The double articulation of the Relative Age Effect on Swedish Football players

Tomas Peterson
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University, Sweden

tomas-petersonThe existence of Relative Age Effect is by now a widely recognized effect of selection systems within competitive children and youth sport across sports and countries all over the world (Grondin, Deschaies, Nault 1984; Barnsley, Thompson, Barnsley 1985; Helsen, Starkes, Van Winckel 1998; Musch, Hay 1999; Musch, Grondin 2001; Delorme, Raspaud 2009). RAEs refer “both to the immediate participation and long-term attainment constraints in sport, occurring as a result of chronological age and associated physical (e.g. height) differences as well as selection practices in annual age grouped cohorts” (Cobley 2009, p 235). The main aim of this study is not to comfirm the existens of RAE in the selection systems of Swedish children and youth football. Yet such existence is confirmed. In a study including all children born 1984 registered with the Swedish Football Association, the Relative Age Effect was documented on all levels of the selection systems. Even the selection of players who had been rejected by the selection system, but still became elite players, was influenced by Relative Age Effects. In 2009, at the age of 25, there were 61 Swedish elite players born 1984 (46 men and 15 women). Twenty-seven of them did not belong to the group of players picked by the selection system. Out of the individuals identified as future elite players by the selection system, half of the men and three out of four women became “confirmed elite”. The others were replaced by individuals who had been rejected by the selection system, because of Relative Age Effects, and left to creating a carrier for themselves outside the system. These empirical findings suggest that the Swedish football elite is not created by the selection system, but rather in spite of it.

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TOMAS PETERSON is professor in Sport Sciences at Malmö University as well as Professor II at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU. His research interests include the professionalization of Swedish football during the post-war period, children’s and youth sport as a socialization arena, the relation between school sports and voluntary sports, social entrepreneurship and sport, and sport politics.

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