Relative Age Effect in Swedish Male and Female Tennis Players Born in 1998⁻2001

Sports (Basel). 2018 Apr 23;6(2):38. doi: 10.3390/sports6020038.


The relative age effect (RAE) has been extensively debated and researched in both popular media and academic discourse. This study examined RAE in Swedish tennis players born in 1998⁻2001. The study was conducted in 2015⁻2016 and includes all ranked Swedish tennis players (n = 1835) registered in the Swedish Tennis Association database from the year 2014. The results show that when the birth dates of the corresponding Swedish population and all the ranked players are compared, they show a moderate RAE; however, the higher up they are in the ranking system, the greater the RAE becomes. Top 10 players display an average of 64.1% being born in the first half of the year. Some gender differences were also found, with a greater proportion of both higher and lower ranked females being born in the first half of the year. In our discussion of the findings we raise several issues that need to be addressed to provide more equal opportunities for all junior players regardless of birth date. Resolving ongoing problems associated with RAE in competitive sports such as tennis is important both in term of prolonged participation in the sport and increased performance. Suggestions made in this article include recognising RAE when designing the format of competitions/tournaments, not using official rankings until the juniors get older, addressing RAE in a “gender sensitive” way, and conducting further in-depth studies in which RAE is understood/examined as being associated with environmental factors. Although these findings show the RAE effect in Swedish tennis players, thus pointing at the need for further consideration in terms of ranking and selection procedures to ensure equal opportunities for player development, the study also concludes by reasserting an emphasis on a holistic approach to player development in which coaches focus on the developmentally appropriate needs and potential of each individual player regardless of their biological age.

Keywords: Sweden; coaching; gender; relative age effect; tennis.