Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of different people talk about the same thing, the competitive advantage athletes have from being born at a certain time in the year compared to others.
Over the last 6 months I’ve heard it from the mouths of professional goalkeeping coaches and parents of young children and I’ve read it in various places from FA modules on goalkeeping talent identification to countless numbers of publications including The Guardian, Business Insider and the NCAA.
You can read all about this ‘phenomenon’ and the research behind it in extensive detail from one of the above sources, but for the sake of this post I will break it down very simply to explain why they believe this to be the case.
If you are born between September – November in the year then everything else being equal you are deemed to have a better chance on the day you start school of being stronger, faster and taller than other children who are born later in the year – notice how close this is to the olympic motto of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’.
This makes sense right? Assuming most children start school at the age of 4 then a child born on September 15th and therefore almost 5 for their entire school year is pretty much a full year older than a child born on August 31st. At the age of 4 and 5 that is somewhere between 20-25% difference in age and development time.
So, the first time that there are any teams picked for anything competitive – these children who are effectively a year older will likely be the best as they have had much longer to develop.
Now you would expect this to level out pretty quickly because that 20-25% development difference very quickly gets less and less as the children grow older, but what actually happens is that the best kids at the young age get given the opportunities to play for the best teams with the best coaches.
They get much more time game time so their skills develop faster, their parents and teachers spend much more time developing these children as they think they have a special talent and could make it as an athlete which also aids their development.
This spiral continues throughout their early years, teens and then into adult life and the result? A scientifically proven fact that in athletics it absolutely benefits you to be born in the first quarter of the academic year.
So as I mentioned earlier, this seems to have been adopted within the football world and in particular it has been adopted within goalkeeping talent identification. Remember football age groups pretty much mirror academic age groups, so this advantage fits perfectly!
Now in a world where talent ID already looks at a lot of things that can’t be controlled by a young athlete including their height and the height of their parents this adds another barrier for young goalkeepers.
So, we thought we would have a look at the top goalkeepers of today and see if this could be proven true with them. We started with a group of goalkeepers we had already done some analysis on recently, the 24 goalkeepers who qualified for Euro 2016.
The results? Well, based on the above maybe not what you would expect!
Looking at the first quarter of the academic year (September, October and November) – remember this is where our best athletes should come from – we can see that actually none of the Euro 2016 goalkeepers were born in September or November and only 2 were born in October.
Not exactly what we would expect to see right? In fact the month when the most goalkeepers were born was actually April, way into the 2nd half of the year which pretty much ruins this theory as far as elite goalkeepers go.
Now, obviously looking at just 24 goalkeepers probably isn’t enough to completely rule the theory out. But if we are talking the absolutely top goalkeepers then the sample size is always going to be relatively small.
Certainly what this data tells us is that based on this sample it would be an absolute crazy decision for an academy to give any real weight to the month that a child is born in and rather they should focus on reducing the barriers of entry and putting ability at the top of their criteria.