Exploring the relative age effect among NHL coaches


Many researchers have examined the relative age effect (RAE) among hockey players from the grassroots through to the professional level. In nearly every case, a significant RAE has been found. To the best of our knowledge, nobody has studied whether this effect lingers beyond one’s hockey playing career into the coaching realm. Cobley et al. (2008) had shown a RAE when examining German soccer coaches of the Bundesliga that were brought up as players in the German youth system. On the contrary, Schorer et al. (2011) found no RAE among coaches of the First German basketball league. The goal of the present study is to explore whether a RAE exists among National Hockey League (NHL) head coaches and the extent to which this effect may have carried over from their earlier playing careers. Chi-square analyses were used to compare the birth distributions of NHL coaches (n = 351) against those of NHL players born before and since 1951, as per the findings of Addona and Yates (2010). We also compared the birth distribution of NHL coaches who played in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) against the distribution of players from data collected by Barnsley et al. (1985). No significant differences were found between the overall birth distributions of the NHL coaches and the playing populations from which they were derived. However, our analysis of NHL coaches who had competed in the CHL revealed a significant reverse RAE (n = 89, X2 = 9.95, df= 3, p = .019, φ = .33), such that there was an over-representation of coaches born in the latter months, and an under-representation of coaches born in the earlier months of the selection year. While having an early birthday is advantageous at a highly competitive level, this effect diminishes as players progress into the coaching ranks.