The Relative Age Effect in Elite German Youth Soccer: Implications for a Successful Career

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose:

To investigate whether anthropometric profiles and fitness measures vary according to birth-date distribution in the German national youth soccer teams and to analyze whether there is a difference in the chance of becoming a professional soccer player depending on birth quarter (BQ).

Methods:

First, 554 players were divided into 6 age groups (U16–U21), each subdivided into 4 BQs. Every player performed at least one 30-m sprint, a countermovement jump, and an incremental test to determine individual anaerobic threshold. For players performing more than 1 test within a team, the best 1 was included. Since some players were part of several different teams, a total of 832 data sets from 495 individual soccer players, all born from 1987 to 1995, divided into 6 age categories (U16–U21) were included.

Results:

Overall, more players were born in BQ1 than in all other BQs (P < .05). No significant difference between BQs could be observed in any anthropometric or performance characteristics (P > .18). Players born in BQ4 were more likely to become professional than those born in BQ1 (odds ratio 3.04, confidence limits 1.53–6.06).

Conclusion:

A relative age effect exists in elite German youth soccer, but it is not explained by an advantage in anthropometric or performance-related parameters. Younger players selected into national teams have a greater chance to become professionals later in their career.

Sabrina Skorski, Hammes, and Meyer are with the Inst of Sports and Preventive Medicine, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany. Stefan Skorski is with the Dept of Sport Science, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany. Faude is with the Dept of Sport, Exercise and Health, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Address author correspondence to Sabrina Skorski at s.skorski@mx.uni-saarland.de.