The impact of relative age on organized sport, unorganized physical activity, and non-participant behaviour: Findings from 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 certain contexts, has been documented in various organized sport and educational settings (Cobley et al., 2009). If youth are disadvantaged in these activities as a result of the RAE, the psychological impact could extend to other areas of their lives (e.g., proclivity to engage in a physically active lifestyle). The purpose of this study was to explore the pattern of participation among organized sport participants, unorganized physical activity participants, and non-participants with respect to relative age using self-report data from the first twelve cycles of the Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) project. A detailed description of the study is available in Belanger et al. (2013). Generalized linear mixed models with binary logistic regression were conducted to compare the likelihood of reporting participation in organized sport (team and individual), unorganized physical activity, and non-participant behaviour 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 and team sports (p < .01). There was no apparent RAE with regards to participation in individual sports or unorganized physical activity. Non-participants were significantly less likely to be born in the second quartile. The results indicate a RAE is present for team sport participation and non-participant behaviour in this cohort. Continued investigation of the factors contributing to these trends and their stability over time is warranted.

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).