The 'Relative Age Effect' -- a Response from U.S. Soccer

By Mike Woitalla

In his 2008 book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of the relative age effect (RAE). He used Canadian hockey to demonstrate a bias in youth sports toward players born near the age cutoff date.

Subsequent research in youth soccer has provided examples in which a disproportionate number of players born earlier in the year (when the cutoff is Jan. 1) are chosen for youth national teams. A few months difference in age in young players can make significant difference in athletic ability, and the danger is that players who are physically less mature, yet possess great talent potential, will not get the benefits of the programs the slightly older players are selected for.

This month, U.S. Soccer is holding its inaugural Boys National Team Futures camp, for players born in 2000 and 2001. It is designed for players who “appear to be on a later physical development growth path and/or are born in the second half of the year, to reduce the impact of physical maturity and relative age effect on identification and evaluation of talent.”

A 58-player roster has been chosen to gather in Carson, Calif., for the first such camp, May 23-26 at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center.

Tony Lepore (Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)

“We are scouting with a long-term objective by focusing our evaluation and selection on the qualities needed to become a national team player in the future,” U.S. Soccer Director of Scouting Tony Lepore said. “The Futures Camp recognizes that players in these younger age groups who can typically have the biggest impact and make a difference are the ones who are physically superior and more mature, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the most talented. When scouting young players among the same age group, we see big differences in performance based on birth month and maturity. …

“There are so many examples of late mature players who have become the top players because they develop better skills, awareness, and insight into the game, rather than relying on advantages like size, strength, and power. The objective is to help make sure that we are not overlooking any players and more closely following the pathway of players who have the qualities to make a bigger impact later on, by age U-20 to U-23, when there is no longer any difference between early and late developers.”

U.S. Soccer says players at the camp will exposed "to hyper-focused curriculum formulated around highlighting each player's unique talents while challenging them to improve decision-making and speed of play, raise tactical awareness, and improve technical execution."

(Note: Half of the 20 players on the U.S. U-17 national team squad that qualified for the 2015 U-17 World Cup -- for players born on or after Jan. 1, 1998 -- were born in the first quarter of 1998. Fifteen of the 20 were born by the end of May 1998.)

U.S. Boys National Team Futures (May Camp)
GOALKEEPERS (6): Michael Collodi (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Eric de la Cerda (San Jose Earthquakes; Gilroy, Calif.), Nicolas Defreitas-Hansen (Weston FC; Southwest Ranches, Fla.), Carlos dos Santos (Philadelphia Union; Philadelphia, Penn.), Mason Finnell (Placer United; Folsom, Calif.), Justin Garces (Kendall SC; Miami, Fla.).
DEFENDERS (16): D’Anthony Brown (Orlando City SC; Lake Mary, Fla.), Jordan Carter (Boca United; Boca Raton, Fla.), William Citron (New York Soccer Club; Eastchester, N.Y.), Jose Delgado (Chivas USA; Garden City, Calif.), Michael Edwards (D.C. United; Woodbridge, Va.), Tyler Freitas (New England Revolution; North Attleboro, Mass.), Chris Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Luis Hernandez (FC Dallas; Mesquite, Texas), Ryan Lee (De Anza Force; Hillsborough, Calif.), Nelson Martinez (D.C. United; Woodbridge, Va.), Jose Mejia (Juventus; Novato, Calif.), Michael Pham (FC Dallas, Richardson, Texas), Jose Ruvalcaba (TFA Barcelona), Nykolas Sessock (Philadelphia Union; Philadelphia, Penn.), Julio Torres (Stockton Monarcas; Stockton, Calif.), Mason Visconti (Sporting KC; Lee’s Summit, Mo.).
MIDFIELDERS (21): Franuel Amaya (Pateadores; Santa Anna, Calif.), Ethan Bryant (San Antonio Scorpions; San Antonio, Texas), Alex Cerritos (D.C. United; Beltsville, Md.), Jonathon Estrada (LA Galaxy; Santa Anna, Calif.), Riley Ferch (Boca United; Margate, Fla.), Gabe Findley (Capital Area RailHawks Academy-CASL; Cary, N.C.), Miguel Guerrero (Juventus; Redwoods City, Calif.), Roberto Hategan (San Jose; Roseville, Calif.), Jorge Hernandez (Chivas USA), Ben Lederman (FC Barcelona; Barcelona, Spain), Alex Mendez (Chivas USA), Harrison Pithers (Chargers SC; Tampa, Fla.), Carson Price (San Antonio Scorpions; San Antonio, Texas), Matteo Ritaccio (BW Gottschee; Westbury, N.Y.), Jaden Servania (Vestavia SC; Birmingham, Ala.), Amos Shapiro-Thompson (New England Revolution; Worthington, Mass.), Remi Smith (Georgia United; Cumming, Ga.), Kevin Wang (New England Revolution; Cranston, R.I.), Michael Vang (Minnesota Thunder; St. Paul, Minn.), Simon Vasquez (Weston FC; Weston, Fla.), Sean Zawadzki (Crew SC Academy; Olmsted Falls, Ohio).
FORWARDS (15): Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union; Meford, N.J.), Misael Becerra (Chivas USA; Los Angeles, Calif.), Sebastian Berhalter (Crew SC Academy; Westerville, Ohio), Victor Bezerra (Chicago Fire; Chicago, Ill.), Jonathan Ferreira (New England Revolution; Ashland, Mass.), Jason Garcia (Arsenal FC; Covina, Calif.), Oscar Govea (San Jose Earthquakes; Los Banos, Calif.), Danny Jara (New York Red Bulls; Bayside, N.Y.), Jacob Muchnick (LA Galaxy; Newport Beach, Calif.), Bryce Orsini (D.C. United; Rockville, Md.), Axel Picazo (Lonestar; Austin, Texas), William Sands (New York Soccer Club; Rye, N.Y.), Travian Sousa (Ballistic United; Lathrop, Calif.), Owen Zaldivar (Chivas USA; Lawndale, Calif.), Uriel Zeitz (Bethesda-Olney; Potomac, Md.).

