Advantage reversals and relative age: Does positive youth development play a role?


Relative age advantages for the relatively oldest – those born closer to, but following a sport-imposed cut-off date – are well documented among youth sport participants (e.g., representation on higher level teams, etc.). Yet, a variety of benefits attributed to 'advantage reversals' (McCarthy et al., 2016) have been observed among relatively younger athletes at professional levels. Proposed mechanisms include enhanced physical and/or psychological skill developmental to overcome the disadvantages of being relatively younger in one's cohort. Thus, the purpose of this study is to explore an association between positive youth development (PYD) and relative age in a post-adolescent, athlete sample. The Developmental Assets Profile (Search Institute, 2004) was distributed to female soccer players in a one-year cohort from Ontario, Canada (~age 17 years). Responses were coded for relative age by half year based on the age-group cut-off employed by Ontario Soccer (i.e., December 31st). The presence of differences between groups of relatively older (H1; n = 64) and younger (H2; n = 57) participants and the developmental asset scales was assessed by using a one-factor, between-subjects MANOVA (p < .01); followed by a discriminant analysis for descriptive purposes. Findings suggest that two internal asset categories contributed to group separation: commitment to learning (.402) and positive values (.366). These findings provide preliminary, albeit cautious, support that 'advantage reversals' may be in part associated with enhanced PYD resulting from developmental sport experiences. Detailed research with larger, more diverse samples is needed. Future research avenues are discussed.

Acknowledgments: Support was received through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship (K. Smith).