Initial identification & selection bias versus the eventual confirmation of talent: evidence for the benefits of a rocky road?

J Sports Sci. 2014;32(17):1604-10. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.908322. Epub 2014 May 23.


The relative age effect (RAE), whereby earlier birthdate children within a selection year are more commonly selected as talented, has been highlighted in the literature. As a consequence, these young athletes get into specialised training earlier and in greater numbers, leading (it is suggested) to a disproportionate opportunity for success. However, this disproportionality seems not to be manifest in senior teams. Accordingly, we examine the identification and conversion rates for academy rugby players, examining a sample of all players passing into and either graduating, or being dismissed from, a major English rugby academy. Data demonstrated a reversal of the RAE "benefit", whereby late-birth players were less likely to be selected, but more likely to achieve senior professional status. Possible reasons are explored and, on the basis of our data, we propose a psychologically based explanation of greater "growth" due to additional challenge experienced by these initially disadvantaged younger players.

Keywords: talent development; talent identification; talent pathways.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aptitude*
  • Athletes / psychology
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Football / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Selection Bias
  • Young Adult