Relative age effects in fitness testing in a general school sample: how relative are they?

J Sports Sci. 2015;33(2):109-15. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.934708. Epub 2014 Jul 7.


When children or adolescents are grouped by age or year of birth, older individuals tend to outperform younger ones. These phenomena are known as relative age effects (RAEs). RAEs may result directly from differences in maturation, but may also be associated with psychological, pedagogic or other factors. In this article, we attempt to quantify RAEs in a simple fitness task and to identify the mechanisms operating. Data come from a 5-year study of 2278 individuals that included repeated administrations of the 20 m shuttle run. We use mixed-effect modelling to characterise change over time and then examine residuals from these models for evidence of an effect for age relative to peers or for season of birth. Age alone appears to account for RAEs in our sample, with no effects for age relative to peers or month of birth. Age grouping produces large disparities for girls under 12, moderate ones for boys of all ages and negligible ones for girls between 12 and 15. RAEs for this task and population appear to arise from simple age differences. Similar methods may be useful in determining whether other explanations of RAEs are necessary in other contexts. Evaluation processes that take age into account have the potential to mitigate RAEs in general settings.

Keywords: fitness testing; growth curve analysis; relative age effects.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors*
  • Child
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Growth / physiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Running / physiology
  • Schools