AFL players - their age matters

With the AFL national draft approaching, a study of players shows that those born earlier in the year have significantly more success than those who are born later in the year.

Handpassing a footballA study of AFL players drafted between 1994 and 2010 who have played a minimum of 25 games has highlighted a significant factor – players who are born early in the year are more common, with those born between January and March having a 62% greater chance of reaching the elite level than players born between October and December.

Dr John McCullagh, a senior lecturer in physical education at La Trobe University, attributes the division to the ‘relative age effect’, and believes the results are due to the age categories used in junior sports.

‘It comes from an attempt to balance the competition, but it gives kids born at the start of the year a significant advantage in height, weight, speed, power and endurance,’ Dr McCullagh says. ‘In some cases they have twelve months development on their teammates.’

This advantage continues as sporting development progresses. ‘The stronger players are more likely to be noticed by selectors and get access to advanced coaching and training,’ Dr McCullagh says. ‘In contrast, those who are born later in the year may experience a lack of success, and a greater likelihood of withdrawal from sport.’

Numerous international studies have found similar results in sports such as basketball, rugby, handball, hockey and tennis.

Dr John McCullagh

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