A preliminary investigation of relative age effects in a prospective cohort study of pre-adolescents


The Relative Age Effect (RAE), whereby individuals born closer to a registration cut-off date are over-represented in sporting contexts, has been associated with negative experiences for those who are relatively younger (e.g., dropout, issues with self-worth). Given the potential benefits of organized sport and regular physical activity, it is important to identify factors contributing to the RAE to promote participation for all members within an age grouping. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether relatively older individuals were more likely to participate in organized, team, and individual sports, and in sports requiring a structured setting. Data from the first ten cycles of the MATCH study were used for this analysis. At baseline, MATCH recruited Grade five and six students (n = 843) from 17 elementary schools in New Brunswick, Canada. Participants self-report physical activity three times each year. Four generalized linear mixed models with binary logistic regression were conducted to compare likelihood of participating in any organized sports, team sports, individual sports, and sports within structured facilities across birth quartiles. In comparison to those born in the last two quartiles, those born in the first two quartiles of the year were more likely to report participation in organized sports, team sports, and sports within a structured facility (all p < .05). There was no apparent RAE with regards to participation in individual sports. The results indicate that a RAE is present for sport participation in this cohort. Factors contributing to this trend need to be investigated.

Acknowledgments: The data used in this analysis were drawn from the Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) project, which was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Sport Canada through the joint Sport Participation Research Initiative and by the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. Support was also received through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship (K. Smith).