A behavioural dynamic model of the relative age effect

J Sports Sci. 2014;32(8):776-84. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2013.855804. Epub 2014 Jan 10.


The relationship between date of birth and success in a variety of sports, including hockey, is well established. This phenomenon is known as the relative age effect (RAE). We model the RAE in Canadian youth hockey as a positive feedback loop where an initial age advantage is reinforced through additional training and playing opportunities based on perceived skill superiority. The same causal mechanism leads to a higher quit rate for relatively younger players. Our model effectively replicates the birth month distribution of Canadian National Hockey League players (R2 = 86.79%) when driven by Canadian birth distributions. We use this model to evaluate three policies that aim to lessen the RAE. All of the policies reduce the RAE with a significant delay. The most effective policy is a combination of providing additional support to age disadvantaged children and rotating the cut-off date for youth leagues between January 1st and July 1st annually. In equilibrium, this approach leads to a 96% reduction in the RAE compared to the base case.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Age Factors*
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Feedback
  • Hockey / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Puberty