The Relative Age Effect in Sport: A Developmental Systems Model

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The policies that dictate the participation structure of many youth sport systems involve the use of a set selection date (e.g. 31 December), which invariably produces relative age differences between those within the selection year (e.g. 1 January to 31 December). Those born early in the selection year (e.g. January) are relatively older—by as much as 12 months minus 1 day—than those born later in the selection year (e.g. December). Research in the area of sport has identified a number of significant developmental effects associated with such relative age differences. However, a theoretical framework that describes the breadth and complexity of relative age effects (RAEs) in sport does not exist in the literature. This paper reviews and summarizes the existing literature on relative age in sport, and proposes a constraints-based developmental systems model for RAEs in sport.

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