New book explores equal opportunities in youth sports

Youths playing football

A new book co-edited by Birmingham City University academics features insightful new research on age-related aspects of organised youth sports.

Exploring relative age effects

Birth Advantages and Relative Age Effects in Sport - Exploring Organizational Structures and Creating Appropriate Settings has been co-edited by Adam Kelly and Mark Jeffreys, as well as academics based at Queens University, Canada.

The book, out now on Routledge, focuses on a number of areas relating to youth sports, including birth advantages and relative age effects (RAEs).

RAEs refer to the participation, selection, and attainment inequalities in the immediate, short-term, and long-term across sport due to a fixed chronological age group approach.

This favours those who are born earlier in the selection year, who are often overrepresented in talent pathways in youth sports.

RAEs were first explored in sport in the 1980s, identifying that budding sportspeople born towards the start of a cut-off date – such as a selection year or certain age group – were more likely to play in more elite teams than those born near the end.

“RAEs can be a positive for older athletes, allowing them to outperform their younger peers, even if they are only a few months or a year older,” Adam explains.

“Moreover, if these relatively older athletes are selected for a team because of their age, they may gain access to more coaching and competition opportunities, allowing them to become better athletes in the long term.

“Conversely, this means possible detrimental effects for relatively younger athletes, such as limited selection opportunities, lower participation and higher dropout rates.”

Exploring new opportunities

Adam believes that despite the prevalence of RAEs, not enough considerable research and practical application has been made to moderate them.

“The purpose of this book was to situate RAEs within the broader context of youth sport organisational structures, lay foundational knowledge concerning the mechanisms that underpin RAEs, and offer alternative strategies,” he says.

“The book explores the practical application of possible approaches, and offers methodological considerations for researchers to design, implement and evaluate such approaches.”

The book has brought together a number of authors who, according to Adam, are “striving to make positive, impactful change to lived youth experiences”.

These include BCU researcher Tom Brown, who has received national acclaim for his work on overrepresentation of wealthy White-British cricketers in the professional game.

Meeting the needs of participants

Adam feels that the book showcases the strength of research within BCU’s Centre for Life and Sport Sciences, particularly the newly devised Athlete Development and Youth Sport (ADYS) research group.

“These chapters explore birth advantages and RAEs that are positioned within the context of organisational structures and youth sport settings,” he says.

“We can change what and how we engage in youth sport activities, by adapting settings to better meet the needs of those who want to participate.”