Have you heard of “Relative Age Effect” (RAE)?
Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley coined the phrase. He asserts that players whose birthdays are right after their league’s cutoff date have a competitive advantage because they get a little more time than do younger players to physically mature and develop their skills. Barnsley says that a six- to twelve-month age advantage can make a big difference in a child’s physical and mental development–enough to boost that child’s chances of qualifying for coveted spots on All-Stars and travel teams.
Barnsley cited a competitive Ontario Junior Hockey League as one prime example, with more of its players born in January–right after the league’s cutoff date–than in any other month, and by an overwhelming margin.
Journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell picked up on this theory in his best-selling book Outliers. In Outliers, Gladwell argues there are often hidden advantages that are responsible for a child’s success in sports and school. He puts RAE at the top of that list.
With that in mind, I took a look at our local youth baseball league and discovered the cutoff date for all divisions is April 30. Then I checked out the league rules and applied them to Lefty. As it turns out, if Lefty was turning 9 years old on May 1–one day after the cutoff–he would be placed in our league’s Pinto division. That means he would 9 years old, playing against mostly 7 and 8 year-olds. Pretty big advantage, right?
Being around youth baseball, I see that all kids grow and develop at different ages. But, I have to imagine that having an age advantage of an extra few months to a year could make a big impact.
Sorry, Lefty. (He was born in the fall.)
What do you think about RAE?