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We appreciate the thoughtful review of our manuscript by Hancock, Ste
-Marie and Young.(1) In this brief response, we reconsider the issues
raised in their review and continue the discussion of relative age effects
in National Hockey League (NHL) draftees.
REGARDING THE APPROPRIATE USE OF CUTOFF DATES.
Hancock et al. proposed that the more appropriate method for
examining relative ag...
Hancock et al. proposed that the more appropriate method for
examining relative age effects in NHL draft players was to use the age
cutoff criterion established by the NHL (September 16th). Our original
analyses(2) utilized the age cutoff from the Hockey Canada and Hockey USA
governing bodies (January 1st). Although the cutoff used by Hancock et al.
seems reasonable, we submit that our original analyses were more
appropriate because the proposed mechanisms of relative age effects are
known to originate early in an athlete’s development.(3)
In sport, relative age attainment differentials are proposed to
result from physical maturation differences among individuals during
growth and development. (4) Specifically, those born shortly after the cut
-off date established by sport governing bodies typically display more
mature physical characteristics compared to those born later in the year.
(5) Greater height, strength, speed and power not only relate to maturity,
but also provide physical attributes that underpin performance in many
sports. As a result, earlier-born, more mature individuals are more likely
to dominate youth sport, be identified as ‘outstanding’ and be selected by
scouts and coaches for representative sport competition. (4)
More competitive levels of sport participation are associated with
dramatic changes in the practice environment. Here, selected athletes
access practice more frequently and dedicate an increasingly significant
proportion of weekly time to training with more highly qualified and
specialized coaches to facilitate continued development. Thus selection
and access to quality practice propagate relative age effects well into
the senior years, explaining why discrepancies in birth date tendencies
have been reported repeatedly across professional sports.(4)
Interestingly, a recent meta-analysis by our research team found that
relative age effects were strongest in adolescence and diminished in
In summary, the cutoff dates associated with early development drive
relative age effects, not the cutoff date used for the NHL draft. Altering
the cutoff date as we saw from Hancock et al. should have little influence
on the overall effect. Their re-analysis indicates the largest
representation was in birth quarter two followed by birth quarter three,
which, as they showed, corresponds better to a relative age effect
originating from the Hockey Canada and Hockey USA cutoff date of January
1st than September 1st.
REGARDING THE USE OF ALL DRAFT ROUNDS
Hancock et al criticized our choice to use all seven rounds of the
draft for our relative age analyses on the basis that later rounds are
made up of lower quality players. This seems like splitting hairs to us,
as this rationale could also be used to justify using only round one
instead of rounds two to four or the first 10 players of round one versus
the remaining 20 players in round one. Moreover, our paper was written to
demonstrate that the relative age effect explained some of the results for
the NHL draft, not the performance of the draftees after they had entered
the NHL. We defend our original choice on the basis that any selection in
the NHL represents a reasonable level of expertise to examine the relative
age effect in this population. Furthermore, and perhaps more interesting,
an additional analysis of our data comparing relative age distributions
for rounds one to four with rounds five to nine (up to 2005 the NHL draft
had nine rounds), noted a slightly stronger relative age effect in later
rounds than earlier rounds (Cramér’s V = 0.08 for rounds 1-4 and 0.13 for
REGARDING DRAFT VERSUS OVERALL SELECTION FOR SPEARMAN CORRELATION
The rationale for using an athlete’s overall selection in the draft
versus round number is reasonable, as it adds additional depth to the
selection variable. However, coaches, athletes and spectators rarely talk
about athletes in terms of what their overall selection was – more often
the overall draft round number is the characteristic of interest. Teams
often have differing strategies for how they choose players in the draft
(e.g., drafting to win the Stanley Cup vs. drafting for team development).
As a result, players ranked highly by one team might not be considered at
all by another. Removing draft round number assumes a) that each team uses
the same strategy for how they choose their draft picks and b) that
players can be easily rank-ordered and are equivalent from team to team.
We defend our original analysis as being perhaps more relevant to the
specific practices used by each team during the draft, although we
appreciate the additional statistical depth that might be added by Hancock
et al.’s method. The lack of consistency between our analyses and theirs
is cause for concern, however, and we encourage future research in the
area to elucidate these contradictory findings.
In summary, these studies continue to highlight the effects of
secondary factors on long-term athlete development.
1. Hancock, D. J., Ste-Marie, D. M., Young, B. W. Birth date and
birth place effects in National Hockey League draftees 2000-2005: Comments
on Baker and Logan (2007). Br J Sports Med 2008; 42: 948-949.
2. Baker, J. Logan, A. J. Developmental contexts and sporting
success: Birthdate and birthplace effects in NHL draftees 2000-2005. Br J
Sports Med 2007; 41: 515-517.
3. Barnsley, R. H., Thompson, A. H. Birthdate and success in minor
hockey: The key to the NHL. Can J Behav Sci 1988; 20 167-176.
4. Cobley, S., Baker, J., Wattie, N. McKenna, J. Annual age grouping
and athlete development: A meta- analytical review of relative age effects
in sport. Sports Med 2009; 39 235-256.
5. Sherar LB, Baxter-Jones ADG, Faulkner RA, et al. Does physical
maturity and birth date predict talent in male youth ice hockey players? J
Sports Sci 2007; 25: 879-86