Factors affecting the relative age effect in NHL athletes

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Abstract

Background

The relative age effect (RAE) has been reported for a number of different activities. The RAE is the phenomena whereby players born in the first few months of a competition year are advantaged for selection to elite sports. Much of the literature has identified elite male athletics, such as the National Hockey League (NHL), as having consistently large RAEs. We propose that RAE may be lessened in the NHL since the last examination.

Methods

We examined demographic and selection factors to understand current NHL selection biases.

Results

We found that RAE was weak and was only evident when birth dates were broken into year halves. Players born in the first half of the year were relatively advantaged for entry into the NHL. We found that the RAE is smaller than reported in previous studies. Intraplayer comparisons for multiple factors, including place of birth, country of play, type of hockey played, height and weight, revealed no differences. Players who were not drafted (e.g., free agents) or who played university hockey in North America had no apparent RAE.

Conclusion

We found little evidence of an RAE in the current NHL player rosters. A larger study of all Canadian minor hockey intercity teams could help determine the existence of an RAE.

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