effects (RAEs; when relatively older children possess participation and performance advantages over relatively younger children) are frequent in male team sports. One possible explanation is that coaches select players based on physical attributes, which are more likely witnessed in relatively older athletes. Purpose: To determine if coach selections are responsible for RAEs by comparing RAEs in male players who played competitive versus noncompetitive ice hockey. Method: Using chi-square, we analyzed the birth dates of 147,991 male ice hockey players who were 5 to 17 years old. Players' birth dates were divided into four quartiles, beginning with January to March, which coincides with Hockey Canada's selection year. Results: There were strong RAEs (p < .001) when players were selected to competitive teams by coaches through a tryout system. On noncompetitive teams that did not have coach selections, there were strong RAEs (p < .001) from 5 to 8 years old, but not 9 to 17 years old. Conclusions: Although coaches might perpetuate RAEs, other influential social agents might include parents, which ought to be investigated in future research.

Keywords: birth effects, birth-rate distribution, team sport

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Youth sport associations often use annual age cohorts to limit age discrepancies among athletes; however, 12-month age discrepancies still exist between relatively older athletes (i.e., born early in the selection year) and relatively younger athletes (i.e., born later in the selection year). Relatively older players are frequently overrepresented on elite sport teams, with simultaneous underrepresentation of the youngest individuals. This unequal representation is termed the relative age effect (RAE; Musch & Grondin, 2001). RAEs have been argued to be partially related to male team selection decisions made by coaches who favor the physical maturity advantages of the relatively older athletes in the early years of competition (Cobley, Baker, Wattie, & McKenna, 2009; Sherar, Baxter-Jones, Faulkner, & Russell, 2007; Till, Cobley, O'Hara, Chapman, & Cooke, 2010). By possessing selection advantages in the early competitive years, relatively older players receive enhanced coaching, training, and competition that leads to sporting success and consequent continued selection to competitive teams. Male RAEs, for example, exist in handball (Schorer, Baker, Busch, Wilhelm, & Pabst, 2009), soccer (Cobley, Schorer, & Baker, 2008; Helsen, Van Winckel, & Williams, 2005), rugby (Till, Cobley, Wattie, et al., 2010), and the context for the present study, ice hockey (Cote MacDonald, Baker, & Abernethy, 2006; Sherar et al., 2007).

Despite the breadth of the RAE literature, many studies merely identify sports in which RAEs exist. The present research extends beyond this and examines the role of the coach in terms of explaining RAEs in ice hockey. Ice hockey was selected based on Musch and Grondin's (2001) proposition that depth of competition is a requirement for RAEs. Grondin and Trudeau (1991) also noted that the RAE was strongest for National Hockey League players who were born in Canada's most populous province: Ontario.

Given such findings, we investigated RAEs in Ontario ice hockey, with the purpose of testing the role of coach selections on RAEs by contrasting birth dates for competitive male ice hockey players (chosen through coach selections) compared with noncompetitive players (without coach selections).

Coach selections begin at 7 years of age in the Novice division and continue through all subsequent age divisions (up to and including 17 years of age in this sample). Players selected to competitive teams were termed "competitive" for our study, while those not selected played House League ice hockey and were termed "noncompetitive." Additionally, some players simply choose not to try out for competitive teams and register directly into House League ice hockey. …

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