U-20s beat Aussies in World Cup warmup

Gedion Zelalem made his first appearance in a U.S. uniform as a 59th minute sub and the U.S. U-20s beat Australia, 2-1, on Tuesday with goals by Joel Sonoraa long-range rocket – and Maki Tall in the 60th and 61st minutes.

Coach Tab Ramos’ squad arrived in Australia on Saturday for a six-day camp before departing for New Zealand, where it begins its U-20 World Cup campaign May 30 against Myanmar.

“I was happy attacking-wise,” Ramos said. “We created eight or nine very good chances to score in the first half. In the second half we scored a couple, which at the end of the day, that’s what’s important. We’re looking at the way the team functions and what combinations of players we can have on the field. So for the first day it was very good."

May 19 in Gosford, Australia.
Australia 1, USA 2. Goals: Mauk (Mabil) 15; Sonora (Thompson) 60, Tall 61.
USA -- Steffen, Moore (Acosta, 59), Carter-Vickers, Miazga, Payne (Requejo, 74), Delgado, Sonora, Hyndman, Arriola (Zelalem, 59), Tall, Thompson.
Australia -- Holmes, Galloway (Alessi, 83), Rose (Blackwood, 73), Youlley (Fofanah, 59), Borrello (Kuzmanovski, 73), Sotirio (Berry, 73), Mabil (Brady, 59), Mauk, Deng, Woodcock (Gersbach, 59), Aspropotamitis.

4 comments about "The 'Relative Age Effect' -- a Response from U.S. Soccer ".
  1. Soccer Madness, May 21, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.

    If USSDA really wanted to get the younger players where they need to be they would implement the same rule that MX Teams have for their youth Academy teams. Mandate 765 minutes of play for players 1-2 years younger. Thats what they do. You would think that these pro clubs would not need to be forced to push younger players up being that for most it is how they make their money. So by those standards all of our USSDA Clubs need to be forced to give those youbger players minutes especially being that almosy none of them will make any money on developed players. Otherwise they have zero incentive to truly develop any player. How can our scouts even guess at who the better younger players are if they are neither being played much nor are they being challenged by playing up?

  2. BJ Genovese, May 21, 2015 at 7:27 p.m.

    I have been telling US soccer for two years they need to work on a B team and looky what we have here. Kudos, unfortunatley its to late for my boy. But glad to see them finaly getting a clue. My Son made ID2, PDP, ODP, and even got brought in as a shrimp to a few TC. But in the end all of these programs told him he was too small physically when they made furthur selections to select teams to travel or showcase. Very happy for these younger ones to get a chance. There is a light on somewhere in US Soccers chain of command.

  3. R2 Dad, May 21, 2015 at 11:08 p.m.

    Along the same lines as the article on Richie Williams comments about playing more physical teams:
    Instead of risking all our skill players against these kicky-runny teams like Jamaica and lenient CONCACAF refereeing, perhaps BJ is right about having a B team. Maybe we should have our own special kick-and-run B team, full of the biggest brutes we have from college ball. Their job would be to play the best kick-and-run they can manage against Jamaica, Honduras and these other hacking CONCACAF brutes. Give them a cap without any promise of play against UEFA and the rest of the soccer world. Everyone wins.

  4. Soccer Madness, May 22, 2015 at 12:45 a.m.

    R2, That sounds like an excuse. Jamaica should have not even come close to us, especially in 2 games. Our decision making in final 1/3 was atrocoius. Can a bunkered Chicago Fire be able to compete vs Barcelona? Should be seen as close to same difference. Mexico has no problems vs those teams. Why do we ?

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