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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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2 Why being born in May has its advantages

You may have heard of the influence of the date of birth on academic/sporting performance during the teenage years and beyond in certain sports. It is known as the relative age effect (RAE). The RAE refers to the developmental, practice time and physical advantages that an autumn birth date, immediately after the academic year cut-off (1 September), often confers.

However, Nick Levett, whose work you came across in Session 2, explains why he is pleased his son is born in May (late in the school year). He reasons, and this is backed up with research, that a relatively young player in their age cohort (i.e. a May birthday) gets some advantages:

  • they have to be a better learner to survive against the older players
  • they solve problems in different ways and come up with creative solutions as they don’t have a physical advantage to use
  • they develop coping and adapting strategies that will serve them well in later years (Levett, 2012).

These are valuable skills that a relatively young player can develop. In the long term, these skills may outweigh any early physical dominance and, with determination, they can thrive (Levett, 2012).

Nick Levett published an article on his blog that explains more about RAE [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . A child born in May can develop the qualities he describes. However, this will only happen if they are retained within the sport and they have the grit to carry on, despite losing some physical battles with their bigger peers. If their May birthday means that they are repeatedly left out of teams or physically intimidated by relatively older children, then they will develop none of these qualities.

Detailed academic evidence from rugby and cricket academies also exists. If you want to see the abstract (a very brief summary of an in-depth analysis) of this research, you can view Start hard, finish better: further evidence for the reversal of the RAE advantage.