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Relative Age Effects: Implications for Performer Participation and Development (16-18 years) | Coaching Youth (age 13-18) | ConnectedCoaches

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Relative Age Effects: Implications for Performer Participation and Development (16-18 years)

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The following post is taken from ‘Relative Age Effects on Performer Participation and Development’ written by Chris Chapman, sports coach UK’s Development Lead Officer (Talent & Performance Coaching), and  Kevin Till Senior Lecturer of Sports Coaching at Leeds Beckett University.


Many sports use the academic year (1 September to 31 August) as the registration dates for entry into school, community, governing body talent pathways, and some professional competitions within the UK. While mirroring the educational system, these specific annual-age groups provide consistency for friendship groups and continuity for youngsters, and attempt to avoid large differences between children within sport to try to ensure equal competition and opportunities.

However, this structure still leads to some children being almost one year older than others within the same annual-age group (eg a September birth compared to an August birth). This difference in age within an annual-age group is defined as relative age, with the consequences being the Relative Age Effect. The Relative Age Effect results in participation and selection differences favouring the relatively older participants and occurs in most youth sports, including football, rugby league, rugby union, basketball and tennis (Cobley et al, 2009). This means that a greater number of players born closer to the ‘cut-off’ date of 1 September participate and are selected for teams, clubs and competitions. However, being relatively older may not be an advantage for all sports, with no Relative Age Effect shown in golf, and reversed Relative Age Effects favouring the relatively younger individual apparent in sports such as gymnastics.

Relative Age Effects are evident in grass-roots sport from as early as the under-sevens age category through to the professional sporting arena. It is therefore essential that all people engaged in youth sports, from parents to coaches to talent pathway managers, are aware of the Relative Age Effect and the impact it can have on a participant’s development. Increasing awareness and educating all involved in the sporting landscape would enable more participants to firstly engage and secondly develop the skills necessary to be successful within their chosen sport(s).

What follows is a consideration of the third of three developmental periods in relation to the growth, maturation and development of children - Post-maturation (16–18 Years).

Top tips on raising awareness of the Relative Age Effect and how to limit the effects associated with it (eg limited participation and [de]selection) are included.

Post-maturation (16–18 Years)

Important for: talent pathway managers, performer performance managers, academy coaches, talent identification staff (scouts) and performance analysts. 


After adolescence, youths reach the mature, adult state. However, between the ages of 16 and 18 years, maturational differences can still be evident. Some performers may be mature and reach their adult height, while other performers may still be growing and developing. Therefore, it is again important to be aware of, and continue to monitor, the age and maturation of your participants. 


  • Be aware of participants’ birth date.
  • Continue to monitor size (height and body mass) and maturation (as outlined previously) on a regular basis intoadulthood.
  • Consider the training age and experience of your performers. Remember that many participants may have missedcoaching opportunities previously, especially in representative structures, and as such, their experience and practicetime can be considerably lower.
  • Remember that, often, as a participant progresses through the talent pathway, they receive a greater number ofcontact coaching hours, access to a greater level of practice time and more experienced coaches. This providesthem with a developmental advantage and should be considered. Is the individual you are comparing them toachieving in spite of their lack of support, formal coaching and opportunities? How much more of their potentialhas gone untapped?
  • Assign roles and positions on technical skills, tactical awareness and physical development, but let them (andencourage them to) continue to experience a range of positional roles in training.
  • Emphasise both skill and physical fitness development.
  • Consider maturational age in assessments of individuals’ performance and testing. Consider potential against actual– where are their opportunities to develop and grow as a performer? They may have 20% more development,whereas a peer may be a little stronger, faster or more experienced with 5% of their development left.
  • Make comparisons of performers based on relative, maturational and training age. 

Click the links below to read top tips for the remaining two developmental periods.

Download Relative Age Effects: Implications for Performer Participation and Development.

As well as ConnectedCoaches more information on the Relative Age Effect is available on the Talent Coaching section on the sports coach UK website.


Cobley, S., Baker, J., Wattie, N. and McKenna, J. (2009) ‘Annual-age grouping and athlete development: a meta-analytical review of Relative Age Effects in sport’, Sports Medicine, 39 (3): 235–256.

Meylan, C., Cronin, J., Oliver, J. and Hughes, M. (2010) ‘Talent identification in soccer: The role of maturity status on physical, physiological and technical characteristics’, International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 5 (4): 571–592. 

Lloyd, R., Oliver, J., Faigenbaum, A., Myer, G. and De Ste Croix, M. (2014) ‘Chronological age vs biological maturation: Implications for exercise programming in youth’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28: 1454–1464.

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Comments (1)

For more information on RAE check out the following link:


There are two videos:

1. A Talent in Five which explores some of the other effects linked to RAE
2. A Talking Talent in which Dr Jean Cote explains some of his recent research findings

Happy viewing!
Avg: 4.76 / 5 (1votes)